Dating for me is pretty difficult. I’m not that good looking. I’m not ugly. I’m just kind of in the middle. So I’d have to have a great personality, which I don’t.
This is the opening paragraph of my autobiography. It’s also a paraphrased version of how Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) opens one of his comedy sets in Funny People. He’s an aspiring comedian (although “perspiring comedian” might be more appropriate, hah!) at a local comedy club in LA. When he says this, it’s unclear if he’s really joking or not.
The camera cuts away, but we get the impression he kind of bombs the set. So there’s reason to believe this isn’t an opening to a funny joke, but the entire joke. If this is the case, then it’s not funny at all; it’s actually pretty sad. And here we have the foundation for Judd Apatow’s newest movie. The title was probably People Trying To Be Funny But Ending Up Being Pretty Sad before they shortened it.
George Simmons (Adam Sandler) is a stand-up comedian who becomes a megastar after doing some obviously terrible movies, Merman and Re-do being two of them. They’re made up titles, just like the made up clips that play on his TV, and the made up movie posters sitting in his garage, but they’re also not far off from things we attribute to the real Adam Sandler, who might, in fact, walk around his mansion in a t-shirt, ask people to talk him to sleep at night, chat with Eminem at restaurants, and be disappointed with his career and life.
The principal joy in watching Funny People comes from parsing out the real from the fake. Unfortunately this is also the most unsettling thing about watching Funny People because it’s hard to conclude that it’s all fake. Judd Apatow and Adam Sandler were roommates in college. The movie opens with an actual home video of them prank calling a restaurant. There are scenes when George Simmons watches old videos of Adam Sandler doing stand-up. Simmons’s old girlfriend and the only person he might actually love is Leslie Mann, Apatow’s wife. Her two kids are their two kids.
This all may sound like inside baseball kind of crap. Watching baseball is all Red Sox playoff games. Being inside the clubhouse is all Red Sox steroid binges. Watching stand-up is all sex and dick jokes. Being inside stand-up is all terminal illness. Terminal illnesses are the performance-enhancing drugs of stand-up comedy. (Did that work?)
George Simmons has a rare form of Leukemia. He hires Ira to help him write jokes while he figures out how to deal with it. This is also a last gasp attempt to make a real friend. It’s a dream come true for Ira, who hangs his tongue out the window when Simmons picks him up in a limo until he soon realizes they’re both painfully average people.
While one realizes how awful his cut-short life has become and the other realizes that you can buy friends but not friendship, we realize that we’re not watching two commanding, charismatic, conflicted, and gloriously attractive lead stars battle everything life can throw at them. We’re watching Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen try to be funny people, and at the same time, good people.
Funny People brings plenty of laughs. Most of them come from the incredible supporting cast: corn dog on a stick Jonah Hill, please marry me Jason Schwartzman, isn’t that a place? Aubrey Plaza, and how’d these oreos get on my dick? Aziz Ansari. But walking out of the theater I felt much closer to Punch-Drunk Love than 40 Year Old Virgin. I’m sure this is how Apatow wanted it. Comedy is serious business.