Judd Apatow went from middling stand-up to Hollywood’s unofficial king of comedy.
Films like “Knocked Up,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Superbad” cemented his status as the industry’s comedy powerhouse. His fingerprints were everywhere, and still are, witness shows like HBO’s “Crashing” and Netflix’s” “Love.”
Lately, he saves enough time to tell fellow comics what they can and cannot say. It leads to an uncomfortable question: why?
Norton brought up Apatow’s rage against disgraced comic Louis C.K. during the interview. The former FX star is attempting a comeback after admitting to sexually exposing himself to a number of women. That comeback hit a snag, of sorts, when Apatow, Jim Carrey, Andy Richter and media outlets condemned him for telling jokes involving the Parkland student activists and the new Gender Pronoun Police.
The ensuing debate should be seen in its entirety. Suffice to say Norton repeatedly defended a comedian’s right to say what he or she wants to say, to hone their material over time and to tweak subjects that others fear to touch.
“There’s no subject that wouldn’t be on the table for me as a comedian,” Norton said.
Apatow? He said topics like the Parkland students are all but off limits. He went further, arguing that if a comedian is exposed as a person who has hurt others, then it’s problematic to hear them tell off-color jokes.
“The medium matters. Who’s saying it matters,” Holmes said, firmly on Team Apatow.
Norton kept counter-punching. He made an excellent point about the lack of outrage in certain scenarios, a key factor that renders the current Outrage Culture inauthentic.
“That outrage was not there when [C.K.] was talking about Sarah Palin,” Norton said. C.K. called the former Alaskan governor the “C-word.” He also tweeted this about her: “I want to rub my father’s c*** all over Sarah Palin’s fat t***.”
C.K. eventually apologized – five years later.
FAST FACT: Jim Norton spent his early days as a stand-up alongside friend and roommate Jim Florentine, best known in some circles for his “Crank Yankers” episodes featuring Special Ed.
Holmes then blames the new comedy restrictions on Trump, even though, as Norton correctly noted, the PC Police began pulling over comedians long before Trump’s ascension. It simply ramped up post-Trump’s election through no fault of Trump or his administration.
In fact, the new, depressing wave of “joke-free” comedy is a direct result of Trump fury.
Throughout the debate Apatow talked about the folly of “punching down” even though he once used President Trump’s own child, young Barron Trump, against him. In that same routine Apatow jokingly referred to Trump raping the country, the kind of unwoke joke you’d think he’d avoid.
If the joke is anti-Trump Apatow can be as “regressive” as anyone, apparently.
Apatow then reveals a monumental disconnect. He questions if comedians have been adversely affected by political correctness.
“Who’s really taking a hit?” he asks, as if Kevin Hart was still prepping his tux for his Feb. 24 Oscar date.
“Norm Macdonald almost lost his Netflix show for not apologizing the right way,” Norton calmly fired back.
Next, Norton mentions how Chris Rock got attacked for comments made in a 2011 video before co-host Roberts mentions the obvious Hart situation.
Apatow had no real answer to these examples.
Norton then went back to the Trump issue, with Apatow claiming his Trump jokes inspired death threats.
“We all know that attacking Trump and coming at it from that angle, even if you get flagged, is not going to hurt you in our business,” Norton said.
At a time when pop culture scolds are digging through older material for “offenses,” it’s only a matter of time before Apatow gets busted
The caustic comic went on, saying a comedian’s goal is “to be funny,” not worry about what direction they happened to be punching.
“The goal is to make people laugh .. it’s not whether he’s being nice or mean. It doesn’t mean s***. He’s just trying to make people laugh …a good joke is a good joke,” Norton said.
He’s right, of course. So why doesn’t Hollywood’s so-called comedy king grasp that essential truth?
FAST FACT: Judd Apatow once shared a $900 apartment with a young, struggling comic named Adam Sandler.
Let’s go back to the source of Apatow’s fame. His breakout film, “Virgin,” featured some exchanges that would be blasted by the PC Police today. His follow up, “Knocked Up,” doubled down on that trend. Need one rock solid example? The “You know how I know you’re gay” running gag.
“You know how I know you’re gay? Because you macramed yourself a pair of jean shorts,” Paul Rudd says to Seth Rogen.
“You know how I know you’re gay? You just told me you’re not sleeping with women anymore,” Rogen fires back.
There’s much more, and it even extended to a deleted scene from the film.
At a time when pop culture scolds are digging through older material for “offenses,” it’s only a matter of time before Apatow gets busted. It’ll typically happen when he’s given great news or otherwise makes the news cycle.
That’s when the scolds love to strike. Just ask recent Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray.
And Apatow would give them so much material. “Knocked Up” sexualizes women constantly, not to mention its implied anti-abortion stance.
The film “Superbad,” which Apatow produced, features even more unwoke material. Co-star/co-screenwriter Rogen pre-emptively called himself out for the 2007 film, dubbing some of his jokes “blatantly homophobic.”
Rogen did so while promoting “Neighbors 2: Sorority Uprising,” a comedy so woke it hired two female script doctors to crank up the empowerment.
For what it’s worth, the film bombed.
Yet the new, woke Apatow talked up the #MeToo movement last year in a way that directly contradicts his previous comedy efforts.
The most important part is that there is an awakening where people realize how badly women are treated. We want there to be new attitudes. In the entertainment industry, five per cent of movies are directed by women. That’s just criminal. There are so many ways in which women are disrespected, both in employment practices and how they’re paid and sexual harassment. So it’s very good that it’s all being brought out into the light. When that happens, we hope that large-scale changes occur as a result. It’s a seismic shift.
Apatow may have other pragmatic reasons for failing to defend his fellow comic’s right to joke as they please. He’s still a power player in Hollywood, and likely plans to stay that way for the foreseeable future. If he says the wrong thing now, his entire career could disappear.
Just ask Roseanne Barr.
So cowardly agreeing to the PC rules ensures his career continues to thrive. If it means attacking other comics and reinforcing the restrictions placed on his fellow creators, so be it.