Until last year, the writer-producer-director enjoyed a peculiar and frustrating position in Hollywood’s comedy universe: He had talented friends and never lacked for work — he’d been writing steadily since The Larry Sanders Show in 1992 — but he’d also engineered a string of brilliant, quickly cancelled TV shows and never-seen pilots.
Project after heartfelt project earned critical raves, rabid cults … and tiny, tiny audiences. He wrote and produced the seminal The Ben Stiller Show, followed by Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared — two of the sharpest comedies about school life ever broadcast. None of these lasted more than 18 episodes. And then, over the last two years or so, Apatow’s success caught up with his standards.
DVDs of The Ben Stiller Show, Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared introduced his best work to new audiences. Comic actors he’d befriended and employed during their nascent careers (Stiller, Will Ferrell and Owen Wilson, to name a few) acquired sizeable followings. And two films — Anchorman, which he produced, and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which he wrote and directed — became bona fide box office hits. Last March, The New York Times’ Sharon Waxman all but declared Apatow the co-godfather of a sort of comedy mafia that includes frequent collaborators Stiller, Ferrell, Wilson, Jim Carrey, Vince Vaughn, Jack Black, Steve Carrell and Anchorman writer-director Adam McKay.
Here’s what Apatow has in the pipeline: He’s writing and directing an untitled romantic comedy starring Undeclared/Virgin actor Seth Rogen; he’s producing the McKay/Ferrell NASCAR comedy High, Wide, and Handsome; and he co-wrote a remake of the 1977 Jane Fonda/George Segal comedy Fun with Dick and Jane — starring Jim Carrey and Téa Leoni as a pair of larcenous yuppies. We talked with Apatow about Fun with Dick and Jane, the joys of reality TV, getting to know past and future comedy legends, the cult of Geeks, and much more.