"Sick in the Head" offers an oral history of contemporary comedy, revealing a drive away from joke-telling and toward a more intimate point of view. The funniest interviews — like those with
You recorded some of these interviews on cassette in the 1980s and have kept them all this time.
Oh, my gosh, I'm such a hoarder. I'm just the kind of person who would treat these cassette tapes like gold. I had them transferred digitally as soon as CDs were invented. I'm a nerd that way. They were always handled with care, although a few did disappear over the years. But for the most part, I treated them like the ark of the covenant.
When you started, you wanted to crack the code of these comedians. Did you?
So much of the advice that was given to me when I was 15 and 16 years old, I took. Everything from the logistics of how to get on at a comedy club to discipline and patience. A lot of what people talked about was that it took a really long time to become a good comedian. That was important to hear. It was good to know, "Oh, you're not going to be good at this in six months; this is going to take about seven years." When you're a kid you're so impulsive — to set your clock at a slower pace was really healthy for me.
Did you edit down those early interviews? You never seem to ask any silly questions.
I was really serious about trying to do a good job. I didn't want to embarrass myself, because I looked up to everybody; my nightmare would be to come across as some idiot kid. I did better in some than in others; a lot of those people were very intimidating. Some people were so nice that it became easy. Jerry Seinfeld was so easy to talk to and warm that I was able to have a great conversation about how to get into comedy and how to write jokes. That was my favorite one of the time.
You write that you started doing these interviews as a way to build a career.
My grandfather was a jazz producer. In the 1940s he recorded all these great jazz and blues musicians at their homes and on their front stoops, people like Dizzy Gillespie and Ray Charles and
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The proceeds of this book go to 826, an organization that supports disadvantaged kids develop their writing skills.
I started working with 826 because I so admired Dave Eggers and his commitment to charity. I started helping him out, but I didn't think too much about it. Then I realized: Oh, I'm doing this because writing saved my life. Without writing, I would never have been able to make it in this world. The idea that there are these places where any kid can walk in for free and get tutored is really powerful. When we sold the book, there definitely was a moment where I thought, "I should have kept all this money for the Judd Apatow Charity." But I'm glad it's doing well for them.
You showcase Amy Schumer at the front of the book, although it's because her name starts with A. How did you decide on the interview order?
I tried to block them into old ones and new ones, or here are friends, here are heroes. I never liked how they bunched up. Then I said, "Why don't we just look at what would happen if it was alphabetical?"
If Twitter and the Internet had been around when you were a teenager, would you have been driven to go as deep and far?
I think if all this stuff existed I wouldn't have interviewed anyone: I just would have gone on YouTube and watched their interviews or listened to podcasts. And I would have been very happy doing that. But what it did for me, it made it feel like being a comedian and a comedy person was possible. Because when I met them I thought, "Oh, they're just like me. This is just another guy from Long Island who worked his ass off." And that gave me hope that I might be able to succeed. All these people were incredibly nice to me when I was some snot-nosed brat bugging them for stories.
Judd Apatow appearances
What: Trainwreck Comedy Tour: Judd Apatow, Amy Schumer, Dave Attell, Mike Birbiglia, Colin Quinn and Vanessa Bayer
Where: The Wiltern, 3790 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles
When: 8 p.m. Sunday
Admission: $45 to $100. (Proceeds go to the Rape Treatment Center's Stuart House.)
Info: (213) 388-1400
What: Judd Apatow signs "Sick in the Head."
Where: Barnes & Noble at the Grove, 189 The Grove Drive, LA.
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Info: (323) 525-0270