If the initial trailers for Funny People, the third film written and directed by Judd Apatow, looked a little bit too melodramatic to be a comedy, then, well, that's because it is just that. As Apatow explains in the hourlong documentary, Inside Funny People (which debuted at midnight on Comedy Central, with repeats planned for noon Tuesday and 3 a.m. Thursday): ‚ÄúIt's hard to make a comedy that‚Äôs really more a drama than a comedy. I don‚Äôt know if I can do it.‚Äù But do it he did.
The wealth of background material on the "funny people" who inhabit the film already has proven to be quite remarkable in promoting the movie and showing that it is about comedians. Apatow's documentary featurettes also reveal just how much of himself he poured into the film, as well as how much of a comedy nerd he was and still is. Case in point: Apatow says the following early in his Comedy Central documentary about the need to get all of his actors back onstage in comedy clubs…
‚ÄúThere‚Äôs a feeling you get when you do stand-up, that you just need to experience to know what it‚Äôs about. It‚Äôs the terror of revealing yourself, and the feeling that if I don‚Äôt get a laugh this time, I must get it next time or I will not be able to sleep at night.‚Äù
In the special (sure to be on the DVD, which at this point may have to be a box set!), Apatow shows us how he incorporated video he shot of Sandler back when the two shared an apartment in Los Angeles right after both had left college, and used it as a plot device in the film (with Sandler's character making actual prank phone calls, just as he had as a 21-year-old). It's a meta move, but seeing it documented on film is also very endearing. Apatow also shows clips of Sandler performing at the Comedy and Magic Club in Hermosa Beach, Calif., 18 years ago, and then again last year as Sandler shook off the stand-up rust to get into character. You see clips of both Sandler and Apatow on A&E's at the Improv with Budd Friedman, then also Sandler at a lunch roundtable in the Improv last year with Friedman, Paul Reiser, George Wallace, Carol Leifer, Monty Hoffman and Mark Schiff (comics Apatow said he and Sandler looked up to when they were trying to get stage time). There's footage of Seth Rogen performing stand-up at the tender age of 13 (different from the clip of 13-year-old Seth Rogen I posted back in April), as well as joke-writing sessions that included help from Patton Oswalt, Brian Posehn and Allen Covert, and footage from several of the stand-up performances — much of which I'm sure will also pop up in a separate Comedy Central special this Friday, Funny People: Live.
And if seeing all of that doesn't convince you that Apatow remains just as much of a geek in love with comedy as he was as a kid, then there's more. He unveils a few of the cassette tapes he has saved from when, as a 10th-grader in New York, he convinced several comedians to be interviewed by him for the high-school radio show he created just so he could interview the comedians. "I was a lunatic about it. It took on a life of its own," Apatow said about that enterprise.
Here's another short feature (with slightly different footage from what's shown in the Comedy Central special) in which Apatow and Sandler talk about putting the movie together:
Clearly, I'm more excited to watch this movie now than I ever was, and all of these advance videos have made me more sympathetic to what Apatow is trying to accomplish — which means that even if I'm not laughing for stretches of the actual film, I'll understand and appreciate all of the love he has put into the product. Which makes me wonder…
If David Seltzer had come out with Punchline now instead of two decades ago, would he have made use of all of the technology, social networking and marketing at our disposal to get the comedy community, the mainstream press and new-media bloggers on board with his film? Would the comedians have responded in kind to make it all a little more believable? Then again, plenty of actual stand-ups took part in Punchline, and they were willing to be part of the comedy locker room. So maybe it's a moot point to even ask?