As the old Joni Mitchell song goes, Judd Apatow has looked at life from both sides now. Before tasting the thrill of victory as the producer of hit comedies like Anchorman and Talladega Nights and the director of 2005's The 40 Year-Old Virgin and this summer's Knocked Up he experienced the agony of defeat as the creator of such brilliant-but-cancelled TV series as The Ben Stiller Show, Freaks and Geeks, and Undeclared. Victory, it's safe to say, is a lot more fun. With the latest film from the white-hot Apatow laugh factory, the raunchy high school comedy Superbad, opening Aug. 17, we brought together Apatow (the film's producer), Seth Rogen (its cowriter and costar), and the film's two leads, Jonah Hill and Michael Cera, for a rollicking and very R-rated conversation about the ins and outs of comedy the supergood, the superbad, and the superugly.
In this first of three parts (visit EW.com again next week for parts two and three), the guys talk about their unexpected sex appeal, where to draw the line on inappropriate content in a raunchy comedy, and how Regis Philbin killed Freaks and Geeks. (And, again, be warned: When we say this roundtable chat is R-rated, we mean it.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why do you think these movies are clicking now? You've been on the critically beloved but under-seen side of things. What's different now?
JUDD APATOW: Well, you know, sometimes I think maybe people just didn't like Freaks and Geeks and sometimes I think it was just all scheduling and marketing. Now I think it was definitely scheduling and marketing.
SETH ROGEN: We've proven that.
JONAH HILL: [To Apatow] Did you ever really think that people didn't like it?
APATOW: I thought maybe there were less people that liked that kind of thing than I had thought. I thought people would be so happy to have a show that was funny, sort of honest, and about geeks and potheads. It just seemed like something that could be really popular.
It should at least have beaten season 10 of Cops.
APATOW: I remember I always used to say to Paul Feig, ''If we can't beat the 10th season of Cops, we shouldn't be on the air.'' And we didn't. Whenever you get bad ratings, there's always an excuse that everyone makes. The first episode got huge ratings, and then the second episode just ate it. It really dropped. And everyone said, ''Well, it's because the lead-in was different. Your lead-in this week was The Tejano Heritage Awards. Next week it'll be different.'' And then it didn't go up and then they moved us, and then right after they moved us, ABC moved the Regis Who Wants to Be a Millionaire show against us, and we just said, ''OK, it's over.''
ROGEN: I was on Regis yesterday. I should have told him that he cancelled us.
APATOW: He destroyed us. How was Regis?
ROGEN: He was awesome. He called me Josh by accident. I saw him in the hall and he said, ''Hey, Josh!'' I was like, That was weird, but I let it slide.
APATOW: Who did he think you were, Josh Hartnett?
ROGEN: I don't know. But he's so nice. I totally thought, if he's a d---, that's fine with me. He's been on TV forever, he's f---ing Regis he's allowed to be an a--hole. But he was really, really nice.
APATOW: I met him once and he was so hilarious. He's like what you wish your family was like.
ROGEN: Except talking to him and Kelly Ripa, I kept feeling like I was talking to someone's grandpa and his trophy wife.
APATOW: Whose grandpa?
ROGEN: Michael Cera's.
APATOW: Did I answer any aspect of your question?
You blamed everything on Fox, Regis, and the Tejanos.
APATOW: Well, you know, when Freaks and Geeks got cancelled, we thought, Wouldn't it be great if we got picked up by Showtime and we could do the cursing, really frank version, where you saw them smoke pot and you saw how messed up they really were? And then Showtime never called.
MICHAEL CERA: Same thing with Arrested Development. One of the writers, Jim Vallely, said if we got picked up on Showtime, the first shot he would want of season 4 of Arrested Development would be a shot of Will Arnett having a sex with a girl from behind. Just to kick it off.
NEXT PAGE: ''What happens is that when people become popular, then people think they're sexy...for some reason.''