Judd Apatow revisits ‘unfinished’ stand-up career in Netflix special, ‘The Return’

Amy Schumer got him back on the stage.

Producer Judd Apatow returns to the stage in his Netflix special to pursue the stand-up career he feels he never quite finished.

“I started in stand-up when I was 17 and did it until I was 24. I was really obsessed, but I started getting a lot of writing work and thought the universe was telling me to be a writer,” Apatow, 50, said. He was right.

Apatow’s decision to stray from his roots at the East Side Comedy Club in Huntington, Long Island, led him to write, produce and direct a number of successful comedy films and series, from 2004’s “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and 2012’s “This Is 40” to 2016’s “Crashing” and “Love.”

After 25 years of working behind the camera, the Flushing native said it was fellow comedian Amy Schumer who helped inspire him to take a second crack at live performing.

“When I worked with Amy on ‘Trainwreck’ [in 2014], she was so hilarious. I’d go see her perform and I think it just woke up that part of me that felt like I didn’t pursue it enough,” he recalled. “So, I started doing it again every night at the end of the day when we were shooting at the Comedy Cellar in New York and I fell back in love with it.”

In his hourlong Netflix special “The Return,” Apatow pokes fun at his home life (with wife Leslie Mann), today’s pop culture references (like “Friends” and “Keeping Up With The Kardashians”) and more. 

Below, Apatow delves into his stand-up career before film fame, what drew him back and more.

Take us back to where you got your start. What was the comedy scene like for you before you found fame?  

I got my start in Huntington at the East Side Comedy Club. I got a job there as a dishwasher because I wanted to watch comedians. I would get dropped off by my dad and it was a long drive home. I usually was done mopping at 2:30 in the morning, so I’d take a cab home and the cost of the cab was the same amount of money I made washing dishes. I was only there because I wanted to learn about stand up.

Then, I realized because I was a dishwasher I couldn’t see the show, so I switched and became a busboy so I could watch the show. I would see people like Eddie Murphy and Rosie O’Donnell and the big stars of the club were Rob Bartlett and Bob Nelson, Bobby Collins was there — it was very exciting. I was scared to talk to most everybody there, I really kept to myself. But I was taking notes.  

How has your stand-up set evolved, comparing your early years to what we’ll see in “The Return”?

I’m a lot older now. I didn’t have a lot to say when I was 24 years old. I have more stories and more opinions, so it’s much easier than when I was a kid and could only talk about people breaking up with me when I was in high school.

Your daughters — Maude (19) and Iris (15) — are the focus of a big chunk of material in the special. What do they think of it?

They go from slightly amused to disinterested [laughs]. They come to shows, but they’re much more interested to see Maria Bamford than to see me. As they should be. They didn’t watch [the special]. I said, “Do you want to see the special to make sure you’re comfortable with everything in it?” They said, “Uh, no.”

A lot of what’s in the special is conversations I’ve had with my daughters from years ago, because I’ve been writing it for two to three years now. It’s almost about an earlier era of their childhoods.

Why did you choose to focus heavily on drawing from your own family life for your new material?  

I think most parents are terrified of screwing up their kids. So, what I’m really talking about is navigating the modern world with your children. We don’t know what to do now with phones and computers and the internet and social media — kids are generally fine but parents are having a meltdown worrying if they’re screwing up their kids by not being tougher on them.

Aside from mentioning your family, you dabble a bit in social issues and politics (President Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders) in the set. What’s your approach to keeping these issues light?

For a special, you can’t do much politics because it ages so quickly. I taped in August. I have a fair amount of political material, but I was aware the world could be and is entirely different four months later. I kept it light, mainly because I didn’t want it to not apply anymore. I talk a bit about sexual harassment and Bill Cosby and Trump, but in more general terms because everything’s changing so quickly.

Recently, you’ve been pretty vocal about sexual harassment scandals in Hollywood that have come out since you taped the special. What do you think can be done to improve the industry?

I would hope the priority would be the safety of people in the industry. I think a lot of times the priority is making money, and then people are happy to look the other way when terrible things are happening. There’s not a lot of courage in confronting bad people. I would hope there would be more energy to stand up and say, “This person I know is not treating people well and I’m gonna tell somebody. I’m gonna tell the studio or his agent or the police.” That’s important.

People have found reasons to stay quiet and a lot of people work with these criminals and they just don’t want the trouble of confronting them. That’s what I think needs to change. Obviously, we need victims to feel supported enough to come forward, but we need high-level people to say that they’re not gonna tolerate it. I think that’s beginning to happen.

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