My daughter Anna suggested I watch Judd Apatow’s stand-up comedy special on Netflix. She thought I would like it because she liked it and we like a lot of the same things. (Note: Aware of his vast show biz connections, during our overlapping stints on The Larry Sanders Show, I asked Judd if he could get Anna tickets to a “Stone Temple Pilots” concert, which he did. Her enthusiasm for Judd’s Netflix performance may be sweetened by “lingering gratitude.”)
I liked about thirty percent of Judd Apatow’s stand-up comedy special. (A little less, but he may have relatives reading this.) My lukewarm reaction boils down to one thing, but I shall “flesh things out” to make this blogitorially sufficient. (Such is my need to satisfy self-made arrangements.)
Searching for the name of Judd’s special – it is called Judd Apatow: The Return. (Not as exhilarating as The Magnificent Seven Return. The “Return” here refers to Apatow’s trying to be a comedian earlier in his career, giving it up, and 25 years later, he’s back. He could have easily – and more accurately called it, “Judd Apatow – I’m Big and I’m Doing This!”)
Anyway, during my research I discovered a review of Apatow’s Netflix special that said pretty much what I would have said.
– Successful writer-producer-director posing, less than convincingly, as a “loser.”
– A comedian, who admits in his act that “Muppet Master” Jim Henson found he lacked warmth, and then convincingly demonstrating that in his performance. (Even in close-up, he somehow felt “distant.”)
– His inability to relate emotionally to the audience. Finishing reading a poem he wrote about his parents divorce when he was 15 and receiving a genuine “Awww” from the audience, Apatow shoots back, “Don’t be sad – I’m rich. I’m very rich.” Rather than saying, “Sympathy from strangers. How heartwarming.” Sorry, I am an incorrigible rewriter. (Most particularly of myself. It was originally, “Sympathy from strangers. How sweet.”)
The obvious critiques have already been made.
Here’s what most likely was not.
In reverse order of importance.
People aren’t always the most astute judges of who they are and what they do best. In his concert, Apatow reveals his desire to become a comedian since he was ten. An understandable aspiration. (To some of us, more than to others.)
Being a comedian has obvious appeal. You are up there alone, people listening intently and laughing real hard. That is rarely the case till you’ve made it – and not even always then – but that’s the idealization. You are the indomitable center of attention.
You are a lion tamer, with people.
Nobody – I don’t think – ever dreams of becoming “a great identifier of talent with an uncanny gift for getting the most out of their abilities.”
Judd Apatow is an “okay” comedian, but an unparalleled genius at the other thing. Well, not entirely unparalleled. Lorne Michaels is an arguable equal, neither of them, circus performers, but both brilliantly adept at running the show.
Okay, so that’s “Two” – he dreamed of becoming the thing he wasn’t, unaware of, or possibly disinterested in, the valuable thing he actually was.
It happens to the best of us. B’lieve me.
“One”… because it’s what matters…
Call it “smashing conventional boundaries” or being “a deplorable ‘Potty-Mouth’”, Judd Apatow stakes his comedical claim, following in the outspoken footsteps of Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and George Carlin.
“Unfiltered” is funny.
Nothing is sacred.
The thing is, “Nothing is sacred” isn’t enough.
You must also be scrupulously careful picking your targets.
That’s what the best comedians do.
And the less skillful comedians do not.
Borrowing a philosophical model:
(It is arguable that)
All hilariously funny things are “forbidden.”
But not all “forbidden” things are hilariously funny.
You have to work harder than that.
The crucial ingredient:
Even when you are “knocking down walls.”
Judd Apatow did not consistently exercise that judgment.
Which may have been his problem as a comedian all along.