I Found This Funny
My Favorite Pieces of Humor and Some That May Not Be Funny at All
edited by Judd Apatow
McSweeney’s, 480 pp., $25
When Judd Apatow was a boy, he took a summer trip to Los Angeles to visit his grandparents and begged them to drive by the home of his hero, Steve Martin. They did. And as luck would have it, as they passed Martin’s house, Apatow spotted the comedian in the driveway. The youngster bolted from the car and asked for an autograph. “Sorry,” Martin said, but he didn’t give autographs at home. No exceptions. So Apatow returned east, penned an angry letter, and mailed it off to his idol. A few weeks later a package arrived. In it was a copy of Martin’s book Cruel Shoes and a note: “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize I was speaking to the Judd Apatow.”
After decades spent working in all-purpose anonymity—doing stand-up, staying up nights to craft jokes, booking comedy clubs, fashioning scripts, and producing shows—the Judd Apatow is now widely known. His credits include writing and directing the hit comedies The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, and work on movies like Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and Funny People. Apatow has formulated a distinct style of comedy—explicit and raunchy, yet also family-values-heavy. His characters are misguided, but have good hearts, and they usually end up doing the right thing. He is prolific; it can seem as if every few months another film with which he was involved is released.
And now, a book, a collection of Apatow-assembled pieces from authors such as Raymond Carver, Nora Ephron, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Conan O’Brien. (All proceeds will go to a nonprofit organization that tutors children and helps them learn to write.) Apatow “made a point of including writing from all disciplines,” he notes, and here are short stories, poetry, essays, scripts, and drawings. I Found This Funny “mainly focuses on what I am most interested in—humor. But several of the pieces are not at all funny, but I could not resist putting them in because they mean so much to me.”
For example, a story by Dan Chaon examines a woman’s feelings about (and unsettling attachment to) her brother-in-law, who has been convicted of rape and imprisoned. Not so funny. But lots else is. In “Coyote v. Acme” by Ian Frazier, Mr. Wile E. Coyote brings suit against the Acme Company, seeking compensation for “personal injuries, loss of business income, and mental suffering” caused by Acme’s “actions and/or gross negligence.” Readers learn, “Such injuries sustained by Mr. Coyote have temporarily restricted his ability to make a living in his profession as predator.” A New Yorker profile of the late comedian Bill Hicks illuminates; a never-picked-up television pilot by Robert Smigel and Conan O’Brien amuses (the opening line: “I’m here to audition for ‘Happy Days: The Next Generation.’ ”). Jack Handey is in the book, too, writing about his first day in Hell.
Apatow is a recent convert to reading. Upon emerging from an adolescent obsession with Stephen King, he mostly avoided books until one day several years ago, when he decided to take time off from work, stay home, and read: “So the question was—where to start?” Apatow’s friends suggested authors to him, and he tracked down their works. Then he found out which authors had influenced the authors he had just read, and he tracked down their works, too. One book or story led to another, and I Found This Funny is Apatow’s own advice for those who, like him, are arriving late to the literary party. Here, he says: Give this stuff a try.
Liam Julian, a Hoover Institution fellow, is managing editor of Policy Review.