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  • Dan Connors

Sick in the Head: Conversations About Life and Comedy

Sick in the Head: Conversations About Life and Comedy

Judd Apatow 2014

Judd Apatow is amazing to me for three reasons:

1- He wrote or produced some of the best comedic movies of their time including Anchorman, Superbad, Knocked Up, Funny People, and the 40 Year Old Virgin, plus three short-lived television shows that are still highly regarded- Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared, and The Ben Stiller Show.

2- He is a what is called a super-connector. He knows so many people in the comedy business that he's able to interview dozens of them and get them to open up in ways I've never seen before.

3- He had the confidence and guts to start on this journey at the tender age of 15, interviewing huge stars like Jerry Seinfeld and Steve Allen with no credentials other than a high school radio station. I seriously doubt anybody could repeat that access to celebrities today.

His book, Sick in the Head, is a collection of about 40 interviews that Apatow and others conducted with many of the biggest names in comedy. The interviews themselves aren't all that funny, but they reveal a lot about the people involved and the craft of comedy. The book is long- almost 500 pages, but it's broken up into 40 separate sessions, so you can pick and choose who to read about. All of the proceeds from the book went to charity- a literacy program called 826, so you can tell this was a labor of love.

Apatow tells a lot of his own story during the interviews, and his comedic journey wasn't exactly a straight line. His parents divorced during his teen yars, he never finished college, and ended up thrust into the comedy world at a young age, with his growing list of contacts landing him with writing jobs for Roseanne and Garry Shandling. There are some great photographs in the middle of the book to help bring the people alive, and the topics run from the profound to the banal. The discussions in this book are a cut above the typical late night superficial interviews we typically see these comics doing, and that alone is the best reason for reading this book.

His interview subjects include comedy legends like Steve Martin, Mel Brooks, Garry Shandling, James Brooks, Larry Gelbart, Martin Short, Roseanne Barr, and Steve Allen.

He gives some space to current comics from his own movies like Seth Rogen, Adam Sandler, and his wife Leslie Mann.

And we get to hear from more recent comedians like Jon Stewart, Amy Schumer, Key and Peele, Sarah Silverman, and Stephen Colbert.

Apatow is a self-confessed comedy nerd, as am I. This is about as close as I will ever come to hearing from these people, though some have written excellent autobiographies- like Mel Brooks, Steve Martin, and Amy Schumer. He has a new book called Sicker in the Head that I will now have to check out to see who he lands for his interviews.

Most interviews today, especially on television, seem superficial and forgettable. Podcasts are the best place for good interviews these days. People in general like to talk about themselves, so getting an interview from anybody might not be as hard as you'd imagine. I don't have a high school radio station, but I'm tempted to try Apatow's methods and see what I can come up with.

Sick in the Head is not for everybody. It's long, and occasionally too full of inside references. But if you're a comedy nerd, here's a treasury from one of the greats of his generation. Comedy is a hard business, and we rarely hear about the failures or the near-misses, and this book gives an inside view about what being a comedian is truly like.

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