Judd Apatow is an Emmy Award-winning Jewish American film producer, screenwriter, and director. He is best known for producing a distinct series of critically and commercially successful comedy films, including Anchorman (2004), The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005), Talladega Nights (2006), Knocked Up, Superbad, Walk Hard (all 2007), Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Step Brothers and Pineapple Express (all 2008). He is the founder of Apatow Productions, a film production company that also developed the critically acclaimed cult television series Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared
Apatow was born on December 6, 1967 in Syosset, New York to a Jewish family. His sense of humor provided access to friends while growing up. Obsessed with comedy, his childhood hero was Steve Martin. He has an older brother Robert and a younger sister Mia; his father was a real estate developer, and his mother worked at a comedy club in Southampton. Apatow's parents divorced when he was 12 years old. Apatow went to live with his father, visiting his mother on weekends.
Apatow got his comic start while attending Syosset High School, where he hosted a program called Club Comedy on the school's 10-watt radio station WKWZ. He relied on his mother's contacts at the comedy club to gain access to the comedians; during this time, he managed to interview Steve Allen, Howard Stern, Harold Ramis and John Candy, along with then-unknowns Jerry Seinfeld, Steven Wright and Garry Shandling.
Apatow began performing stand-up comedy at age 17, during his senior year of high school. In the September 1985 issue of Laugh Factory Magazine, he is listed as an Associate Editor, New York. After graduating from high school in 1985, he moved to Los Angeles, California and enrolled in the screenwriting program at University of Southern California. He dropped out of USC after two years and moved into an apartment with comedian Adam Sandler.
After finding little success as a performer himself, Apatow began writing jokes for others including up-and-coming star Roseanne Barr. He appeared on HBO's 15th Annual Young Comedians Special in 1992. In 1990, Apatow met Ben Stiller outside of an Elvis Costello show, and they became friends. In 1992, Apatow produced The Ben Stiller Show for Fox. Although the show was critically acclaimed and earned Apatow and the rest of the writing staff an Emmy Award, Fox canceled the show in 1993.
Apatow's manager, Jimmy Miller, introduced him to comedian Garry Shandling, who hired Apatow as a writer and producer for The Larry Sanders Show in 1993. Apatow worked on the show for five years until the show's end in 1998. Apatow credits Garry Shandling as his mentor for influencing him to write comedy that is more character-driven. Apatow earned six Emmy nominations for his work on Larry Sanders.
From 1999 to 2002, he produced the short-lived television series Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared. Both shows received critical acclaim but were canceled after a season because of low ratings; USA Today media critic Susan Wloszczyna called the shows "two of the most acclaimed TV series to ever last only one season".
In 2004, Apatow produced the hit comedy Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, starring Will Ferrell and directed by Adam McKay, making his first major comedy hit after a string of critically acclaimed, relatively obscure shows. In 2005, he directed and co-wrote the comedy The 40-Year-Old Virgin with Steve Carell, which was nominated for best original screenplay by the Writers Guild of America. The 40-Year-Old Virgin was a sleeper hit, grossing $177,378,645 worldwide and making many critics' Top 10 lists for the year. His film Knocked Up was released in June 2007 to wide critical acclaim. Apatow wrote the initial draft of the film on the set of Talladega Nights. In addition to being a critical success, the film was also a commercial hit, continuing Apatow's newfound mainstream success.
In 2007, Apatow produced the film Superbad, which was written by Seth Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg. A concept Rogen and Goldberg had created as teens, Apatow convinced Rogen to write the film as a vehicle for himself in 2000. Rogen and Goldberg finished writing the film, but were unable to find a studio interested in producing it. Apatow then enlisted Rogen and Goldberg to write Pineapple Express, a stoner action movie that he felt would be more commercial. After the success of Anchorman and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Apatow was still unable to sell both Superbad and Pineapple Express; it was only after he produced the commercial hit Talladega Nights that Sony Pictures Entertainment decided to produce both. At this point, Rogen was unable to play the lead for Superbad, as he had grown too old to play the part of Seth. Subsequently, he was cast in a supporting role as a police officer and friend Jonah Hill took his role as the high school student. Apatow credits Rogen for influencing him to make his work more "outrageously dirty." In August 2007, Superbad opened at #1 in the box office to critical acclaim, taking in $33 million in its opening weekend. Industry insiders claimed Apatow was now a brand unto himself, creating movies geared toward older audiences, who would watch his movies even when the films delved into the teen genre. Apatow served as producer and writer for the musician biopic spoof Walk Hard starring John C. Reilly and Jenna Fischer, which was released in December 2007.
In 2008, Apatow served as producer for Drillbit Taylor which opened in March 2008. Also in 2008, he produced films Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Step Brothers, and Pineapple Express. He also served as a co-writer for Pineapple Express and You Don't Mess with the Zohan.
Apatow has helped to foster the acting careers of Steve Carell, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, and Jason Segel, and also tends to work with his close friends. He has frequently worked with producer Shauna Robertson, whom he met on the set of Elf. He tries to keep a low budget on his projects and usually makes his movies about the work itself rather than using big stars. After his success in film, he hired the entire writing staff from Undeclared to write movies for Apatow Productions. He never fires writers and he keeps them on projects through all stages of productions. Apatow is not committed to any specific studio, but his projects are typically set up at Universal and Sony.
Apatow is married actress Leslie Mann and they have two daughters, Maude and Iris. Both girls appeared in Knocked Up. He currently resides in Los Angeles, California with his family.