In Celebration of His 45th Birthday, Here Are 45 Unforgettable Moments from Judd Apatow’s Career

by 5 years ago

Early Life

Judd Apatow grew up in the Syosset-Woodbury area of Nassau County Long Island, where he attended Syosset High School. As per any human being who ends up making a great living by mocking and observing the status quo, Apatow wasn't so much a model student as he was a crafty one. Below, from Syosset Patch, is an account of Judd reminiscing on his high school years via twitter: 

“When I went to school I slept in class and cheated quite a bit. Shocking how much I slept behind a well placed hand– pretending to read.”

He then joked about how his cheating system failed in science class, saying, “I cheated in AP physics then my scam collapsed and in my second semester I was so far behind because I learned nothing and failed hard.”


Steve Martin Letter

Mr. Apatow’s love for his childhood comedic heroes is pretty apparent, the stench of which is duly noticeable in much of his works. In “Freaks and Geeks,” for instance, the major breaking point between protagonist Sam Weir and hottie Cindy Sanders is that Cindy does not find Steve Martin’s “Jerk” to be funny. Of course, Cindy Sanders sort of sucks, and teaches us that just because someone is “popular” doesn’t mean they’re actually cool. I’m not gonna be one of those guys who ambiguously dances around movies he hasn’t seen to make it appear like maybe he has seen it, but based on the events that unfold in “Freaks and Geeks”, “Jerk” is likely a very funny movie. And at the very least, Steve Martin is a guy who cares



The youngster moved to Los Angeles after high school, where he enrolled in the Screenwriting Program at the University of Southern California. While a Trojan, Apatow kept busy by organizing “Comedy Nights” on campus, which Judd managed to nab some pretty hefty headliners, such as SNL’s Kevin Nealon.


Living with Adam Sandler

Apatow only spent two years at USC, before dropping out to live with some dude named Adam Sandler, whom he had met at Hollywood’s LA Improv. 20 years later, they’d go on to collaborate in “Funny People.”


Appearance on HBO’s Young Comedians Special

Apatow was a headliner for the fifteenth annual young comedians special, one of the premier honors for a burgeoning comic. This particular show also featured the likes of Ray Romano, Janeane Garofalo, and host Dana Carvey, whose act is shown below:


The Ben Stiller Show

Ben Stiller and Judd Apatow met outside an Elvis Costello show in 1990. They apparently didn’t hate each other, because the next year they began collaborating on “The Ben Stiller Show,” a series of half-hour comedy sketches. Apatow served as a producer, and attributes his role on the show his first real big break in Hollywood.

From an interview with Vanity Fair:

“I was doing stand-up comedy and writing jokes for other comedians, and I met Ben, and he and I thought of this idea for a show,” Apatow said. “But I had never even written for a TV show before, and suddenly we were running this network television show. I was very underqualified and just paying a lot of attention to Ben, trying to figure out what he was doing and copy him.”

The show was cancelled after a dozen episodes, but received an Emmy Award for “Outstanding Writing in a Variety Series.”



Stiller and Apatow continued collaborating with their 1995 film Heavyweights, a comedy about a summer weight loss camp. Apatow co-wrote the film, which stars Stiller stars as Tony Perkis, the evil fitness dictator hell-bent on making the kids as miserable as possible.

Clearly this is a role that heavily influenced one of Stiller's career-defining roles almost a decade later, the Globo Gym emperor White Goodman.


“The Cable Guy” Writing Controversy

Apatow worked with longtime friend Jim Carrey on “The Cable Guy.” Carrey was coming off mad hits with the Ace Ventura movies and “Dumb and Dumber,” so the thinking was that this was going to be a major hit. The movie ended up bombing however, only to gain the always sought after “cult following” well after its release.

Apatow made substantial revisions to the original script, but was ultimately denied writing credit by the WGA. He was not exactly thrilled, as per evidence by this 2011 interview with Vulture:

The Writers Guild has a rule that, if you are also the producer, the bar that you have to reach to get credit if you do a revision is ridiculously high. It’s a much lower bar if you’re not the producer. That’s because they want to protect writers from producers trying to grab their credit. But what it does is it doesn’t give people a credit they deserve because the bar is higher in this one situation where you’re providing another service at the same time.

At the time, being denied a writer credit was a very frustrating experience because I was so proud of the work that I did. People would laugh at me later because the movie wasn’t a big hit and it took a beating at the time. They were always saying, 'Why are you trying so hard to get your name on it?' But I always thought it was a great, weird movie that would have a long life as a cult type of film — and that is what seems to have happened.


Leslie Mann

If you’re gonna lose a writing credit, the least you could do is rebound by meeting the love of your life. Such was the aftermath of “The Cable Guy,” as Apatow and actress Leslie Mann were married in 1997. They’ve gone onto have two kids, Iris and Maude, who have appeared as Mann’s kids in Apatow’s “Knocked Up,” “Funny People,” and the upcoming “This is 40.”


Apatow Productions

Apatow Productions was formed in 1999, and has spawned an alarming amount of highly influential film and television projects. Wikipedia claims that it’s responsible in part for launching the careers of half of Hollywood. Half of Hollywood, being Seth Rogen, Michael Cera, Jonah Hill, Steve Carell, Justin Long, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Aziz Ansari, John C. Reilly, Chris Parnell, David Koechner, Samm Levine, Gary Cole, Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Leslie Mann, Jane Lynch, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jason Segel, Martin Starr, Russell Brand, Danny R. McBride, and Bill Hader.


“Freaks and Geeks”

Following both the “Freaks” and “Geeks” of a Michigan High School, Apatow and Paul Feig’s creation been widely considered one of the best high school dramas to ever air on television. Well ahead of its time, the show followed a complex web of storylines between high schoolers and parents alike, grappling with realistic issues and themes pertaining to zany adolescent times. Ten years after airing, The Atlantic called it the Last Great High School TV Show. It also appeared on Time’s 100 Greatest Television Shows of All-Time back in 2007.

The show was notoriously cancelled after only one season on the air, but relieves through shit like this article saying how dope it was, thus making the show a must-watch for those who wish to be culturally in-tune and make the right types of pop-culture references. It’s now on Netflix instant, so there’s really no excuse anymore.



Following “Freaks and Geeks,” Apatow took the next logical step and moved to the college arena. The show focused on a group of Freshman at the fictional University of Northeastern California, and received similar critical praise to “Freaks and Geeks.”

Yet again, low-ratings pushed the show to the brink, causing another unfortunate cancellation.


Undeclared Cancellation Fiasco

A nice “industry” moment for those filthy TMZ-heads out there. Upended by the same executive who put the haltin’ on “Freaks and Geeks,” Apatow put a piece of his mind on paper, writing in a very angry letter asking how “you can fuck me in the ass when your penis is still in me from last time”

In a 2006 LA Times interview, Apatow further lamented Undeclared’s inability fulfill the needs of the network machine, discussing the difficulty that lies in making college shows in general:

“One reason for the death of college shows is that it's difficult to be honest about campus life on network or basic cable. It's hard to portray truthfully. The truth is, kids are high, drunk and having sex. No matter what you do, you're fudging it.”


“North Hollywood”

Little known fact: Apatow wanted Jason Segel as the lead for “Undeclared,” but FOX passed up on Segel for Jay Baruchel. Apatow then brought North Hollywood to ABC, a vehicle that was to star Segel, Amy Poehler, and Kevin Hart as struggling young actors. While it certainly sounds particularly dope, the project was never made–had it been picked up though, Apatow’s obligations to “Undeclared” would have prevented him from leading the North Hollywood ship.



Regarding the Apatow-Produced Anchorman, a 2007 New York Times Profile asserted the following:

In the previous decade, Apatow’s pals Sandler and Carrey made studios billions with a style of humor whose operating principle seemed to be “when in doubt, kick the bad guys in the groin — twice.” “Anchorman” was different. The humor was self-deprecating, the loathing turned inward. Ferrell’s Burgundy is a flute-playing womanizer who knows deep down that he’s lame. Sadly, only his Spanish-barking dog Baxter knows his true feelings. When Baxter gets punted off a bridge by a biker whom Burgundy hit with a burrito, Burgundy falls apart. He weeps in a phone booth, wailing, “I’m in a glass case of emotion.”

The movie only cost $26 million and made a whopping $177 million, the first in an impressive string of highly profitable movies that would define the 2000’s brand of comedy.


“The 40 Year-Old Virgin”

Steve Carell’s big break. The film was released after the first season of “The Office,” but was largely responsible for a substantial ratings spike in the show’s second season. This was entirely an Apatow vehicle, as Judd wrote, directed, and produced the instant classic.


“Talledega Nights”

Another big money-maker, and Apatow Productions venture. 


“The TV Set”

Produced by Apatow, this 2006 film delves into the frustration Apatow may have felt while running “Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared.” Starring David Duchovny, “The TV Set” takes a look into how network brass influences the makings of a TV Show, sometimes sapping the influence of creatives and heavily compromising a showrunners’ artistic vision.


“Knocked Up”

A family affair. Leslie Mann and Apatow’s children, Iris and Maude, all had significant roles in the movie, which starred Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl as a unlikely couple brought together through an accidental pregnancy.

A mega-hit, an perhaps the moment in which Apatow became not just a successful comedy filmmaker, but arguably the generation’s premier one.


“Knocked Up” Controversy

Katherine Heigl, star of “Knocked Up” and other awesome movies like “The Bounty Hunter” and “27 Dresses” and “Make excruciatingly predictable plot, promote slightly unrealistic relationship expectations, and insert attractive, but average-at-best actor looking for an easy paycheck,” found “Knocked up to be a bit sexist…It was hard for me to love [Apatow's] movie” because it's “a little sexist…” “t paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as goofy, fun-loving guys.”


New York Times Profile 

In what was most certainly a banner year, Apatow officially become one of the Entertainment industry’s biggest movers and shakers was when the New York Times wrote this extensive profile. It’s lengthy, but a very informative and compelling read.



If you’re on this site, there’s about a 95% chance this is one of your five favorite movies ever.


Named “The Smartest Person in Hollywood on Entertainment Weekly’s Top 50

In 2007, Apatow topped Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Ari Emanuel, and Will Smith for the honor of being named “The Smartest Person in Hollywood.” Here was some choice criteria: Every person on the list had to be smart not just in general, but smart right now.

They had to be leading the industry forward in some way, today. “Smart” could mean many things. It encompasses books smarts and street smarts, financial genius and emotional intelligence.

We weren’t interested in IQ. What mattered was the originality of each person’s thinking and the reach of their ideas beyond the borders of their own careers.


“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”

Big roles from Apatow Production heavy hittaz Jason Segel, Jonah Hill, and Bill Hader.


Pineapple Express

Stoners continue to be funny. This reunited James Franco and Seth Rogen, both of whom got their starts from “Freaks and Geeks” a decade prior.


Funny Or Die

If you’ve gotten this far, you probably know a thing or two about “Funny or Die,” the comedy website founded by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay. This is the dudebros announcing Apatow’s (ongoing) involvement in the project. Always good to have three people in any sort of endeavor like this, as there now the numbers mandate that two members must spend all their time ripping on the other.


Walk Hard

Apatow teamed up with longtime collaborator Jake Kasdan to write and produce the “Dewey Cox Story,” a parody of biopic movies. The plot mirrored that the Johnny Cash biopic “Walk the Line” from 2005, and overall bore striking resemblance to the Cash story in general.



Music is obviously a crucial component of any visual medium, but Apatow’s ability to use music accentuate characters and plotlines is arguably second to none. Music has always been a major character building-block in Apatow’s productions, be it Nick Andopolis’ drum obsession, Pete from Knocked Up’s Record Label, or that great scene in “Funny People,” when Adam Sandler gets all emotional when Warren Zevon’s “Keep Me in Your Heart.”

For the upcoming “This is 40,” pub-rocker Graham Parker isn’t only the focus of a semi-major plotline, but also is in the movie as himself.


2009 Daily Show Appearance

Apatow went on the Daily Show in 2009 to promote “Funny People.” Jon Stewart does his thing, and the talk that results is as candid as it is hilarious.


“Funny People”

Perhaps his defining work, Apatow’s “Funny People” follows the life of a jaded famous comedian, and his foray back into comedy once diagnosed with leukemia. Almost more of a drama than it is a comedy (all comedy is drama in disguise!), the film stars Adam Sandler as George Simmons, Seth Rogen as his assistant Ira Wright, Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman (his roommates), and Leslie Mann, who plays Sandler’s “the one that got away.” 



Although his on-screen time was limited, Aziz Ansari’s “Raaaandy,” an outlandish, raunchy, and overly enthusiastic comedian, definitely emerged as one of the movie's more (if not the most) beloved character.

Realizing this was indeed hilarious, Apatow, Ansari, and his writing partner Jason Woliner decided to create a short series about RAAAAAAAANDY! with 8 a’s.


Twitter Prolificness

If you follow Judd Apatow on twitter, you may wonder how in the world he has time to do much else. Dude dominates the t-sphere. Here’s some of his finest:


“Get Him to the Greek”

In my quite unimportant opinion, this is perhaps the most underrated of all the Apatow Franchise.



Somewhat of a different step, Apatow Executive Produced “Bridesmaids,” the female-driven comedy about a group of girls getting prepped for a wedding, and the antics that follow.

It’s not until you actually watch Bridesmaids until you realize the themes, and even the characters (particularly Kristen Wiig’s Annie) bare striking resemblance to those in his earlier works. Annie reminded me A LOT of Lindsay Weir from “Freaks and Geeks,” which may have to do with the fact that Paul Feig, creator of Freaks, directed Bridesmaids. MAN I'm so insightful. 


Maude Apatow

Apatow and Leslie Mann’s eldest daughter, Maude, has made quite a splash on the entertainment scene. In addition to this New York Times article making the journalist profile equivalent of passionate love to her, Maude has been featured on HelloGiggles, the Zooey Deschanel founded funny girl-site.

For someone whose too young to drive, she is a remarkably insightful writer.


Lena Dunham Mentorship

Getting an email with the subject line “From Judd Apatow” most certainly seems like the ultimate prank one would pull on someone whose life ambition is to “make it” (modern-day translation of “making it” is getting paid tons of money to be an interesting…Lena Dunham is from New York, therefore she is just naturally interesting)  

Nevertheless, this actually went down. From an April 2012 Interview:

GQ: I read that you and Lena first talked after you sent her an email about Tiny Furniture, the 2010 movie she wrote, directed and starred in. Do you remember what you wrote to her?

Judd Apatow: That's a very good question. I don't remember what I said. [To Lena, who is in the room with him.] Lena, what did I say in my e-mail?

Lena Dunham: The title of the e-mail was “From Judd Apatow.” I thought it was my friend Isabel pranking me. He said, “I saw your movie. I cried, which is not rare for me. But I laughed out loud, which is rare.” Then he said a few things he liked that were really nice. Then he said, “If you ever want someone to give you a lot of money and screw everything up, we should talk.” 




Whether you love it, hate it, or are really just sick of people not shutting the fuck about ripping it to shreds or defending it’s “honest” portrayal of 20 somethings, “Girls” is a big deal relative to our general ish. Also, Bros watch it more than Girls. Go figure. 


This Video

The “Ask a Grown Man” series called upon Judd Apatow to answer questions from young people. Hilarious, but also filled with some pretty insightful life advice (a common theme here)


Simpsons Spec

Twenty-two years ago, Judd Apatow wrote a spec script for “The Simpsons.” FOX has since bought the rights to it, and is now making into an actual episode. The only other people not in the Simpsons family that have written Simpsons episode have been Ricky Gervais, and Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Yep. That Seth Rogen.


Feud with Howard Stern

The two entertainment giants got into a mini-twitter war over America’s Got Talent. From the always trusty folks over at Perez Hilton:



The New Establishmen

Apatow made another appearance Vanity Fair’s “The New Establishment” list, coming in at #45. He’s now being lauded for making comedies on both sides of the gender spectrum. Because people clearly call it “the gender spectrum.


“This Is 40”

The highly anticipated “sort of sequel” to Knocked Up features Pete and Debbie (Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann) struggling to adjust/keep up with/remain sane amidst everything that happens upon realizing that you’re way too old to get properly wasted, but way too young to get away with calling it “Boston Chicken.”


“Can a Song Save Your Life”

Slated to be released next year, the logline reads “A dejected music business executive forms a bond with a young singer-songwriter new to Manhattan.” The content seems right in Apatow’s wheelhouse, and stars Keira Knightly, Mark Ruffalo, Adam Levine, Mos Def, and Cee Lo Green. Should be one to watch for.


Vanity Fair’s First-Ever Comedy Issue

Guest edited by Judd Apatow, the January 2013 issue of Vanity Fair features the likes of Conan O’Brien, Lena Dunham, Zach Galifianakis, Steve Martin, Mel Brooks, and Carl Reiner, Louis C.K., and Jimmy Fallon. Says Vanity Fair’s Hollywood blog:

“In Vanity Fair’s first-ever comedy issue, writer, director, and producer Judd Apatow convened his most talented friends and idols to contribute, write, and pose for a 19-page Mark Seliger portfolio—as well as act incredibly dignified and businesslike in costume for three different covers.”

Among other goodness, it features an properly exhaustive oral history of “Freaks and Geeks”

What’s Next?

The future for Apatow appears to be as bright as limitless as ever. These are two things that are probably sort of scary and are going to need figuring out, which just so happens to be the imperfect formula for the best types of Apatow Production. I say imperfect because if Judd’s remarkable career has taught us anything, perfection is extremely overrated.

(also, Anchorman 2)

TAGSAnchormanAnchorman 2Forgetting Sarah MarshallFreaks and GeeksHollywoodMoviesSuperbadThe 40 Year Old VirginThis is 40Undeclared

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