Judd Apatow and Barry Mendel have been teaming together to produce hit comedies for a decade now, beginning with Funny People, and continuing with Bridesmaids, This is 40, Trainwreck, and now The Big Sick, written by married couple Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon. The film stars Nanjiani and is based on the actual story of how he and Gordon got together, which features the unusual element of a medically induced coma.
The film is also centered on Chicago’s stand-up comedy scene, of which Nanjiani’s character is a fixture. Nanjiani, of course, has long been a fixture of the national stand-up comedy scene in real life, and it’s interesting to see Apatow and Mendel return to the world of stand-up comedy in film nearly 10 years after Funny People. I had a chance to sit down with the producers to discuss The Big Sick, the rapidly changing world of stand-up comedy, and Apatow’s propensity to move character actors to the forefront.
You’ve got so many wonderfully talented people in the movie: Aidy Bryant, Kurt Braunohler, Bo Burnham, and Kumail, of course. I want to know, how much of the comedy club scenes was in the script and how much was that just people bringing their own stuff to the table?
Judd Apatow: Well I mean, we knew what we wanted to happen at the comedy clubs. But if you say, this is a sequence where a bunch of comedians give you a hard time because your ex-girlfriend’s in a coma … You know we know that we’ll write some jokes and then we’ll also let everybody improvise. It’s hard to create the spirit of comedians giving each other a hard time, or just the way they talk, without letting people adjust their language and pitch jokes. So we’re always going for naturalism.
Barry Mendel: We also would say like, “Bo is gonna play the kind of like, overconfident comic.” And just say we had the idea of what they would do, but they had a huge contribution to what their acts were and what they were saying.
Apatow: I’ve been a fan of Bo’s since he was a young teenager. [Laughs.] I met him maybe the first night he performed live. He was at Just for Laughs in Montreal in 2008, maybe, and just became famous from the YouTube videos. And so we put him in Funny People in the Thanksgiving scene. And I always thought he was going to be a giant star.It’s exciting just to get him involved and to callaborate with him.
Mendel: If he wanted to be a big star, he could be a big star. Because he’s incredibly handsome, funny, and a good actor, and just kind of brilliant.
Apatow: And he’s directing a movie now.
Since Funny People came out, there’s now another generation of comedy. What is it about the world of comedy, and stand-up comedy in particular that makes things move so quickly?
Apatow: In what sense? Moves quickly, just people’s careers or … ?
Mendel: Like it’s cycling through faster?