This was an overall interesting book full of conversations. It is not comedic itself but ABOUT comedy and the people who create it. So, if you’re going into the book expecting to laugh, you’re really setting both yourself and the book up for failure. This book isn’t for people looking for empty laughs, it’s for people looking to read sometimes very personal conversations about comedy behind the scenes, what it takes to do the work, how it effects comedians personally, what kind of person becomes a comic, and their experiences with success (or lack thereof). It is very inside baseball. If you like that sort of thing, you will like this book.
I happen to love listening to people talk about being good at their jobs, so I knew I would love this. It’s also a neat conceit that half the interviews are from 1983/1984 and the other half after 2005 (most of them are from 2014, as he was preparing this book, but there a handful of press appearances, magazine interviews, commentaries and panels included from previous years as well). As a precocious sixteen year old comedy nerd, Apatow was in possession of a high school radio show, and he basically tricked a bunch of up and coming (and in some cases already successful) comics to let him interview them, and most of the time when they realized he was just a kid, it was already too late. It’s fun to watch them respond to his earnest questions.
The later interviews are much more personal. Oftentimes, he’s interviewing friends or co-creators, so there’s a personal bond there that comes through in the conversation. Oftentimes, the conversation becomes just as much about Apatow’s life and career as his subjects, which is why this book is subtitled ‘conversations about life and comedy’ instead of ‘interviews about life and comedy’. ‘Conversations’ implies a back and forth, give and exchange.
I only had a couple of complaints about this as a collection. First, Apatow totally shoehorns in interviews with Eddie Vedder and Spike Jonze, mostly because he just wanted to, even though they really don’t fit in with the tone of the rest of the book. They’re just as introspective, but it was still jarring when the conversations shifted away from comedy in their chapters (I did end up skipping through the Jonze chapter, in the end, because I had twenty minutes to finish the book before it was due back at the library, and really wanted to read the Stephen Colbert and Steve Martin chapters). And second, some of the stuff Apatow would talk about with his subjects got a bit repetitive after a while, as he would tell variations of the same stories/sentiments to many of them. I see how he does as an interview technique, but it was still a little annoying after a while to get the same story over and over again, even if it was in the service of facilitating conversation.
Definitely recommend this if you are an Apatow fan or interested in comedy even a little bit. Some of the stuff he gets these guys to say is super fascinating. Steve Martin, Stephen Colbert, Amy Schumer, Roseanne Barr, Jon Stewart, Louis C.K., Harold Ramis, Chris Rock, and even Lena Dunham, whose stuff I tend to avoid, were all excellent reads. Even the stuff that wasn’t technically interviews, like panels with Larry Gelbart and Mel Brooks, and the Freaks and Geeks oral history were super interesting. It was also interesting to me as a person who aims to create things to see all these successful creators/artists, and what they all have in common.