The Secret to Judd Apatow’s Comedy? A Huge Library of Self-Help Books

So, how many self-help books would you estimate that you’ve read?

Read is a loose term, because it might be a chapter, it might be a page. Sometimes I’ll see what I dogeared 20 years ago, and I’ll look at it and think, “Wow, I’m still not doing that.” Other times I think, “I hope no one looks at what I dogeared, because it reveals way too much about me.” [laughs]

I’ll find myself turning self-help books over so people can’t see the titles. Do you ever do that?

Sometimes, when you’re on a plane, you don’t want to just open up your book that’s called, Do I Have to Give Up Me to Be Loved by You? But generally I’m pretty open about the fact that I’m into it. It’s really helped me as a writer, because I’ve read so much about how people behave, and what their motivations are, that it’s deepened some of the characters in the movies and TV shows. That’s where I always start and what I learned from Garry: Who are they? You can’t go deep enough in creating a character, even a small character. That’s what makes the work richer, and it connects with people more.

What’s something you’ve been working on again and again, or you keep coming back to?

I’m always working on being present. And workaholism. Once, I had a therapist say I had generalized anxiety disorder. I’m always trying to figure out how to accept it in a way that might lead to it melting—or just being my companion that doesn’t bother me. But it results in a lot of overthinking and hypervigilance. I think that’s why I’m a good producer. Years in advance, I’m trying to figure out every possible thing that could go wrong, and then I try to prevent it from happening. That’s why it’s hard to get rid of. It results in success in one area of life, but then ruins the other area of life where it is not productive, and just makes you in your head and bothers other people.

That’s so often the case, right? The thing that makes you so talented in one area is a fatal flaw in another area.

Exactly. So, you want to hold onto it at the right time. My most recent attempt at mental health is I have a little folder on my phone, and I call it “Judd’s Life Coach,” but I’m Judd’s life coach. I try to imagine I’m someone else, and I give myself advice, or write down things that I think might be helpful for me. Lately, most of it is, “Lighten up.” As a comedy person, it’s weird that my biggest problem is taking things too seriously. But I think I could boil most of it down to that.

That seems like a thing that Garry struggled with, too.

Absolutely. That’s why we got along. We looked at life in similar ways and understood each other—even without words—about some of these neurotic areas. Part of it is that when you have too many ideas, and too many self-help ideas, it’s hard to listen to any of it. The thing I like about the [documentary] The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling, is that Ram Dass says to Garry, “I am loving awareness.” And that’s it! That’s the whole philosophy. And he also points to his head, and he says, “Here’s bad.” And then he points to his heart, “You want to be here.” Sometimes I think that’s all I should think about, and really just burn all the rest of the books, and see how that goes.

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