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Paley Festival: "Freaks and Geeks" Revenge with Judd Apatow

Mere words cannot describe just how surreal last night's Paley Festival panel, celebrating the career of comedy genius Judd Apatow, ended up being.

Perhaps it was the unexpected assemblage of boldfaced names like Garry Shandling, Paul Rudd, Paul Feig, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Busy Phillips, Jonah Hill, Tom Arnold, and Andy Dick (?!?!?), all of whom came together to express their shared love for Apatow. The first half of the evening was Apatow chatting with former mentor Shandling about the good old days, when he wrote material for Shandling's emcee speeches (like at the Grammy Awards) and on series like The Larry Sanders Show. (Huzzah!) It was truly thrilling--not to mention hilarious--to see these two neurotic comedians on stage together, ribbing one another and trading embarrassing and pointed stories about days long gone by and Apatow's belief that a decade-old botched joke (involving Hank and a baby leash) would have worked on Sanders.

For many (like the former stars of Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared, and Superbad), it was an opportunity to thank the guy who gave them their starts and who pushed many of them towards writing. Busy Phillips recalled just how miserable she was working on Dawson's Creek (which she termed "drivel") after the pleasure of being in Freaks and Geeks and how guest starring for two episodes on Undeclared made her cry because that was how television was meant to be. And the gang talked about how my all-time favorite episode of Freaks and Geeks ("Kim Kelly is My Friend") was axed by NBC for being too "violent." (Seriously, NBC?)

For others, it was a chance for the audience to see just how Apatow got his start... and that explained Tom Arnold's appearance on the panel. Over the course of the next few hours, Arnold shared several, er, heartwarming stories about his troubled marriage to Roseanne ("she stabbed me!") and seemed to be taking potshots at comedy legend Gary Shandling for some unknown reason.

I was impressed with Apatow inviting Arnold to join this public forum but it belied Apatow's belief in comedy being truth. The truth is that Arnold and Roseanne gave Apatow his start way back when, hiring him for $800 a week as a writer, his first paying gig as a wordsmith. So why wouldn't Arnold be there with him, warts and all? Still, it led to some excruciatingly awkward moments on stage but I am sure the writer/director of such films as The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up doesn't mind such tawdry reality.

Andy Dick, who had worked with Apatow on The Ben Stiller Show, fortunately kept his clothes on and only joined the stage towards the end, thrusting his embittered personality into the spotlight for a fortunately brief period while seatmate Paul Rudd, somehow stuck between Arnold and Dick, shifted uncomfortably. (Paul, I felt for you, man.)

The most random part of the evening came when Apatow deliberately set out to humiliate Jason Segel by showing his entire full-frontal nude scene from his upcoming film, Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Hysterical in its own right, it was even funnier to see Segel squirm under the gaze of several hundred people all watching him watch himself in the film. (What followed was a definitely R-rated conversation about the, er, flaccidity of his member in the scene.)

I can't even articulate how much fun I had during this bizarre and hysterical panel nor how much my face hurt afterwards from laughing. Apatow has left an indelible effect on both film and television comedy and I cannot thank him (and creator Paul Feig) enough for the genius that was Freaks and Geeks. As for Apatow himself, I can't wait to see just what he cooks up next... and in the meantime we have two Apatow-produced films--Pineapple Express and Forgetting Sarah Marshall--to tide us over until his next oeuvre.


Anonymous said…
I am slowly discovering the magic of Freaks and Geeks (I watch about one a month), but its not obvious that this is the same work of the guy who went on to do all those movies... F&G's is a lot more subtle and heartwarming... anyone agree?
Unknown said…
I attended last night as well. It was a riot. Arnold's "strange" behavior made for many an awkward moments. It was St. Patrick's day - green beer anyone?

Shandling was great, a welcomed surprise. I can't wait to see the entire "Forgetting Sarah Marshall"
The CineManiac said…
I've seen early cuts of both Forgetting Sarah Marshall and The Pineapple Express, and if the final cuts are even half as funny as the ones I saw they will bbth be amazing.
I wish I had gotten a aabysitter for last night's event it sounds awesome. I can only hope they release a dvd of it.
Anonymous said…
Why ?!? for Andy dick - made more sense to me, on the surface, than Tom Arnold did! Of course, now I understand the Tom Arnold, but Andy makes sense. I am glad he more or less behaved himself.

If I recall correctly (and I think I do), when I saw the F&G tv fest panel, they discussed "Kim Kelly is my Friend" and that's the ep they showed, as NBC wouldn't air it. Totally head-scratching.
I was at the Apatow event and felt like I was riding the Pineapple Express. It was such a trip but a brilliant one. Gary Shandling was incredible. I could have listened to him and Judd tell stories all night. As for Tom Arnold? Wow. Andy Dick was okay but it was obvious he felt out of place and needed attention like a little kid (like when he interrupted a story by shouting something about projectile vomit). And the rest of the group was excellent. Even Jonah Hill, who had lost his voice, was still hysterical. It was definitely a night to be remembered.
Anonymous said…
In response to "meandthetv's" comment:

So glad you're discovering Freaks and Geeks as it was one of the best shows ever created. I agree that it has some more tender moments mixed in with the hysterical ones. That may have been Paul Feig's influence (though I do think that 40 Year Old Virgin had its soft spots too) but it certainly was a different kind of comedy and one that I truly miss.
Giulie Speziani said…
i would've given away my first born to see that panel. There has to be clips on YouTube...anyone got a link?

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