Mini-Episode: What Kind of Movie Would 2020 Be? With Judd Apatow
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Andy calls comedian and director Judd Apatow to talk about how to get through this long crisis day by day with some harmony. Working through trauma is also the topic of Judd’s latest movie The King of Staten Island. This is a talk that’s both deep and funny.
Keep up with Andy on Twitter @ASlavitt and Instagram @andyslavitt, and find Judd @JuddApatow on Twitter and Instagram.
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[00:42] Andy Slavitt: Welcome to In the Bubble. My name’s Andy Slavitt. We have a treat for you today. A conversation with Judd Apatow, who is a comedian, director, producer, actor.
[01:11] Zach Slavitt: Three days ago, his newest movie with Pete Davidson called The King of Staten Island, became available online for rent.
[01:23] Andy Slavitt: All right. There you have it. You’ll hear us talk about that. It’s a movie that features Pete Davidson, the SNL cast member, friend of mine, someone who Judd is known for some time. And it’s an absolutely fascinating movie. And I think you’ll really enjoy this conversation with Judd Apatow. Here he is.
[01:46] Andy Slavitt: Hey, Jud. Thanks for doing this. Let me introduce you to the brains of the operation. This is my 18 year old son, Zach.
[01:54] Judd Apatow: Hi, Zach. How are you doing?
[01:56] Zach Slavitt: I’m good.
[02:05] Andy Slavitt: Are you feeling oriented to 2020? I mean, have you, like, figured out what the hell is going on?
[02:11] Judd Apatow: That’s a good question. I don’t know if oriented is the right word. I’ve made my choices about how I’m going to approach my day.
[02:20] Andy Slavitt: OK, tell me more.
[02:23] Judd Apatow: Very early on, I thought I could either sleep late and just be lost in a fog and drink and just be out of it. Because there was a day where I thought, I guess I can sleep till 11 every day now. I’d been getting up at 6:30 in the morning for so long. But then my wife and I said, well, we need to organize the day, we’re gonna go nuts here. So we do something very simple, which is in the morning, we try to do things for health. Whatever that means. For me, it means I take a two hour walk every morning at about seven in the morning. And then in the afternoon we try to do something productive, which could mean writing, it could mean cleaning the house, but just doing something. And then it’s just all food and bingeing the rest of the day. Then we’re watching things and hanging out with kids.
[03:24] Andy Slavitt: Are you connecting to friends either like through Zoom or in-person, socially distant. You beginning to bring that back a little?
[03:31] Judd Apatow: I’ve been doing a socially distant walks. You know, that’s been nice. I never did anything like — I don’t enjoy exercise generally, but I’ve really gotten a kick out of how long my walk is getting. It started out as a half-hour. Then it became an hour. Now it’s almost three hours at this point. And I come home and I feel great the rest of the day. Sometimes I even have a creative thought just from being out for so long. And I feel like that’s kept me level-headed.
[04:00] Andy Slavitt: It’s nice being out. Here in Minneapolis, the places people walk — people are very serious about it because it’s only a few months a year. It’s around these lakes. And it’s a really competitive thing. I mean, like if I’m not swinging my arms right. I’m walking and someone else has passed me twice. I mean, how does that actually happen? Like, you can’t walk that fast. I’d like to think if I’m walking, it’s exercise no matter what. But some people apparently think you’re getting your heart rate going.
[04:30] Judd Apatow: I think all walking is good at any pace. I’ve lost 12 pounds over the last couple of months and all I’m doing is walking. So, you know, I’m always showing my family how many steps I have. I’m like, I’m at 28,000 steps! I have great pride.
[04:47] Andy Slavitt: Well, hopefully the changes you make, you’ll keep if you like them. When I was asking about how you’re feeling — so many people I talk to, including me, you know, because we don’t have much of a context for what we’re going through, it plays with your head. You don’t know how long you’re going to be doing this. You’re used to a profession where you’ve got to be around people all the time to practice your art. I imagine it’s social, whether you’re extroverted or introverted, it’s just part of what you do. And then this thing happens, and then — not for nothing, 2020 is not just that, it turns out. We also have a bunch of other things coming to a head. And we’re recording this in early June when there are protests, demonstrations, riots, presidents walking a block and a half away from the White House to hold the Bible. That kind of stuff. So I referred to you as a social observer this morning. I don’t know if it’s correct or not, but how do you adjust to, like, all of these climate changes here?
[05:55] Judd Apatow: I mean, for me, what I realized is that my life in my year is based on certain ways of marking time. So I usually get up because I have to make my kids breakfast, and then take them to school. And my day ends at a certain time every day because I’m trying to get home so I can be home for dinner. And if I’m making a movie, I realize I’m going to write for this many months, and then I’m going to go somewhere and prep for a few months. And then shoot and then I’m going to go home and edit for six months. And so it is in these sections. And as the world changed, suddenly there were no sections, you know, all of the dates and goals that I guess make me feel sane — which may not be healthy in the first place — are suddenly gone. And it does force me to walk the walk on a lot of what I am interested in, which is Buddhism and being present and not trying to be an egomaniac as much as I can. And, you know, being here now. So I’ve tried to keep my sanity by meditating more. And not wanting a lot of the things that used to be the structure of my life. So I get up. what do I have to do today? How can I be solid for my kids? Maybe I can give a little something done, but not really wanting more than that. And that allows me to feel better. I feel like if I think in the long term, I start getting very anxious, as do my kids, because that’s scary. If you start going, will there be school in the fall? Will it be a Zoom school? Am I going to be able to shoot again? At what point? Do things change in a different way? Will there be another wave? And then you’re under the covers pretty fast.
[07:53] Andy Slavitt: Right. So you’re reminding me of the things that I forget to say to myself, and on this podcast, which is if you go day-by-day, you can manage it. And you said something else, which kind of kicks me in the butt a little bit, which is all the things you say to yourself that, you know are the things that make you better. Being here now, being present. There’s no better time to practice them than this kind of moment. And it’s not reason, as you said earlier, reason for a delay in who you want to be. So you and I have a friend in common, Pete Davidson. And you’ve just done some amazing work with Pete that I’d love to talk about. And it is going to be available to everybody soon. I had some special affinity for it because I know Pete. But I’d love for you to reflect on that project, what you think of it.
[08:50] Judd Apatow: Well, we made a movie called The King of Staten Island, which will be out on video on demand June 12th, which I think basically means you can rent it on one of the things you go to when you’re looking for movies. I think anywhere on your computer, you’ll see a picture of it. There’ll be a button. I guess Siri or Alexa will just offer it up to you. I never thought about that. Alexa, rent it. So Pete and I have been friends since he did a cameo in Trainwreck, which we shot in 2014 when he was 20 years old. And we kicked around a movie idea for a couple of years with his partner, Dave Sirus. And at some point I realized that I had given him an idea that probably wasn’t the best idea. And slowly we started talking about writing something more personal. Pete is, you know, a cast member of Saturday Night Live. A lot of people know him as a, you know, a brash, funny, darkly comic person. In real life, his dad was a firefighter who lost his life on 9/11, and that led to a very unique childhood filled with trauma and stress that most people don’t experience in their lives. And, you know, he’s worked very hard to overcome it. You know, some of that is finding comedy. He started doing stand-up at 15 and was a really driven person. So we started writing this movie, which was a bit of an imagining of what would have happened to Pete if he didn’t find comedy and he was just flailing around Staten Island, living with his mom, having a really hard time. And then suddenly, his mom starts dating another fireman. And suddenly as it confronts all the things that he hasn’t been able to get past in his life. So it’s a drama with a lot of comedy, a lot of tattoos. He wants to be a tattoo artist, which he is not very good at. He draws a terrible Obama tattoo on his friend. And Pete’s a fantastic actor, he’s hysterical. I think it’s a very special movie. I’m really proud of him. It takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there like this and be that vulnerable and share your story, because even though the movie is fictional, it’s emotionally very truthful. He did some remarkable work. I’m very, very proud of it.
[11:09] Andy Slavitt: Was it hard for him to make it? Were there hard moments for him?
[11:12] Judd Apatow: I think they were definitely hard moments, but it was clear what those moments would be. So if we were shooting something that we knew would be very sensitive to Pete, we would just say to him weeks in advance, “hey, that’s going to be a brutal day. How are we going to shoot that?” You know, we didn’t tiptoe around it. We went right at it. That’s a sad scene. Now, how do you want to do it, Pete? You want to shoot in the afternoon? In the morning? How would we approach that? And because we have a great, transparent relationship, a lot of the days we were most worried about turned out to be really fun and exciting days because creatively they were really working well. And Pete is very comfortable being honest. He is not a person who wants to hide how he’s doing. He wants to share it, good and bad. And that’s how he’s dealt with his life. He’s like, I’m not going to pretend.
[12:09] Andy Slavitt: Right. I first got to know him as he started to think about how he could advocate for people with mental health issues and concerns. And he reached out to me at that moment. My experience with him was I don’t think I’d ever talked to somebody as raw and generous and sort of sweet, but also troubled, as he was freely telling me. And I think he’s been public about this. You know, he’s not kicked the demons that you talked about that have been a part of his past. I think he was telling me that there were several days after 9/11 when he didn’t know when his father was coming back. And no one told him. And they hadn’t talked to him. And I don’t think they knew how to talk to him. I don’t think he blames anybody for that. But I think to hear him describe those few days, it reminded me of something that I think we’ll talk a little bit more about in the context of this pandemic, but how trauma and PTSD just can get inside and really change you.
[13:14] Judd Apatow: Yeah, I think something that I’ve learned in my own therapy is a lot about evolution and brain science. And so what I talk a lot about with my therapist is that the human mind was created to avoid predators. And one of the ways it attempted to avoid predators was to remember bad things. So if you walked into a cave and you saw a bear. your brain was built to never forget that that’s the cave with the bear in it. And whenever anything bad happened, you would remember. And that’s how you survived, by remembering danger. Not by remembering the great day where you had a great meal in that cave. You would forget that. And so now we’re in the modern world, and a lot of how our mind works is it’s overreacting. It’s telling you you’re going to die over things that aren’t as significant. So I think most people are really in a constant state of fight or flight. Our anxiety level is up. We’re constantly scanning for threats. And it takes a lot of work and a lot of meditation to understand what your mind is doing. And a lot of times your mind is trying to protect you. And it thinks by overreacting, it’s keeping you safe and keeping you alive. And when you’re somebody like Pete, who went through a real trauma, it gets programmed into your brain at a very high level. And it’s hard to process it so that your baseline is more appropriate.
[14:52] Judd Apatow: And I know when I was a kid, my parents got divorced, and there are aspects of it that I found traumatic. And it affects me every day of my entire life. It drove me into comedy. It made me hyper-vigilant. It made me work really hard. It made me afraid that I wouldn’t have stability. And that’s just my parents getting divorced. So, you know, what we tried to explore in the movie is how a family reacts around that trauma, and how someone is forced to confront what it is and get to a new place. And there was a scene in the movie where Pete says those mom, “I’m sorry I’ve been so hard to handle.” And then Pete improvised. “I think it’s always gonna be hard.” Because that is the truth of it. And that was important to us in making a movie about these issues, which is we didn’t want to lie and to say, and now everything’s great forever. It is an ongoing struggle, but it’s also a struggle where our character is going to have a lot more support and has gotten to a healthier place. And hopefully his entire life he’ll be learning and growing and getting stronger. And so I hope the movie is positive for people who have all sorts of issues, because that’s the reason why we made it.
[16:08] Andy Slavitt: So it’s a really enjoyable movie. It’s also deeply affecting. I think you made it with such care for him, and you let him be himself. I say this as an audience member, but also somebody who cares about him. I think it’s really worth seeing. It’s a rare combination.
[18:55] Andy Slavitt: I think the most healthy and productive school of thought is to make people see mental health as a chronic disease, not as something that you wouldn’t take care of because you’re embarrassed to talk about it. And, you know, I know from when we were kids, it was harder to talk about.
[19:17] Judd Apatow: No one talked about it. I mean, I graduated from high school in 1985.
[19:22] Andy Slavitt: Yep. I was ‘84.
[19:23] Judd Apatow: I was talking to my friend the other day and I said, you know, there wasn’t one kid in our high school on Long Island that came out of the closet. And I’m sure they were there. Not one person came out of the closet. There was almost no diversity at that time at our school. No one ever used the word depression. I never heard one kid ever say “I’m depressed” ever. I never had one kid ever use the word anxiety. You know, we were all sucking it up. You know, we would talk to each other and say, this is hard. But no one went to a therapist that I knew of. I wish my parents sent me to a therapist. When my parents got divorced, I was having a hard time. I was maybe 15 or so. One day I was just sitting in my apartment I lived in with my dad, and there was a book I saw. “Growing Up Divorced.” And I read it. It was actually very helpful. And it explained some of the dynamics between parents and kids and how hard the adjustment was. And decades later, literally, only a few years ago, I said to my dad, “you never asked me how I was doing? You know, how I got through it. I found some book that you had laying around.” And he goes, yeah, I left a book out for you. And I was like, what? He’s like, I left that book out for you. I hoped you’d read it. You left it out for me to read, but you never asked me if I read it! There was no follow up. Not until I was 50 years old did you tell me you left a book out.
[20:55] Andy Slavitt: Back then — you got to adjust for the curve. Back then, that was like a serious effort, right? I think I’ve over performed as a dad. It’s different these days. It’s a lot better. And look, I mean, coming out of this period of time, there are so many doctors, nurses, other people who’ve seen their family pass away alone, not able to mourn them. There’s gonna be a lot of built-up, accumulated trauma here. And these aren things to talk about. If you run from these things — I mean, look, I’m not a licensed anything. I don’t have any professional guidance to give to people. There are people who do this. But what they tell you, they tell me, they tell everyone is you can’t run from these things very effectively. Maybe some people can for a time. But actually, watching what Pete did in The King of Staten Island, I think it’s apropos what a lot of people are going to be having to deal with, which is to, in a sense, immerse themselves in some of these experiences, realize what they went through, realized how hard it was. Because we do steel ourselves for the moment. When we walk into that cave, we’re on our game. But it’s really afterwards that it becomes quite a different thing.
[22:09] Judd Apatow: And in so many different ways, I think people are traumatized by losing their senior year of school. Or I know a lot of young people who just graduated from college and all those job offers disappeared. You know, they worked hard their whole lives and now they’re unemployed and not sure how they’re going to enter the workforce. I mean, obviously, every day we’re seeing things that are traumatic. And I hope the country talks about it. We’re all trying to be safe, we’re all trying to do the right thing, but at the same time, there are very large losses for people. You know, people are terrified. It’s a long amount of time to be scared. Just the general anxiety of am I going to suddenly get sick and die, to have it in your body that fear all day, every day, month after month after month. Or maybe you’re worried about your parents, your kids. It’s just a lot to carry with you. The thing we say at our house all the time is “it’s just too much.” You know, it’s just too much.
[23:12] Andy Slavitt: Yeah. And especially this week. And especially if you’re black. And all of the trauma that exists there that the people just live with.
[23:21] Judd Apatow: Well, the world has been revealed. You know, we knew it, but it became revealed that the system is against you. The system doesn’t help you rise. It keeps you down in moments like this. There’s more of a chance that you’re going to get sick. More of a chance you’re not going to get the support you need. And the government is going to support rich people’s recovery more than people who really need the assistance. And suddenly it’s all laid bare. And that’s what leads to people getting frustrated and enraged.
[23:55] Andy Slavitt: That’s right. We had Jason Kanter on the podcast a couple of weeks ago, and he had a very public bout with and recovery from PTSD, as you might remember. And he talked about something which I hadn’t thought of, which is really interesting, is that a lot of people won’t give themselves permission to feel like they’re having PTSD because they don’t think theirs was as bad as someone else’s. And he said something very wise, which is your brain doesn’t compare. If for you, it was a divorce, you say, but I didn’t have someone pointing a gun to my head in Afghanistan, your brain doesn’t know from Afghanistan. It’s never been there. Let me just shift a little bit. I know you’ve got to be running in a few minutes. You have given the country over the last number of years the gift of learning how to feel and laugh, kind of at the same time, over a variety of different subject matters. And have you done any thinking about the kinds of movies that you want to make about this period of time, about 2020, about how art in general and movies specifically will sort of reflect this time period?
[25:09] Judd Apatow: I’m not sure yet. You know, before I made The King of Staten Island with Pete, for years I had been thinking I would like to write about service. And as someone who had written about immature young men and relationships and sudden pregnancies and the 40 year old virgin, it just occurred to me, what do I not write about? What would no one think I would ever write about, which is service and sacrifice. And I kicked around a few ideas. And then I met Pete and I realized, oh, this is the opportunity to do that. And talking about his father’s willingness to put his life at risk to help other people and how it affects his family. And now we’re seeing that every day, and it’s not just firemen and nurses and EMT workers, it’s also people who work at a grocery store or deliver things. Anybody who is, you know, dealing with the public in any way is putting themselves at risk to keep our country moving forward, or to keep people safe, or keep people fed. And I feel like what I take from this moment, which I hope will be in anything I create, is that there is an illusion that we’re not in this together. You know, it’s a Buddhist idea. The illusion of separateness. But we are not separate. You cannot solve any of these problems without caring equally for other people. The whole idea of “America first,” or an ideology which is about survival of the fittest, it really does not function as a concept. You do have to give everybody healthcare. You do have to make sure everybody has a living wage. You know, there are giant forces in this country that spend millions and tens of millions of dollars trying to make sure that the minimum wage is kept low.
[26:59] Judd Apatow: And we see the result of that. That if we’re not in it for everyone — and not just this country, in every country, we’re all interconnected. And, you know, when you think about climate change, yeah, we all have to make adjustments and make sacrifices. I think a lot of what Trump has always preached is lack of sacrifice. He doesn’t want anyone to give up anything. And I hope in my art and in my life, that’s what I’m trying to communicate to people. Nothing works unless we’re all trying to help each other.
[27:31] Andy Slavitt: Yeah. It feels like there’s got to be some really rich stories coming out of this period of time that illustrate that in a really vivid way that I hope make good clay for you. Because you are going to have to help all of us, and people who come after us, make sense of all of this that’s going on. Eventually, we’re gonna see it through your eyes, Judd. I mean, we will barely remember the reality and we will long remember the art, the movies, the books, the stories, the poetry, the paintings, whatever else comes out of this period, that’s what’s going to be left. And it feels like your burden to give us your slice of this thing along the way. And I’m really curious, as we sit here in the middle of it, like, what it all looks like a few years now.
[28:27] Judd Apatow: Well, hopefully there’ll be some sort of medical breakthrough that helps with that part of our problem. And then in terms of our ongoing social problems, in a lot of ways those are tougher to handle. There are many entrenched forces who like things the way they are. But here’s what I always say: all it takes is voting. That’s all it takes. You know, we can talk about this, and protest about this, but the truth is that everyone registers to vote, if everyone gets out there, if everybody fights voter suppression, you can change everything. Everything can change in November. Just go vote.
[29:05] Andy Slavitt: Well, I think that’s a great hopeful message to leave it on. I would tell you that my prediction is pretty simple in terms of where this will take us. One is we will remember how many people we lost, how many we lost that we didn’t have to lose. I think that will be part of the story. And then I think in a much more personal way, we’ll probably all remember kind of what we did to make things better, what we did to help other people that were struggling through this. Other people that were worse off through this than we were. And I suspect and I hope they we’ll get asked — I hope Zach asks me and I hope Zach’s kids ask him. And I hope we have really pretty good answers for how we behaved and how we helped and whether or not we were ruled by our fears or by our, as you said earlier, the opportunity to kind of be your best self at a moment when it’s really called upon. So we’ll look forward to the tape rolling forward.
[30:04] Andy Slavitt: Well, I can’t recommend enough your new movie, you don’t even have to get out of your couch or your chair to watch it. You just say the words, rent it and it’s there. So I suspect everybody will do that. And then all that you have to do going forward, I think will continue to be a gift to us and how we see ourselves. So thanks so much, Judd.
[30:26] Judd Apatow: Thank you. Thank you for having me. And be well.
[30:31] Andy Slavitt: Thanks to Judd for appearing on In the Bubble. Coming up Wednesday, we have a great podcast for you. It’s my conversation with former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg. Until then, thanks for listening to In the Bubble.
[30:50] Andy Slavitt: In the Bubble is a production of Lemonada Media. Niccole Galteland is our producer and Ivan Kuraev is our editor. Music is by Dan Molad and Oliver Hill. Zach Slavitt is our co-producer and my co-host. You can find out more about our show on social media @LemonadaMedia. And you can find me on social media at @ASlavitt on Twitter, @AndySlavitt on Instagram. If you liked what you heard today, tell your family and friends, but tell them at a distance. For now, stay safe. Share some joy. We’ll get through this together. And #StayHome.