If you ever get to see a show at New York’s famed Comedy Cellar, you might be treated to a surprise drop-in.
Louis C.K., Chris Rock, and Aziz Ansari are known to stop by unannounced and work on new material in front of a crowd.
Last summer, while attending a show at the Comedy Cellar, I was both shocked and delighted when Judd Apatow, who was introduced as the producer of “Anchorman,” graced the stage of the packed basement comedy club.
Apatow is one of the most powerful people working in comedy today. However, he is best known as a writer, director, and producer rather than a stand-up. However, Apatow first started his comedy career in stand-up and after a two decade break, he recently decided to pick up a mic once again.
With such a successful film and television career, there was no reason for him to return to the tough, competitive world of stand-up comedy. However, Apatow explained in a conversation with Ira Glass at 92nd Street Y while promoting his new book “Sick in the Head,” the stress of making movies made him want to return to the instant gratification of stand-up.
“There are moments when you get tired from the stress of it, because making a movie is stressful. You’re working on it for two or three years and then in one day the world says either I love it or I hate it. And then it’s over after that day. And that’s why I’ve been doing stand-up comedy.” Apatow told the crowd Tuesday evening.
While Apatow has had a lot of critical and box office success, especially with “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up,” he has also received mixed reception for personal projects such as “Funny People” and “This Is 40.” Cult classic TV shows “Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared” both couldn’t make it past one season.
For him, stand-up is a more immediate way to determine whether or not his jokes are funny.
“You do a show, it’s kind of pleasant. If no one likes it, you do another one the next day and you get to talk to people directly and you don’t have that two years of pent up terror.” Apatow said.
Apatow first started doing stand-up when he was 17, and called it quits at 24. During the 90-minute event, Apatow explained a big part behind his decision to return to the trade.He believes that at that young age, he didn’t have the experience, point of view, or anger needed to be great at stand-up. He now feels he has gained a lot of that during these past two decades.
“I wasn’t like Steven Wright or Emo Phillips…I wasn’t gonna reinvent what comedy is. And that’s one of the reasons why I stopped because I felt like I was stronger in writing and other things I was doing.” Apatow told the audience. “But since I started again I…I am annoyed with things and I have stories and I have positions. So it’s really fun because it’s like being put in a forced coma for a while and then waking up and you have more tools to do something.”
“I like to think that my entire directing career was just a way for me to get better spots at The Comedy Cellar.” Apatow joked.
Based on the jokes I saw last summer, which were a hilarious mix of observational and personal, it looks like Apatow could have a real future in comedy.
Apatow’s new book, “Sick in the Head,” is now available for purchase. “Trainwreck” will be out in theatres on July 17.
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