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Judd Apatow and Dave Eggers team up for 'I Found This Funny'

The filmmaker assembled the diverse, er, humor anthology (Conan O'Brien! Alice Munro?), and the author's McSweeney's is publishing it.

October 27, 2010|By Deborah Vankin, Los Angeles Times

Filmmaker Judd Apatow and author Dave Eggers seem an unlikely pairing — one is an A-list, broad comedy writer-director-producer prone to fart jokes and penis cameos ("The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Knocked Up," "Superbad" and "Pineapple Express" are among Apatow's hugely successful credits); the other is a somewhat headier literary hipster who has penned an acclaimed memoir, several novels and just enough screenplays to earn some Hollywood cred (Eggers wrote "Where the Wild Things Are" and co-wrote, with his wife, Vendela Vida, "Away We Go"). But Apatow and Eggers meet at the intersection of irreverence.

Their new book, "I Found This Funny," is a 480-page collection of "humor" pieces across myriad genres — essays, short fiction, journalism, comedy sketches, hand-drawn cartoons, even a TV pilot — by authors Apatow admires and, simply, wants to shed light on. He edited the McSweeney's anthology partly to encourage young people, the same demo that makes up much of his film fan base, to read literature. And all proceeds of "I Found This Funny" will go to 826 National, a nonprofit founded by Eggers to promote literary mentoring of kids and named for the street address of its first tutoring center.

"Most of what we read we read because someone we trust recommended it to us," says Eggers. "I first heard of Joan Didion in a song by Lloyd Cole. A lot of people know and trust Judd's taste, so he makes the perfect guide to a collection of literary humor."

With stories by funny people Steve Martin, David Sedaris, Nora Ephron and Conan O'Brien as well as literary heavyweights such as Philip Roth, Alice Munro, Raymond Carver, Lorrie Moore and Tobias Wolff, "I Found This Funny" is at times a hilarious treat and its scope is impressive. But it's also a strange hybrid, alternately Paris Review/New Yorker and "Saturday Night Live." And a good chunk of the book is curiously unfunny, though Apatow says that's subjective. "To me, everything in life is funny, so there's nothing I couldn't put in there," he said during an interview at his West L.A. offices. "So much of life is weird or odd or tragic and I always find a way to interpret that as humor."

There's a subtle, contextual logic to some of the less-expected selections in the book. "The Killers," by Ernest Hemingway, about two hit men at a diner, feels like a Quentin Tarantino movie, Apatow says. The F. Scott Fitzgerald story "Pat Hobby and Orson Welles" is about a struggling screenwriter. Many of the pieces are about being creative — "Alice Munro captured it in a way few people can," Apatow says. He doesn't argue that there's a certain degree of hubris in a book about "just stuff I like." He jokes that maybe it will make him appear smart by association. "Maybe people will think I'm a better writer because in my anthology, F. Scott Fitzgerald's in there! If people get confused and think I wrote the Hemingway story, I'll be happy."

As with any big book release, there's also an event component — in this case, a star-studded, big-ticket benefit Friday co-hosted by Apatow and Eggers. Another thing Apatow and Eggers have in common? They know how to throw a party — even if it's a party making fun of parties.

In 2007, after Apatow was introduced to the local outpost of Eggers' literacy project 826LA by actress Catherine Keener, he and Eggers threw a 500-person parody of a splashy Hollywood benefit — "A Tribute to Seth Rogen for the Charity Work He Has Not Yet Done," says Apatow. "It was before 'Knocked Up,' before anyone even knew who Seth Rogen was. We sold tickets for $10,000 a table, and when people showed up we just gave them a box of Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Red Bull." The money, however, was real; the evening raised over $200,000 that helped fund the opening of a second 826LA outpost in Echo Park (the first opened in 2005 in Venice).

Friday's 500-seat benefit show at the Writers Guild Theater will capture the spirit of the book, with live musical performances by Lindsey Buckingham, Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age, Eagles of Death Metal) and Randy Newman. Susan Feniger's Street will cater the food. Garry Shandling, Maria Bamford and Aziz Ansari will perform stand-up — "if [Ansari] doesn't get a paid gig first" notes the flier.

It's "a live version of the book," says Apatow. "If the book is a look into what I find interesting or emotional or funny, then that's what the concert is. These are just some of my favorite people."

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