Judd Apatow Reviews 100 Years of Comic Gems That Birthed ‘The 40-Year-Old Virgin’

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Judd Apatow, the comic interpreter of the modern human condition, dives with TheWrap into the Universal archive to mark the studio's 100-year anniversary 

Judd Apatow, the modern master of human-scale comedy, sat down with TheWrap to review the Universal Studios archive in honor of the studio’s 100-year anniversary this year.

The writer-director of “Knocked Up,” producer of “Bridesmaids” and director of the upcoming “This is 40” imprinted early and often on the comedies produced by the Universal machine, from Abbott and Costello to John Hughes’ “Sixteen Candles.”

Here’s a trip down into the vault with one of our era’s most fearless tasteless unfettered explorers of the human condition.

'DUCK SOUP"
Directed by Leo McCarey, 1933

When I think about Universal movies going back to my childhood, what formed me as a person interested in comedy, the first movie that had an impact was "Duck Soup" 

I was a fanatical Marx Brothers fan as a 10-year-old kid. It might have been because I loved their rebellion — it seemed like they were flipping the bird to everyone. As a small non-athletic person, I loved that they were weird guys who were telling all the great-looking people in power to fuck off. They were laughing at the rules and pointing out how ridiculous most of it was. As a nerdy, geeky kid, I must have been mad at the rules in my world.

"ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN"
Directed by Charles Barton, 1948

I was obsessed with them. When I was seven or eight years old, all of those Abbott and Costello movies were shown every weekend in New York. On Saturday and Sunday, they ran every weekend, it wasn’t random. Movies like “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.” "Buck Privates" (1941) had the Andrew Sisters in it. To this day I’m telling my daughter about the Andrews Sisters — it’s the movie where they sang “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” They were funny. The whole dynamic of  the angry guy being mad at the goofy guy totally worked for me. 

When I was older, Universal made the great comedies that defined my childhood: "Animal House," "The Blues Brothers," "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," "Back to the Future," "Sixteen Candles." These were the movies that made me want to go into comedy.

"FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH"
Directed by Amy Heckerling, 1982

I don’t think there’s anything I've done that hasn’t been influenced by “Fast Times.” It combined very realistic high-school behavior with high comedy. It had this incredible performance by Sean Pean as Spicoli, but also a dramatic storyline where Jennifer Jason Leigh gets pregnant and has abortion. It combined drama and comedy in way I hadn’t seen before, one that reflected my life. Came out in 1982, I was in high school. I always refer back to it. That tone was the tone that we always try to hit.

"ANIMAL HOUSE"
Directed by John Landis, 1978

I remember seeing "Animal House" with my mom. Sitting there with her, a few scenes in that movie were the most embarrassing moments in my life. Like the scene where John Belushi is looking in the window at the topless sorority girls. I was 11. And I had an awareness that a lot of these people in the movie were friends — "Animal House," "Blues Brothers" were connected to "Saturday Night Live" and "National Lampoon." It planted in my mind that it would be fun to work with your friends — and then work with them over and over.

"SIXTEEN CANDLES"
Director John Hughes, 1984

It’s a great John Hughes movie that starred a nerdy guy, Anthony Michael Hall. I was Anthony Michael Hall. I was holding up the panties in the air in the bathroom. It was truthful emotionally, but it had big comedy. John Cusack, Molly Ringwald — that style of comedy had a big influence on me. It was sweet, but it had a character named Long Duk Dong.

And also:

>> I was such a fan of “The Jerk” as a kid. I talked like him for four straight years. I watch it to this day. I force my daughter to watch it.

>> I saw “Jaws” in the third grade in a packed movie theater where everyone was screaming their brains out. It totally blew my mind. It affects my ocean-going behavior to this day.

>> I loved “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” It was one of the first good movies I appreciated on some level. Sissy Spacek played Loretta Lynn, this poverty-stricken kid who makes it in show business. I was this weird kid on Long Island. This was a story that said, ‘This poor woman from coal-mining country can break into show business – it can be done.”

>> “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.” My English teacher Mr. Board came in and said, "I have seen the best movie ever made." And he wore an "E.T." pin for a year. I took my girlfriend to see it.  She said, "I think it’s too much." I said ‘Are you crazy?’ And I was mad at her for not liking it.