Moving from Good to Great: Insights from the World's Funniest People

 Judd Apatow began interviewing comedians when he was in high school. A detail they discovered when the reporter arrived.

Judd Apatow began interviewing comedians when he was in high school. A detail they discovered when the reporter arrived.

Roseanne Barr was a married cocktail waitress with three kids when she first started doing stand-up. But when she was little, she had a vision. She would have her own show, and it would be funny.

One of her customers said she should go to a comedy club in downtown Denver. So Roseanne went downtown, watched all the comics, and then started working on her material - it took her an entire year to perfect five minutes. She worked every show she could get for five more years before moving to LA. Like many of those interviewed, her story combines preternatural confidence with ball-busting hard work.

Roseanne is one of dozens of comedians interviewed by Judd Apatow in his book Sick in the Head. Judd's story of how this book came to be is one of persistence and passion that began when a 15-year-old Judd called up comedians and began interviewing them for the newspaper. (The high school newspaper. A fact that may have been omitted from the initial call.)

I've found myself recommending this book to more people in more situations than I anticipated. I've returned to interviews to re-read quotes. The punch of recognition I feel reading about these comedians' approaches to their work reminds me how much we can learn from those who master their craft, no matter how far removed that craft is from our daily lives. 

Here's what spoke to me. Go on, find what speaks to you. And then share it.

One of the breakthrough moments for me was realizing that, you know, you can take all the classes you want and learn and practice and get all the advice from other people, but it’s really like learning an instrument that has never existed until you were born. No one can tell you how to play that instrument. There’s a part of that journey that you have to figure out for yourself.
— Jordan Peele
The most important thing a comic can do is write from his insides. As cliche as that sounds, a lot of comics start out thinking that they just should write something funny. Which is not the answer. You have to write from personal experience.
— Garry Shandling
I think the whole thing with writing - generally, you push and push and push and then, come on already, when do you pull? At a certain point it pulls...it’s pulling you forward and you’re not working so hard. You’re not laboring. You’re serving. Laboring becomes serving.
— James L. Brooks
It is interesting, if you watch the arcs of so many comedians. At some point, they just become themselves. And something amazing happens...they become powerful.
— Judd Apatow
Serenity is an illusion, but if anything is possible and I can do anything, then there’s a limitless capacity to do good. That’s what Groundhog Day is about.
— Harold Ramis
‘Just promise me that you’re not going to pander to children, that you’re going to make something dangerous and personal and true to you. If you do that, then you’ve done the same thing I did when I wrote the book when I was your age. The book was mine and now this movie has to be yours.’ With his blessing...and not only his blessing but his artistic integrity challenging me and pushing me and inspiring me, I felt like as long as I’m true to the assignments that he gave me I will have done right by him.
— Spike Jonze with Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are
And (John) Calley said, ‘Mel, if you’re going to go up to the bell, ring it.’
— Mel Brooks
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