Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Sick in the Head

            I like to laugh. Judd Apatow’s work makes me laugh, so I keep seeing his stuff. It’s a really complicated relationship.

            In 2015, Apatow published Sick in the Head*, pledging all profits to Dave Eggers’ tutoring and literacy nonprofit, 826 (Note: Eggers is the author of A HeartbreakingWork of Staggering Genius). Sick in the Head is about funny people, but—although it has its moments—it’s not super funny in its own right. The book consists of interviews with comics to show readers the mechanics behind comedy. What drives a particular comedian, emotionally? How do they go about creating a stand-up routine? How do they define their brand of comedy in relation to others? When did they initially see themselves as funny? Etc.

Apatow is uniquely equipped to author a book like this; he started conducting interviews at the age of fifteen as an ambitious representative for his high school radio station. As a result, this compilation spans an impressive range. In the case of Jerry Seinfeld, we see the trajectory of his career through interviews from 1983 and 2014, pre and post Seinfeld. There are 38 interviewees in all, with some, like Seinfeld, repeat interviews at different time points. Admittedly, I didn’t care for some people, mainly because I hadn’t seen any of their work. However, even the interviews I wasn’t excited about contained some sort of curious or insightful tidbit. For readers who don’t want to tackle all 500 pages, it would be very easy to skip around and only read the interviews of people that interest you.

Here are the interviews that I enjoyed the most: Freaks and Geeks 2013 Oral History (an explanation of how this GOAT show was developed), Harold Ramis (2005), Jeff Garlin (2013), Louis C.K. (2014), Miranda July (2013), Sarah Silverman (2014), Seth Rogan (2009), and Stephen Colbert (2014).

            Overall, Sick in the Head is not some hilarious Nobel Prize masterpiece, but that’s also not its goal. The book in its entirety probably only appeals to a specific demographic: people looking to get into the comedic arena. Portions will still appeal to the general public, especially those that are Apatow fans. The only real issue I had with the book was a consequence of its structure. Because Apatow leads the interviews, we hear his story over and over again. His childhood insecurities and his family issues resurface, which leave me thinking okay, I get it. Fortunately, he’s an incredibly talented person who has worked with so many incredibly talented people; so, an overused story of his is much better than the average person’s. But if you tell me that you used to record SNL with a cassette recorder and then transcribe it all by hand just to get an overview of the process…I only need to hear that once or twice.

            As someone who is intrigued and attracted to the world of comedy, I appreciate Apatow’s probing, which allowed for deeply honest and personal conversations with some of the most fascinating minds. Comics discuss their therapy sessions, how pressures of race and sex affect their acts, and how the arrogance of stepping into the spotlight shapes them as humans. I’m thankful that Apatow started this endeavor at such a young age and gifted it to us. Sick in the Head receives 4 out of 5 camel humps. Here's a gif of my favorite Freaks and Geeks character dancing to brighten your day:
*Apatow, Judd. Sick in the Head. New York: Random House, 2015. Print.

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