With a lit­tle help from funny pals, Judd Apa­tow holds court

The Washington Post Sunday - - BOOK WORLD - BY STEVE DONOGHUE bookworld@wash­post.com Steve Donoghue is man­ag­ing edi­tor of the on­line lit­er­ary jour­nal Open Let­ters Monthly. For all The Post’s book cov­er­age, go to wash­ing­ton­post.com/books.

The come­dies of direc­tor, writer and pro­ducer Judd Apa­tow in­spire per­sonal re­ac­tions. Fans of his short-lived TV se­ries “Freaks and Geeks” will say, “That was my life.” The same goes for fans of Lena Dun­ham’s “Girls,” which he co-pro­duces. Movie­go­ers of a cer­tain vin­tage can quote whole scenes from “An­chor­man” or “Brides­maids” or “Su­per­bad” — a se­ries of hits long enough to con­vince Hol­ly­wood that Apa­tow has a golden touch.

All the more fit­ting, then, that Apa­tow’s lat­est book should be a col­lec­tion of in­ter­views with many of the great fig­ures of com­edy in the lat­ter half of the 20th cen­tury. In “Sick in the Head,” Apa­tow talks with Steve Allen, Al­bert Brooks, Jerry Se­in­feld, San­dra Bern­hard and many oth­ers. Apa­tow has been con­duct­ing such in­ter­views since he was a stu­dent at Syos­set High School in the 1980s when he’d cheek­ily seek out the co­me­di­ans he ad­mired, most of whom showed the good grace of be­ing in­ter­viewed by a whip-smart teenager.

In a very Hol­ly­wood-style act of chutzpah, sev­eral of those 1980s in­ter­views are in­cluded in “Sick in the Head.” For­tu­nately, though, the ma­jor­ity of pieces here are the work of an adult talk­ing shop with other adults, and the ac­cu­mu­la­tive ef­fect is fas­ci­nat­ing. The book’s high­light is an “oral his­tory” of “Freaks and Geeks” con­sist­ing of the cast trad­ing rem­i­nis­cences about the se­ries that was the mak­ing of so many of them (Seth Ro­gen: “James [Franco] would do stuff at times just to push peo­ple’s but­tons. I think he threw milk in some­one’s face as an im­prov, and I re­mem­ber think­ing,

That’s not the best im­prov”).

There’s also a wise (though mostly un­quotable) in­ter­view with Roseanne Barr and a sur­pris­ingly spir­i­tual con­ver­sa­tion with Sarah Sil­ver­man (“I can be cyn­i­cal. But I don’t think of my­self, at my core, as cyn­i­cal.”) When talk­ing about heck­lers, Jay Leno al­lows him­self a mo­ment out of char­ac­ter: “I’m never hos­tile with any­body, un­less it’s some­body who is just to­tally abu­sive. Then you can go for the throat.” And the late “Ground­hog Day” direc­tor Harold Ramis strikes an ap­peal­ingly hum­ble note, say­ing, “I’m as much a prod­uct of our cul­ture as I ama par­tic­i­pant in it.”

In a 2009 in­ter­view, Adam San­dler reads aloud from a re­view of one of Apa­tow’s movies: “[His] man-child uni­verse, with its mix­ture of ju­ve­nile raunch and white-bread fam­ily val­ues, has con­quered Amer­i­can com­edy.” Apa­tow some­what de­fen­sively (and un­con­vinc­ingly) re­sponds, “Well, I don’t think I’ve met a man who is not a man-child.” But nev­er­the­less, when “Curb Your En­thu­si­asm” star Jeff Gar­lin tells Apa­tow, “You’re a good man,” read­ers will be in­clined to agree. And when Gar­lin goes on to say, “You should take more credit for be­ing a great guy,” well, here’s this book, con­ve­niently, to help that along.

SICK IN THE HEAD Con­ver­sa­tions about Life and Com­edy By Judd Apa­tow Ran­dom House. 489 pp. $27

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