'The Simpsons': Judd Apatow on playing 'self-involved' Judd Apatow
Judd Apatow is one of Hollywood’s biggest comedy voices, and he’s lending his to The Simpsons on Sunday (Fox, 8 p.m.) The writer-director-producer whose credits range from This is 40 to Anchorman to Bridesmaids to Girls plays himself in an episode in which Homer screens illegally downloaded movies in his backyard, only to wind up on trial for piracy. (Will Arnett, Apatow’s wife, Leslie Mann, Paul Rudd, Seth Rogen, Channing Tatum and Rob Halford also pop up.) This won’t be Apatow’s only contribution to the animated comedy; the producers also plan to turn a script that he wrote two decades ago into an episode for next season. EW spoke with Apatow about both of his Simpsons gigs.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did this guest role come about?
JUDD APATOW: They just asked me if Leslie, Paul, and I wanted to do voices on this episode and we were overjoyed. You wait your whole life for that call! I mean, I’m still dining out on me doing my Jay Leno impression on an episode of The Critic… The closest I’ve gotten to being a part of The Simpsons is in an episode a long time ago — Homer was at a Planet Hollywood-type place and The Cable Guy script was behind glass. Homer made some comment about how important it was, which I would assume was a vicious attack at me, which I could not have enjoyed more.
You deliver a self-important Hollywood speech at the trial. [See clip above.] How are you portrayed in the episode?
It certainly was a version of me that was very self-involved and deeply concerned about my royalties. [Laughs] I was fighting very hard to prevent piracy and pretending that I was worried about other people, but probably only worried about myself… I give a big speech about how DVD piracy doesn’t just hurt big stars. I say, “It’s not just the people who dream for a living but the people who depend on us — the spin class instructors, the personal rabbis, Seth Rogen. I saw a bootleg DVD of The 40-Year-Old Virgin for sale at a car wash — they left off my director’s commentary! It didn’t even have a blooper reel!”… [Executive producer] James Brooks came when I recorded it, which was the treat of all-time, and he was pitching jokes so I was in comedy-nerd heaven!
Let’s talk about your other association with The Simpsons. After reading about an interview in which you mentioned writing a Simpsons spec script while trying to break into Hollywood, executive producer Al Jean called you and said the show was interested in turning your script into an episode. Can you walk us through that?
After the first season of The Simpsons, I sat down and tried to write a spec episode of The Simpsons to use as a sample to get work. I wrote a sample of The Simpsons and Get A Life. I sent them all around town and I did not get a job from anybody. I got a meeting at Get A Life and didn’t get a job there either. But I heard that they liked it at The Simpsons. And after The Ben Stiller Show was cancelled, Al Jean and Mike Reiss, hired me to work on their show, The Critic. And I always wished that they would make my Simpsons episode so last year I was doing an interview with Elvis Mitchell and the subject of my Simpsons spec came up and I told the audience the story I had written, and Al Jean read about it and he called me and he said they’d like to do it…. The reason I brought up The Simpsons episode is because I realized while doing this interview that everything I had ever written was the premise of the first thing I had ever written. All of my stories are about people trying hard not to grow up.
What’s the plot of this episode?
The family goes to a hypnotism show and the hypnotist has a heart [attack]. But at the show, he made Homer think he was 10 years old so they have to leave the show with Homer thinking he’s 10. It’s about Bart and Homer becoming best friends because they’re the same age, and then Homer doesn’t want to be revived because he’d rather be 10 than have adult responsibility…. The writers of The Simpsons are rewriting it and trying to bring it up to the standards of the show. [Laughs] I wrote it in what I thought was the style of The Simpsons after only six episodes had aired. I received an email from Al Jean where he detailed the changes they would make to it but they were so hilarious and brilliant, it kind of blew my mind. They are so funny and strong over there. We never should take The Simpsons for granted. It really sets the bar for everybody.
Al said that you are welcome to collaborate with them on the episode as much as you want to. Are you going to take another pass at the script? How is this going to work?
Once they’re done rewriting, I’m going to come in and go through it with them and do notes and give any input I might have on the episode.… I think the idea of my episode is very good and there are some nice moments, but it was the first thing I ever wrote and I would like to be very clear that at the time I wrote it, I had only had sex with two women. I am up to four or five by now.
Will you voice a character in this episode too? Maybe the hypnotist?
That is a good idea! I’m going to fight to be the voice of the hypnotist! I can’t say I could do it better than Harry Shearer or Hank Azaria, but I still will fight to do it anyway!
Would you be up for writing another Simpsons episode?
I hope the door stays open wide. There was a year where I was in between projects and I couldn’t think of a screenplay to write so I would call Phil Rosenthal all the time and pitch him Everybody Loves Raymond episodes. And he would listen and smile and always tell me that they had done something similar during a previous season. I kept trying to pitch him episodes and I always failed, so maybe I’ll do that at The Simpsons — I’ll keep pitching and then they’ll let me do another one in 22 years.
Now that your first script is being made, is your life complete?
James Brooks is my hero and there are a few people in my childhood who made me want to go into comedy — James Brooks, Norman Lear, Larry Gelbart. And to be associated with something that he makes is a real full-circle moment for me. I wanted to be a part of it from the second it was created. I knew it was one of the landmark moments in comedy and now that I have become a part of it, there is a small part of me that thinks I should retire. I should just move to the woods and realize that the circle has closed. There’s nothing else to dream for.