How Judd Apatow relearned stand-up by making a Garry Shandling documentary

Garry Shandling's journals provided real insight into the comic's process, desire to be himself and what the L.A. comedy scene was like, says Judd Apatow.

Judd Apatow hasn't directed a feature film since 2015's "Trainwreck" — he's working on a couple of ideas right now, he tells The Times — but that doesn't mean he's just been listening to true-crime podcasts and arguing with his wife, actress Leslie Mann, over whether it's time to bail on watching a TV series. (Usually, it's a true-crime show, too. It's a thing these days.)

Apatow's most recent project is "The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling," a 4½-hour documentary about the late comedian's influence on television and stand-up. Apatow wrote jokes for Shandling early in his career and, later, worked as a producer on the landmark HBO series "The Larry Sanders Show."


While Apatow sifted through interviews and performance footage and combed through Shandling's diaries for the documentary, he also returned to doing stand-up comedy himself, a venture chronicled on the Netflix special "Judd Apatow: The Return."

The two projects fed each other, Apatow told The Times in a recent video interview. Writing his own material, Apatow couldn't help but contemplate Shandling's affinity toward personal, boundary-pushing comedy.

"I was thinking a lot about Garry and his approach to work, and just going deep in his head was like relearning all the lessons he taught me," Apatow says. "His main thing was truth and getting to the core of who you are. He said to me once, 'Judd, you're only doing it wrong when you look like you're trying to be a comedian.' And that was magical advice to me."

Elsewhere in the interview, Apatow talked about the two TV series he executive produces — "Crashing" and "Love" — the vital role doing stand-up plays in forcing him to believe his voice is worthwhile and how his daughters felt about the stories he told in his Netflix special.

"The lack of interest is fantastic," Apatow says. "I have to beg them to watch anything I've done. My older daughter, Maude, is one of the stars of a movie I did, 'Funny People.' And one of the things she's most proud of in life is that she's never watched it. It's like her running joke."

You can watch the whole interview below.

While working on "The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling," Judd Apatow drew from 30 years' worth of journals by the comic who gave Apatow his start as a director.

Twitter: @glennwhipp