Funny People: An Evening with Judd Apatow and Leslie Mann

Apatow and Mann

Last night, as part of the Telefilm Canada Feature Comedy Exchange, the Canadian Film Centre hosted a master class with Judd Apatow and Leslie Mann, the successful husband and wife comedy team behind the upcoming comedy This is 40. The two funny people, best known for their film work in The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, shared stories about their creative process so that up-and-coming filmmakers could gain some insight at what makes their comedy such a success. The point was underscored by Eugene Levy, who introduced the comedic duo to the audience at the TIFF Bell Lightbox and noted that he was proud to present two artists whose work “is actually funny.”

Throughout the evening, Apatow and Mann riffed with moderator Richard Crouse and showed the audience how their natural, liberal approach creates the slice-of-life synergy that looks so effortless on screen. The laughs started immediately when Crouse (who always impresses with his wittiness and flashy socks) began with a few obligatory Rob Ford jokes. Apatow, ever the softie, took sympathy with the recently ousted mayor, dropped an F-bomb, and caught the vibe of the audience as everyone settled in for a casual conversation.

Mann fielded the first question from Crouse and told the audience about how she and Apatow met. Their stories differ, but Mann said that they met during an audition for a part in The Cable Guy, which Apatow produced, and one made an impression on the other, although it took some canned spaghetti and Wonder Bread to charm the second party. (It seems that cooking isn’t among Apatow’s many talents.)

The anecdote about the couple’s relationship provided a good segue for illuminating how they create material that is riotously funny yet true to life. The first tip, Apatow explained, is not to remain conscious about whether something will be funny or not. Mann added that it’s all in the timing and delivery, noting that she doesn’t even consider herself a “comedic actress” even though her roles often go beyond the typical straight-man part that’s conventionally been reserved for women in comedy.

Using one clip from The 40 Year-Old Virgin, in which Mann drives drunk and then barfs on Steve Carell, the team shared how their creative process is ongoing, with the dialogue of the scene remaining roughly the same as it was when scripted but the ensuing turn of the scene altering during filming and editing. Flexibility is one other key that Apatow and Mann noted, since some things seem much funnier on the page than they do in the editing room. Post-production also allows for some additional improvisation, such as a few inflections of obnoxious intoxication into re-recorded dialogue. (“Frrrrrench toast!”)
This is 40
The conversation gradually built towards This is 40 with Apatow and Mann sharing with Crouse and the audience how one can inflect scenes with a variety of tonal shifts, or by adding more substance and depth of character by infusing material with snippets of one’s own life. This is 40 is arguably the most personal film that Apatow and Mann have made together so far: not only does the married couple in the film (played by Mann and Paul Rudd) draw shades from Mann and Apatow’s own marriage, but the two daughters  in the film are played by the couple’s daughters in real life. Scenes from the couple’s family life even seeped into the evening’s conversation when their daughter Maude called Apatow in the midst of an answer and he inconspicuously put her on speakerphone. (So, if you think that your dad embarrasses you in public, just imagine what happens when he is a professional comic!) Adding their daughters is simply a new element of adaptability that the couple has brought to their work, and they seemed to have made it even more maturely humorous than it was before. It seems that comedy is always a work in progress!

This is Forty opens in theatres on December 21.
For more information on the Canadian Film Centre, please visit www.cfccreates.com