Though I wouldn't admit it to just anyone, I really like Judd Apatow. Sure, he's partially responsible for comedy's obnoxiously named Frat Pack, and with it the continued celebration of adult men who act like bratty adolescents—but he also brought us Freaks and Geeks and Bridesmaids, and he appears to share my hardcore crush on Paul Rudd. Plus, Apatow is the rare sort of dude's dude who puts his money where his mouth is when it comes to supporting women in comedy. He's not batting a thousand by any means, but he's produced a fair share of work by women, and he generally seems like a pretty smart guy. That's why I was excited when Apatow was announced as the guest editor of this month's Vanity Fair. That excitement was a little premature.
You know that group of guys you knew in high school, who'd sit around and quote movies, trying to one-up each other? They were funny, but also kinda mean and snobby, and if you didn't know the name of that obscure Bill Murray movie they'd act like you didn't know anything about anything. Remember? (This might help: Judd Apatow has been making movies about them for a while now.) Yeah, well, the All-Star Comedy Issue is kinda like that. I'm sure it's fun to read if you're on the inside looking out, or on the inside looking at your own navel, but like most people—even elitist Vanity Fair subscribers comme moi—I don't work in comedy and I'm not exactly champing at the bit to read yet another famous-funny-white-guy-interviews-himself magazine piece.
The issue, starting with its three different covers, is pretty fluffy, full of stylized photos inspired by classic comedies like Laugh-In and SNL. Apatow did include an equal number of men and women on the covers, though he also put his own wife in a teeny bikini while the men are all fully clothed (do with that what you will). The features inside are what you'd expect from a classic comedy guy editing a mainstream magazine: Behind-the-scenes Blues Brothers anecdotes, Judd Apatow telling stories, Steve Martin, Judd Apatow waxing nostalgic, Conan O'Brien, and Judd Apatow. Of course, there is also a solid gold oral history of Freaks and Geeks that is the tops, along with a profile of Tig Notaro, an interview with Elaine May and Mike Nichols, and this photo:
So it isn't all a boring sausage fest. (That photo comes with only a caption though—no text. Sorry ladies!)
It's not as if the issue is so much vomit-inducing as it is expected, and therefore disappointing. We've heard from this comedy in-crowd before; we don't need another trip down Mainstream White Memory Lane, especially considering how comedy has changed in recent years to include more people of color, more women, and more voices in general.
And on the funny-women tip: Vanity Fair has some ground to make up in that department (I see you, ghost of Christopher Hitchens!) and it doesn't get too far here. Yes, some funny ladies are on the covers, but on the inside, shiny-haired photos of Courtney Cox outnumber women's bylines 3:1 (my copy, at least, contains a several-page spread of Cox hawking Pantene). Men's bylines outnumber women's 7:1, and that's not even including all of the diary entry posts by Apatow himself. He obviously hangs with a lot of hilarious women—what, was Melissa McCarthy too busy to write something? Or was she just too pissed off after having to wear that unsexy Edith Ann costume?
Some of Judd Apatow's best work, like Freaks and Geeks and some of the more human moments in Knocked Up, is autobiographical. The guy has great connections and clearly defined taste, but they're specific to him and his target audience of (mostly) white males, and they shine best when he's talking about himself. Considering this is only the third time Vanity Fair has called in a guest editor, I would've liked to see the honor go to someone a little less expected (W. Kamau Bell, Mindy Kaling, Key & Peele maybe), but Vanity Fair went with the obvious choice, and Apatow took the issue in a pretty obvious direction. (Side note: rumor has it the great interview with Mike Nichols and Elaine May came courtesy of Apatow, so I guess it pays to have those connections.) As Apatow himself says, "I have always loved comedy, and this portfolio and issue, filled with men and women I admire, are my attempt to show you what it means to me. Some of them have shaped my sensibility; others just make me laugh."
But I can't help countering with a quote from Lainey Gossip: "Judd Apatow is an important voice in comedy, but he's hardly the only one. Must be hard to hear anyone else, though, from inside the echo chamber of his own ass."
But enough about me. (Who do I think I am? Judd Apatow?) Have you read the new All-Star Comedy Issue? What do you think?