Yesterday we ran the first installment of a two-part interview with Judd Apatow, whose first-ever hour-long stand-up special was released on Netflix this week. In this follow-up we ask Apatow about the comedy industry’s complicity in Louis C.K.’s behavior of sexual misconduct, whether comedians and networks should still work with C.K.’s powerful former manager Dave Becky, and discuss the sexual assault charges against Girls writer Murray Miller. We also talk a little bit about a couple of guys named Donald Trump and Roy Moore. If you just want to hear the comedy guy talk about comedy, again, go check out that first piece; for a dose of politics, keep on reading.
Paste: In your Netflix special, which was recorded five months ago, you talk about how getting Donald Trump out of office won’t really solve anything, as Mike Pence and Paul Ryan aren’t really any better. Did you think there was any chance Trump would be out of office by the time the special aired?
Apatow: It’s unfortunately very difficult to make a change, especially with a Republican legislature. If they’re willing to support Roy Moore, they’re certainly going to go to bat for Donald Trump for a long time. It’s a very sad moment for our country. We are a country of high ideals and ethics but the people in power right now have decided to throw all that out the window and just care about power and control. I think it’s tragic. We’re going to talk about this for hundreds of years, the moment when morals went out the window and when our country became corrupt. This is a giant train robbery happening right now. Donald Trump always says ‘I don’t benefit from any of this,’ but he does. If you get rid of the estate tax, and he dies, his family makes an extra few billion dollars. And that is what this is all about. Very few people benefitting in a gigantic way by making certain laws. And that’s all it is. Those people pay for the elections, they get tax breaks, they don’t pay the estate tax, some regulations disappear that help them make a lot more money, and everybody else suffers.
Paste: And it’s impossible to get through to Trump voters, to make them realize that this is what the party actually believes.
Apatow: What is so fascinating is that Donald Trump ran on the idea that he cared about people who are struggling, and all he’s done is try to help the megawealthy. And those people who are struggling haven’t gotten enraged yet. I wonder when they will realize that they were hoodwinked. It reminds me of when a football player gets in trouble for domestic abuse and the fans of that team don’t want to vilify him, and when he comes back he gets a big round of applause. People tend to keep rooting for their team and its players regardless of any heinous deeds they’ve committed. Hopefully it’ll change without too many people getting hurt.
Paste: Also in the special you have a joke about the world basically turning crazy from the moment we learned about Bill Cosby. Since you recorded the special in July, obviously there’s been way more information coming out about various men and sexual misconduct, throughout society. What sort of blame does the comedy industry have for looking the other way with Louis C.K., despite it being such an open secret within the industry for so long?
Apatow: I think every case is very unique. It seems like people in general have not been tuned into how badly women are treated in very industry, and how much they suffer, and pay a price. I’m hoping that this will be a giant wake-up call for the country, and we want to have a workplace where women feel protected, where men feel protected. It’s very easy for people to look the other way because somebody is talented or because somebody makes them money. It’s much easier to say ‘I’d love to work with Roman Polanski because he made Chinatown’ than it is to say ‘I don’t want to work with Roman Polanski because he raped a 13-year-old girl in a hot tub.’ Most people are not willing to say ‘I’ll find a different director because I am not comfortable with that morally.’ And maybe that will change. We’ll find out over the course of the next few years.
Paste: Historically stand-up has a rep of having what Trump would call a locker room atmosphere; have you noticed a change just in the last few months, since all this started?
Apatow: I haven’t been in the clubs enough to have gotten a sense of how it’s effected the culture. I work at the Comedy Cellar a lot in New York, and it’s always felt like a very progressive place. There are comedians of all kind, they all seem very close and bonded. I’ve had that same experience at the Improv and the Comedy Store in L.A. I can’t really speak to the “road clubs.” I do think that clubs generally have made a point of having most bills be dominated by men, so you might have two men and one woman, and you’d rarely have two women and one man. That seems to be wrong and sexist at its core, so hopefully that will change. There are so many brilliant comediennes and everyone should be treated equally. The audience laughs at what’s funny, that’s all they care about.
Paste: There’s a lot of heat right now on Dave Becky, Louis C.K.’s manager, and what he knew and how he might have treated some of the victims. Should people still be working with Dave Becky?
Apatow: I think that every case is very specific. We all need to understand the details. It’s very easy to look at every person involved in every situation in the same way. What we don’t have is any process to vet all of these situations. So people are painted all with the same brush. I’m not sure how that process will come to be. Because ultimately this is a business and we’re all making choices individually. We’re not one company. And I think over the course of time we’re all going to have to talk about more of the difficult questions that this creates. I always get asked ‘what do you think about Kevin Spacey movies being on streaming services? Should they leave them there? Do you think The Cosby Show should be up?’ And I don’t have answers for most of this. But I certainly want to be involved in conversations about it, because there are no standards yet. And we’re all going to have to have conversations about what we make of it. Look at the Al Franken situation. You could debate that for a thousand hours, what does that mean, what does it say about the behavior of other Congressmen and Senators, at what moment should somebody step down, at what moment should somebody be punished but be able to keep their job. And we really don’t know yet what that line is. Everybody has a different opinion about these lines. And who’s ultimately going to decide? I don’t know.
Paste: With Girls [which Apatow was an executive producer on] there was a situation with actress Aurora Perrineau accusing writer Murray Miller of sexual assault. As a producer of that show, how do you feel about the controversial response to those allegations from Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner?
Apatow: Again, these situations have multiple stages. The first stage should always be that women and men need to be heard and respected. They need to be taken very seriously. We want to create an environment where no one is hiding because they think that if they speak up someone is going to sue them or it’s going to hurt their career. That’s something that we want to avoid at all costs. So our goal is, how do we make people feel like it’s safe to speak up? Then we have to investigate and then we have to try to get to the truth. Ultimately, what do we want to happen? We want the truth to come out in every situation. Whatever that is. It’s easy to ask people ‘what do you think about it’ but what I think is I respect [Perrineau] for coming forward, I would like to see an investigation, I’d like the truth to come out, whatever that is. And that’s true for any crime. That’s how we want it all to be handled. When you know people it obviously becomes tricky because we all want to defend our friends, we all want to think the best of our friends, and Lena is one of the greatest people I’ve ever met. With the Lenny newsletter she created a platform for all sorts of female voices to express themselves. There’s nobody else in the business who’s done that. Lena and Jenni are people who fight for women to be heard. Lena apologized for defending our friend at this early stage, and I certainly understand how that type of mistake is made. And I think people are going to make mistakes, and it’s okay. People shouldn’t be crucified as we all try to figure out how to behave in this new world, which hopefully will lead to a much better world in the next year or two. We’re all going to stumble through this and try to figure out what the best approach is. It’s funny, everyone gets attacked for every position. There are people who get mad at you if you don’t attack certain people, or they get mad at you if you do attack certain people. There’s a lot of righteous anger out there. But we have to get past that to a place where we’re all trying to connect so we can protect people. That’s what we want, we want everybody to be safe, and everyone to feel heard, and we would like the proper result to happen.
It’s a pretty toxic moment in our country. It’s sad. It’s not very productive at this time. The Republicans are taking advantage of it and while we all get distracted they’re just giving themselves billions of dollars and getting rid of regulations which keep us safe and trying to get rid of Net Neutrality. Hopefully people will wake up and get involved in a healthy way. We need more people involved in our government and in the process and we need more people to be positive and to fight for what they believe in.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s games and comedy sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.