Exclusive interview: Judd Apatow talks Crashing, Artie Lange and comedy’s current landscape

Judd Apatow headshot
Judd Apatow’s comedy credentials range from performer to auteur. Pic credit: HBO

Crashing on HBO has done a very clever thing. Showrunner Judd Apatow has kicked up the volume in Pete Holmes’ on-screen character’s life and created an excellent Season 3.

Pete’s less of a comedic bumbler and more a confident and comfortable-in-his-own-skin mensch.

The secret ingredient is newcomer Madeline Wise.

Apatow has taken Pete on his NYC comedy career life do-over and given his character a burst of manly confidence and a new outlook, combined with Pete Holmes natural talent and charisma, and it all works.

Not just Holmes is benefitting from this energized season, but Apatow has written and directed award-winning level of performances that will have people on the bubble about this series won over. Namely Dov Davidoff (Jason Webber) in episode four earns a huge round of applause and critical note.

Madeline Wise and Pete Holmes in Crashing on HBO
Madeline Wise’s Kat comes out of left field and scores with Pete. Pic credit: HBO

Holmes plays a younger version of himself drawing upon real-life events. Holmes was like comedy’s Blanche DuBois, he was able to survive New York on the kindness of strangers, notably Artie Lange.

Apatow is an adept steward and creature of the comedy scene from all angles. The queue ropes to the stage, to the big production deals and the helming seat behind a camera.

His instincts are always on the money and understands that the intentions and the intelligence of a comedian are what matters most.

We spoke to Judd ahead of the new season three of Crashing and learned quite a bit:

Monsters and Critcs: Let’s talk season three. What is new?

Judd Apatow: Pete is figuring out how to be funny. Then the next issue is now that he knows how to be funny, can be a unique original comedian? Or is he a hacky funny comedian? And that’s what this season is about.

M&C: I appreciate your comedy background and how you showed the tribes of comics and clubs they play in the show, along with the #metoo sea change that’s going on. That fourth episode was so powerful with Dov Davidoff. It wasn’t heavy handed. Can you talk about that?

Judd Apatow:There’s a lot happening right now in comedy, a lot of discussion about diversity and sexual harassment.

I think women haven’t been treated well forever in comedy. When I first started in the mid eighties there were very few female comedians, and I think that’s changed a lot.

There are now way more, so many brilliant female comedians. We wanted to show what it’s like to be on the road and how they’re treated.

How sometimes you’re better than everyone else on the bill and you’re not treated that way. There’s still a lot of men on the road looking to hit on everybody. We thought we should have an episode where we show as much of that as we can.

We were also showing some of the corporatization of comedy. Now you go to clubs and they’re big chains, they’re in malls, someone’s watching the feed from Florida to see how they think it’s going…

We just tried to be as realistic as we could about it and have voices from both sides to show some men who are not happy with the change.

M&C: Visually how you brought it home with the comedy club corporatization and the Chuckle’s, juxtaposed with panning shots of an empty food court and the dying retail mall.

It brought home that the juiciness that used to be at a Comedy Club like you were talking about is changing.

Judd Apatow: Well it’s always a scary moment in comedy when it’s too successful.

We’re all nervous about how popular comedy is because, I for one saw it when it all crashed in the late eighties. Because there was just too much of it. Too much of it on television, too many shows with a lot of comics in five minutes.

I think it’s different now because the roots of comedy are much deeper. People listen to all these people on their podcasts, they’re putting out hour specials every few years, people are really getting to know the comedians.

It’s not as shallow an endeavor as it might have been in the past. And so, like music stars, people are tracking the comedians that they like their whole lives.

I think that because people listen so many podcasts they do understand why the world works; which allows us to get even more into the fine small details of it.

Because people aren’t thrown by it. They understand the process of how you get on stage, how you move up the ladder… we’re helping people understand it but we’re not starting at zero.

And people are fascinated because it’s like anybody’s job, you know?

What is the steps for me to get successful at this? Who do I have to get to like me? How do I get better at this?

And a lot of this season is about Pete getting into the world of Christian comedy, and it’s hard to say no to because he’s getting paid for the first time. He could lose his whole identity to service this market if he’s not careful.

M&C: One of your star players on this series is kind of living a lot of issues out on Twitter, Artie Lange. I wanted to know if you wanted to speak to your thoughts on Artie’s involvement with the show and what’s going on.

Judd Apatow: When we started working with Artie we were aware that he has struggles with substance abuse, and we felt like we could work with him if we honestly reflected what was happening.

He was very brave last season to do an entire episode about his addictions and he felt that if he talked about how much pain he’s in, struggling with addictions, maybe someone will see this episode and they’ll be at a party one day and someone will say “You want to try this?”

And they’ll say no because they remember how much Artie seems to be suffering.

And he was really funny and gave an amazing performance in that episode. It was a sad tragic story that we told and we didn’t try to make it any happier than it is.

He’s in a terrible struggle, and over the last few months people have seen the result of that struggle. We pray for him, and hope that he can find the strength to get healthy, but it’s very scary and it’s very real. It’s a constant concern.

M&C: Do you think Sam Kinison or Andrew Dice Clay in his heydey leather jacketed youth-not now, could have had a career today?

Judd Apatow:That’s an interesting question. There are always markets for people with all sorts of very strong points of view. In every culture environment people rise up to be the voice of what people are feeling or thinking about, and they certainly were of their time.

I saw Andrew Dice Clay recently at the Comedy Cellar and he was insanely funny. But it also felt very different, it felt like he’s evolved, he’s an older man now.

He has a funny awareness of how he fits in. He’s also an incredible actor. I don’t know if you could just place people from different eras in this era so cleanly, but I do think that those voices figure out how to adapt to what people are talking about.

So it’s hard to say. But there are voices fighting for diversity and compassion and understanding in their comedy.

And then there are voices that are talking about how frustrated they are by the changes that are happening and how they feel left out of it or left behind.

Or just making comedy out of their inability to adjust, how confused they are. I guess there’s a place for all of it.

You know for me, I just want comedy to have a good heart. I think you control everything if your heart is in the right place.

M&C:    I feel like you wrote an award-winning performance for Dov Davidoff, and you put a spotlight on him as an actor playing Jason Webber, that he would have never had if you didn’t write his role in that way in that fourth episode.

It shows that Dov Davidoff is not just a stand-up but he can do serious A level drama, it was incredible.

Judd Apatow: Dov is a fantastic actor and he is a brilliantly funny and unique voice. His stand up is nothing like the character he does on the show.

In a way, he was the perfect person to play him, because he’s not like that at all but truly understands what those people are going through intellectually.

A lot of comedy in the past, and for some people still, was about attacking… I don’t even know how I would describe it. It’s a very male and macho and expressing more of a brutish point of view.

And people found that funny, it didn’t mean they always agreed with it but they found watching that guy express himself to be something funny to watch.

And it’s always a fine line, do I agree with it? Can I enjoy a person like that and disagree with everything they’re saying?

In a way it’s like Married With Children, we all thought that was so funny because it’s all so wrong. But some of those comedians don’t know that they’re wrong, so we debate them person by person.

It’s certainly fun to write episodes to talk about how those types of comedians are adjusting to a new culture.

Crashing premieres on Sunday, January 20

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