Judd Apatow Puts the “Vanity” in Vanity Fair's All-Star Comedy Issue

Though I wouldn’t admit it to just anyone, I really like Judd Apatow. Sure, he’s partially responsible for comedy’s obnoxiously named Frat Pack, and with it the continued celebration of adult men who act like bratty adolescents—but he also brought us Freaks and Geeks and Bridesmaids, and he appears to share my hardcore crush on Paul Rudd. Plus, Apatow is the rare sort of dude’s dude who puts his money where his mouth is when it comes to supporting women in comedy. He’s not batting a thousand by any means, but he’s produced a fair share of work by women, and he generally seems like a pretty smart guy. That’s why I was excited when Apatow was announced as the guest editor of this month’s Vanity Fair. That excitement was a little premature.

the three covers of Vanity Fair

You know that group of guys you knew in high school, who’d sit around and quote movies, trying to one-up each other? They were funny, but also kinda mean and snobby, and if you didn’t know the name of that obscure Bill Murray movie they’d act like you didn’t know anything about anything. Remember? (This might help: Judd Apatow has been making movies about them for a while now.) Yeah, well, the All-Star Comedy Issue is kinda like that. I’m sure it’s fun to read if you’re on the inside looking out, or on the inside looking at your own navel, but like most people—even elitist Vanity Fair subscribers comme moi—I don’t work in comedy and I’m not exactly champing at the bit to read yet another famous-funny-white-guy-interviews-himself magazine piece.

The issue, starting with its three different covers, is pretty fluffy, full of stylized photos inspired by classic comedies like Laugh-In and SNL. Apatow did include an equal number of men and women on the covers, though he also put his own wife in a teeny bikini while the men are all fully clothed (do with that what you will). The features inside are what you’d expect from a classic comedy guy editing a mainstream magazine: Behind-the-scenes Blues Brothers anecdotes, Judd Apatow telling stories, Steve Martin, Judd Apatow waxing nostalgic, Conan O’Brien, and Judd Apatow. Of course, there is also a solid gold oral history of Freaks and Geeks that is the tops, along with a profile of Tig Notaro, an interview with Elaine May and Mike Nichols, and this photo:

Mindy Kaling, Zooey Deschanel, Aubrey Plaza, and Dakota Johnson in Vanity Fair So it isn’t all a boring sausage fest. (That photo comes with only a caption though—no text. Sorry ladies!)

It’s not as if the issue is so much vomit-inducing as it is expected, and therefore disappointing. We’ve heard from this comedy in-crowd before; we don’t need another trip down Mainstream White Memory Lane, especially considering how comedy has changed in recent years to include more people of color, more women, and more voices in general.

And on the funny-women tip: Vanity Fair has some ground to make up in that department (I see you, ghost of Christopher Hitchens!) and it doesn’t get too far here. Yes, some funny ladies are on the covers, but on the inside, shiny-haired photos of Courtney Cox outnumber women’s bylines 3:1 (my copy, at least, contains a several-page spread of Cox hawking Pantene). Men’s bylines outnumber women’s 7:1, and that’s not even including all of the diary entry posts by Apatow himself. He obviously hangs with a lot of hilarious women—what, was Melissa McCarthy too busy to write something? Or was she just too pissed off after having to wear that unsexy Edith Ann costume?

Some of Judd Apatow’s best work, like Freaks and Geeks and some of the more human moments in Knocked Up, is autobiographical. The guy has great connections and clearly defined taste, but they’re specific to him and his target audience of (mostly) white males, and they shine best when he’s talking about himself. Considering this is only the third time Vanity Fair has called in a guest editor, I would’ve liked to see the honor go to someone a little less expected (W. Kamau Bell, Mindy Kaling, Key & Peele maybe), but Vanity Fair went with the obvious choice, and Apatow took the issue in a pretty obvious direction. (Side note: rumor has it the great interview with Mike Nichols and Elaine May came courtesy of Apatow, so I guess it pays to have those connections.) As Apatow himself says, “I have always loved comedy, and this portfolio and issue, filled with men and women I admire, are my attempt to show you what it means to me. Some of them have shaped my sensibility; others just make me laugh.”

But I can’t help countering with a quote from Lainey Gossip: “Judd Apatow is an important voice in comedy, but he’s hardly the only one. Must be hard to hear anyone else, though, from inside the echo chamber of his own ass.”

But enough about me. (Who do I think I am? Judd Apatow?) Have you read the new All-Star Comedy Issue? What do you think?

by Kelsey Wallace
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Kelsey Wallace is an editor in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter if you like TV and pictures of dogs.

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13 Comments Have Been Posted

THANK YOU for always

THANK YOU for always providing the most bitching links. And for sifting through crap (so I don't have to) to get to substance to give us those links.

Judd Apatow

I was bored to tears. It was a tiny issue (which is normal -- and annoying -- for Vanity Fair) but I didn't even finish it. All Judd Apatow all the time. Doing every interview; hand prints all over it. Don't even get me started with the half naked "cute" girls on the cover -- Megan Fox, really? -- and the funniest, Melissa McCarthy, in some creepy costume (oh yeah, she's the big girl). The issue fell behind my couch and I left it there. Enough said.

Ugh. I was tempted by the

Ugh. I was tempted by the idea of this, lured in by the promise of Melissa McCarthy and Amy Poehler, mostly, but it sounds less than progressive, which as you say isn't new, but is disappointing.

I wonder how Paul Feig feels

I wonder how Paul Feig feels about Apatow constantly getting credit for his Freaks & Geeks creation. I wonder....

I read Bruce McCall's piece

I read Bruce McCall's piece about Canadian's being unfunny and it made my humourless cold Canadian blood bubble. Reading some crusty old expat's outdated views of Canadian comedy and culture unfortunately made me disregard anything else in that issue:(

face it ...

Vanity Fair is a fluffy magazine that mostly brags abut "1-percenters." Typically, their January issues are relatively "thin." That said, their Tina Fey cover story from a few years back was better than what Apatow could come up with on this issue.

If they do this again, I nominate for Tina Fey to be the next "guest editor."

Not only that

The most relevant, progressive, and yes, FEMINIST comic out there happens to be a man of color ... W. KAMAU BELL. Where in the heck was he in this issue?

If you haven't heard him, seen him, or have seen his brilliant FX show, I urge everyone to.

I felt so bad for that cancer

I felt so bad for that cancer stricken comedian. They describe her as lone weirdo , who was trying to work the " lesbian soccer boi look". I rather be nowhere than be described that way in VF. This Tig Notaro chick can't win.

THANK YOU. I have just

I have just finished the best part of January's issue and was hugely disappointed - I| felt that it was an exercise in navel gazing and hubris, and missed out on so many great people. I wondered if it was only me, so came online looking for reviews and yours (and Lainey's) made me breathe a sigh of relief that I'm not going mad.
I don't really know much about Judd Apatow, what he looks like, his comedy reach etc, so I felt as if I had accidentally tipped up at some insider mutual appreciation society meeting. The fact that it concentrated on so few people (and missed out on so many more) was one of my biggest issues. I fully understand that there will always be someone "amazing" left out to some reader but honestly, this issue should have been called "The Judd Apatow issue".
It appears The guy has done a few good things (Bridesmaids . . . ) but I'm in the UK and he's really not the only one on my radar, and there is a bunch of his stuff that I can definitely leave (superbad, knocked up, anything with his so called 'proteges' jason segel/the other chubby dude with the hair).
I appreciate all the hard work that went into making this issue but on the whole it is a waste of a guest edit, sorry.


I like the cover with Chris Rock on it, I think that look suits him, funny enough.

bold move

I think this was bold move from part of the editing section at vanity fair and for sure it was worth it. Great advertisement by the way, loving comedians.

Thanks for everything

Thanks for everything Kelsey... you are doing an amazing job and I couldn't leave without letting you know that.
Have a nice day


I LOVE Frat Pack! Too bad Ben Stiller isn't really active with them anymore, love to see new stuff of them!


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