“I guess Judd Apatow is one of the funniest people that ever walked through this school,” Dean of the School of Cinematic Arts Elizabeth Daley announced as she introduced this year’s honoree at the Jack Oakie and Victoria Horne Oakie Masters of Comedy Lecture Series.
On Friday, the renowned comedy writer, producer, director and stand-up performer was honored at the Ray Stark Family Theatre in front of an audience of over 100 SCA and SDA students, faculty, alumni and guests. The Jack Oakie and Victoria Horne Oakie Award is presented to an exceptional comedic writer, producer and/or performer by the comedy division of the Cinematic Arts school. Professor David Isaacs, alongside cinematic arts professors Barnet Kellman and Jack Epps Jr., established USC Comedy in 2010.
“[Apatow] has a great eye for who’s funny and what their particular strength is,” Isaacs said. ”We’ve always been hoping to give this award to Judd, because he is not only an alum but perhaps, [at] the top of the comedy writing and directing food chain of films.”
Apatow discussed his early career and chronicled his time at USC beginning in the mid-80s. The writer/director mentioned the cinema studies course “Theatrical Film Symposium,” currently taught by Professor Leonard Maltin. Apatow recalled one of his most memorable moments in the class was when Oliver Stone came to the Norris Cinema Theatre and showed a movie called “Salvador.”
SDA professor, actor, comedy historian and stand-up comic Wayne Federman moderated the event and joined Apatow in comically recalling the early stages of their respective careers. Federman also boasts a number of hilarious speaking roles in Apatow’s films including “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up” and “Funny People.”
“Wayne is very much a student of comedy,” Isaacs said. “He’s a nice guy, he’s funny, [and] he’s just the perfect kind of guy to talk to about comedy.” Isaacs elaborated by noting that Apatow and Federman have collaborated extensively before.
The duo recently collaborated on an HBO documentary titled “The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling,” a tribute to the life of their fellow stand-up comedian and mentor. Federman asked Apatow about his time as a writer and consulting producer for Shandling’s popular ‘90s sitcom, The Larry Sanders Show, which he joined in its second season in 1993. Apatow made his TV directorial debut on the tenth episode of the final season of Shandling’s series.
Shandling continued to offer his mentorship during the development of Apatow’s later films after their collaboration on the HBO series had ended.
“[Shandling] would read my scripts and give me advice,” Apatow said. “And his advice was unlike other people’s advice – like when we did ‘The 40-Year-Old Virgin,’ I gave it to him, and he said, ‘You know, Judd, this movie is about the fact that when he has sex, it’s better than all his friends’ sex because he is in love … you have to show that the sex is better for him.’”
In 2017, Apatow performed stand-up comedy for the first time since 1992. When asked during the Q&A session what inspired him to return to stand-up, Apatow shared a sentiment that is probably all too familiar amongst veteran writers, directors, producers and entertainers working in the film industry.
“I think I just felt like it’s very easy to be alone in a room for the rest of your life. There’s something about the relationship with the audience … I think you can just get crusty if you don’t stay in the trenches,” Apatow said. “I missed being around the tribe of comedians and I liked, you know, having shakes and hamburgers at two in the morning … it’s just fun. And you know what, a movie, a lot of times it’s not fun – it’s terrifying.”
By the same token, Apatow felt that his recent stand-up performances strengthened his upcoming picture — a currently untitled film that he co-wrote with SNL cast member, comedian and writer Pete Davidson.
As the event came to a close, Professors Kellman and Isaacs took to the stage to introduce David L. Sonne, a trustee of the Jack Oakie and Victoria Horne Oakie Charitable Foundation.
Sonne presented a series of scholarships whose honorees included USC Comedy founders and additional SCA faculty. The final award, to be received by a student in the 2020-2021 academic year, honored Apatow in the form of a $10,000 scholarship. Sonne not only presented Apatow the Jack Oakie and Victoria Horne Oakie Award, but also handed him a custom-made, silk pajama outfit from Jack Oakie’s dressing room.
“The nice thing about these is that … you and your whole family will probably be able to fit in these,” Sonne joked. Apatow quickly responded with a punchline, “Oh my god. My wife loves when I wear the pajamas of men from the forties.”
This article appeared in the Daily Trojan on Oct. 7, 2019.