Judd Apatow is the king of all comedy nerds, and we say that with the utmost respect. Not only is Apatow a veteran television (Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared) and film (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Trainwreck) writer-director, he has been a student of comedy since he was in his teens, when he first hustled/possibly scammed his way into interviews with famed comics like Jerry Seinfeld (several of which are compiled in his deeply enjoyable 2015 book, Sick in the Head).
So when it comes to matters of funny business, there are few better equipped to weigh in than Apatow, whose latest movie, The King of Staten Island, premiered on streaming platforms over the weekend.
One question comedians everywhere are grappling with as police brutality protests continue to sweep the nation in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd: What is comedy’s role during crisis — and when is it OK to be funny? Even the reliably incendiary Dave Chappelle would not attempt to bring any levity when discussing Floyd during a surprise standup special he dropped on YouTube late Thursday night.
“There’s always a role for comedy to play and satire to play,” Apatow tells us (watch above). “I think that it’s really an issue for an individual. If they want that, certainly people should provide it. No one has to watch it. There’s definitely a lot of people who are like, ‘You know what, let’s not joke right now. We’re past the joking stage.’ And there are other people that it helps them understand it, and process it, and they like the humor about very serious things.
“I think I go back and forth. Some days I’m like, ‘I don’t want to see any jokes about this.’ And other days I really need somebody to talk me through it. I think the late-night hosts have done a remarkable job, both when they’re funny and when they’re serious. It’s very impressive.”
The fact that there’s always seemingly a need for laughter — or at least entertainment as a whole — is one of the reasons Apatow and his King of Staten Island star Pete Davidson decided to release the film (in which the Saturday Night Live star plays a loose version of himself, struggling with mental health and the loss of his firefighter father, and dealing with his mom’s new boyfriend) on digital platforms instead of delaying their theatrical release originally set for June.
Firstly, they say they’re not sure when movie theaters are going to be widely open again. What’s more, those still in quarantine during the coronavirus shutdown could probably use something to watch.
Asked for his thoughts on our current state of civil unrest, Apatow — an outspoken critic of the Trump administration on Twitter — shared a familiar refrain: Rock the vote.
“What we hope is something comes of this,” he says. “There’s no reason for any of this unless there’s very serious changes, which alter the system in a number of very important ways.
“For me, what I always get back to is, we have an election in November. And I feel like the voter turnout for our elections are very low, they’re at like 60 percent I think. And for young people, it’s much, much lower than that. There’s an enormous amount of power to be had if everyone really registered, if everyone really fought voter suppression, to elect leaders who believe what you believe.”
The King of Staten Island is now streaming on Amazon.
Watch Pete Davidson talk about tapping into real-life grief for the film:
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