JUDD APATOW is the creator of some of the most popular comedies of our time. These days, he's returning to his roots, and sharing memories with Tracy Smith for our Sunday Profile:
If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, then Judd Apatow's mind must be a real, well, trainwreck.
"It's called hoarding," he said. "I watch that show 'Hoarders,' and I root for people not to throw their stuff out!"
His filing system is a pile of boxes on the floor of his West L.A. office ("I'm tellin' ya', the deeper you go, the better it gets!"), like one big, sentimental junk pile.
"Why would you throw this out -- a picture of my grandma, Molly, with Meryl Streep?"
"Judd, I don't think all of these boxes are full of precious photos," said Smith.
"No, it is; that's the weird part." As if to prove it, he came up with this: "This is me and Jerry Seinfeld when I was 16. Grab anything -- it's all good, it's all good."
Turns out there's a lot more treasure here than trash. And you can say the same for his career.
If you've seen a movie or TV show in the past decade that made you laugh and cringe, there's a good chance Judd Apatow helpe dmake it happen.
Highlights include stories of self-improvement ("The 40-Year-Old Virgin"); family drama ("Knocked Up"); boys being boys ("Super Bad") and girls being girls ("Bridesmaids," "Girls")
He does what he loves with people he loves, like his real-life wife, actress Leslie Mann. And the little girls in Apatow's 2007 hit film "Knocked Up" are their daughters, Maude and Iris.
Of course, they haven't all been winners. 2007's "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" flopped hard, and Apatow says he was crushed.
Smith asked, "Have you figured out a way to handle blows like that now?"
"Now, I love it," he replied. "Now I love the pain."
"Oh, stop it!"
"I think I'm much better now based only on repetition. It almost feels like if you're a baseball player, the first time the pitcher hits you with the ball, you're like, 'Oh, my God!' But, like, 10 years into your career, even when the ball hits you in the face, you're like, 'Yeah, that happens sometimes.'"
Seems he learned early how to handle disappointment.
Apatow's parents divorced when he was a teen, and young Judd would cheer himself up by going to comedy clubs, where he watched -- and eventually tried -- standup.
From 1989: "A stepfather cannot punish you. He can't. It's like, he's in on the conversation, but he has no power. It's like living with Dan Quayle."
"I was so terrified," Apatow said. "And then when I finally did it, let's just say there were stomach problems. Let's just say there weren't products strong enough to deal with the terror and the stomach problems it led to -- the products you see during the commercials for this show!"
He was, by his own admission, a better joke writer than joke teller, and in 1992 he all but quit the stage.
"This is the thing I wanted to do always," he said. "This is the dream before I had any other dream, and I stopped it because I was young and my writing was going well and paying well. And part of me thought, 'You're not as good as Jim Carrey or Adam Sandler. Maybe you should listen to the universe and just write jokes.'"
But now, it seems like the universe is telling him to get back up there.
He's a semi-regular at L.A. clubs like Largo, where he emceed a benefit last month.
"My daughter does not like being alone with us because four people is a family, and three people is a child observing a weird couple."
"Now that I'm older and I have more to say, and I have opinions and stories and stuff like that, now it feels like the right time to do it," he told Smith.
"What happened to that voice in your head saying, 'You're not as good?'"
"It's still in there," he said. "I know that I can tell it to shut up a little bit more. I'm like, 'You be quiet. I own a new Audi. I have an Audi, right? I've succeeded in this life. You were wrong all along!'"
Sometimes his comedy can get pretty serious.
"I have two daughters. A lot of people get mad if you say that you have two daughters before talking about concerns about sexual harassment, which I understand. You know, you shouldn't have to have daughters to be concerned. Everyone should be concerned. You should be able to say, 'As a man who owns a bird, I'm concerned.'"
Apatow has become one of the most outspoken advocates for victims of sexual harassment and assault: "For me, I'm seeing this from both sides. I know people who are in the crosshairs of being investigated, and I know people who are victims, and there's a lot of issues that need to be sorted out."
Smith asked, "Do you wake up every morning thinking, 'Okay, what's next? Who's next?'"
"I think it's gonna be an enormous amount of people for a long time," Apatow replied. "Because women have been completely silenced, forever. So, now there's gonna be this tidal wave of people saying, 'I can't hold my secrets anymore.' And it's going to hopefully create, you know, a new environment where people think, 'How do we protect people?'"
Of course, Apatow is equally passionate about his work, and one new project in particular: He's finally produced a comedy special starring ... himself. "Judd Apatow: The Return" premieres Tuesday on Netflix.
"It's amazing I can draw a crowd, is it? If I'm walking down the street and somebody says, 'Are you Judd Apatow?,' if I say 'No,' they go, (shrugs), 'All right.'"
His exercise routine is usually just a quick walk around the block near his office, but he says he tries to be good about it. Just last week Apatow turned 50.
"I hate moving," he said. "I like sitting. It takes a lot for me to want to get outside or run around."
"Is aging something that you worry about?" asked Smith.
"I'm in pretty good shape because I don't exercise," he replied. "I feel like that's worked out for me. A lot of my friends have, you know, knee injuries and shoulder injuries from exercising. And I'm like, 'I have no injuries 'cause I have not done anything.'
"People say, 'Are you slowing down?' And I always say, 'I never went fast.' I wouldn't know if I was slowing down, because I've gone slow the whole time. So I feel like a tire with all its tread.
"And then I got the bald spot, which I only notice when I lean back against metal. 'Cause from the front, Clooney hair; from the back, Friar Tuck."
"I said to my wife, I said, 'Here's my theory: I don't want to last too long, so if there's any doubt, pull the plug. If they say "We're not sure," pull it. Just err on the side of too early. If they say I'm going to pull through, pull it.'"
Truth is, Judd Apatow's managed to hold on to just about all the things that are important to him, and somehow, make room for more.
Smith asked, "Forgive me for putting it this way: Is the standup self-serving? Or is there something more than that?"
"Is it self-serving? I mean, it's hard to say because on some level everything is self-serving. You're making things. You hope people like it. And if they like it, maybe you hate yourself a little bit less. And then if you think deeply, you're like, 'I guess people enjoy that. And it's nice for people.'
"So, like, you're doing both at the same time. You're trying to make people happy, and you're trying to, you know, do something that you're proud of so that you can have some self-esteem and sleep at night. And it's just a big ball of mess. And then you do another one."
For more info: