Funny People writer/director Judd Apatow and Sandler were college roommates and both did stand-up - one with much more success than the other. Sandler went on to gain fame on Saturday Night Live and in feature films, and with his Happy Madison production company. Apatow dropped out of stand-up and opted to seek out work as a writer before ultimately becoming one of the most popular comedy directors at work today. They took different paths, but remained close friends. And with Funny People, they're able to combine their talents in a feature film for the very first time.
At the Los Angeles press day for Funny People, the two were asked how much of the onscreen relationship between Seth Rogen and his struggling actor/comedian roommates was autobiographical. "Some of the texture about how people communicate, some of it’s based on how we were like as roommates, how we were like with other roommates that we had and also with Seth and his friends, what their friendships are like," answered Apatow. "When you’re first starting out and everyone’s friends but you’re also mad when they start moving ahead of you, so there’s that subtle competition. Like, 'How come they’ve [got] better spots at the Improv? How did you get that TV commercial?' When I lived with Adam, I remember he got a commercial for Visa."
"Mastercard," corrected Sandler.
"Oh, Mastercard, and it was this big, very expensive commercial where Adam was shopping and it was funny," recalled Apatow. "I can’t say I didn’t think, 'How come I’m not the Visa guy? Or the Mastercard guy. Or I could be the Visa guy. Discover Card, something.'"
"And you stole an audition away from me with Jim Henson," said Sandler.
"That’s right. We all auditioned for Jim Henson was doing a reality show where you would drive around the country with your own video cameras."
"At this time, you said you don’t even want to be on camera anymore," said Sandler. "Judd was slowly starting to say, 'Maybe I just want to be a writer or something like that.' I didn’t even know what he was talking about. I was like, 'What’s a writer?' Then we auditioned for Jim Henson and I was so cocky. I was like, 'Oh, I can’t wait for that callback.' Then Judd’s like, 'Yeah, they called, they were interested in me.'"
But things didn't work out. "I didn’t get it ultimately because Jim Henson said I lacked warmth," confessed Apatow. "When the guy who taught you how to read tells you you lack warmth, I was devastated."
Sandler, Rogen, Jonah Hill and big screen newcomer Aubrey Plaza (who plays the girl Rogen's got his eyes on) all do stand-up in the film, and they all practiced their routines in various clubs leading up to the film's shoot. "I’ll tell you what, doing standup when you’re 42 years old is a lot more pressure than it was. When I was in my 20s, I had a goal and that was to become a movie star. I was pretty crazy. I don't know why I was like that but I was just... So I would go on stage, if I did great, I was like, 'All right, we’re getting closer to me getting what I need.' When I did bad, I would just hit my head and go, 'Wow, those people didn’t understand how great I am.' When you’re 42 years old and you go on stage and you say a joke and no one laughs, you’re just like, 'Wow, why am I here right now? This is very humiliating.' I was too dumb when I was young to even notice good or bad," laughed Sandler.
"And you also think, 'Wow, it’s 10:30 at night and my kids are going to wake up at six. I’m going to be tired,'" added Apatow.
"That’s right. I would tell Judd after every set I would do, this was stuff I haven’t done in a long time. I haven’t talked that filthy in front of people. People recognize me. I’ve been around a long time. I go on stage, these nice people who know me as a certain type of person, and then I’m on stage and I’m as filthy as can be. I’m watching, some people are into it, some people are going, 'No, don’t ruin it for us.' Then I would drive home and I’d be in my driveway alone and I have my two little kids sleeping and I just felt like the biggest, dirtiest human being. I was mad at Apatow," confessed Sandler. "Why am I doing this movie?"
"We both have two daughters so there’s more shame when you do dirty jokes. The idea behind how the standup would work was that this man, he’s ill and how he avoids dealing with it is he goes on stage and tells really filthy jokes. So I pushed Adam much harder into the dirty area because I thought it would be interesting that he doesn’t go on stage and talk about being sick and do the Richard Pryor act," said Apatow. "He just stays hard and true to his filthy Rodney Dangerfield-esque act as a way of letting the audience know he’s not facing what’s happening."
The film deals with a very serious issue, though it approaches it in a funny way. But playing a guy who's dying was a heavy concept to deal with. "If I, God forbid, got sick like this guy, I don't think I’d handle it the same way. But I did identify or I did realize that this was a way to go for a guy in this situation who’s insanely famous, been around a long time, doesn’t have any close friends and finds himself in a very heavy situation and doesn’t have anyone to talk to. In my real life, I have a lot of people to talk to so I’m not going to have to go through this. But I know guys, I do know people like that who might have to go through it like this. It’s lonely, but they find a way to be funny about it," said Sandler.