Penthouse Retrospective

by Paul Provenza Originally Published: june, 2010

With All Disrespect | 10 Years Ago This Month

LEE: We went back and forth on it for like… a minute. Ha! No, overnight. CHATMAN: Then it was a matter of convincing a kid’s parent to let us do it with him, and can we convince ourselves that there’s any actual legitimacy to the whole thing?

LEE: It at least has a legitimate question: What is wrong with the youth of today?

CHATMAN: There’s nothing I regret in that bit, but I think some people were hurt or offended.

LEE: The saddest thing was that some people saw the kid and said, “Is that little kid dressed up as somebody? Who’s he supposed to be?” One guy asked, “Is he that Korean guy?”

CHATMAN: He’s got the moustache, the hair, armbands, swastika-everything. Marching around, arm stuck up —

LEE: Some people had no idea, that was the most disturbing thing about it.

CHATMAN: The kid’s going, “What’s wrong with the youth of today?”  and I’m thinking, What the fuck is wrong with everybody?

LEE: We were like, “He’s dressed like Hitler! That’s, like, the number-one bad guy, isn’t it?”

I can’t help wondering what the network didn’t let you do.

LEE: The censors never saw us, never met us, and we did some black satire and they asked us over the phone —

CHATMAN: “Is one of you black? Maybe if it was a black person…” And I’m half-black, so I said, “Yeah.” And then they had nothing more to say to us!

LEE: Crazy, right? That’s completely nonsensical.

CHATMAN: That’s the scary thing about network standards people: If somebody’s white, they don’t feel comfortable judging what’s acceptable to blacks, whether it’s okay to say “nigger” here or there, so they just don’t touch it. So… hey! How about you hire a black person? There’s an idea!

So you guys say a horrible word on TV, and in return a major network finally hires a black executive. That’s an interesting conundrum.

CHATMAN: Right. Of course, throwing it back in their face like that doesn’t usually help.

LEE: I’m a quarter Asian. That’s why we hooked up; we thought we could cover a lot of racial territory.

CHATMAN: My favorite example of that is in South Park. The Mr. Garrison character can say “faggot” because he’s gay, but another character — with the same guy doing both voices — can’t.

LEE: So they really believe the character’s a real person and acknowledge him as a citizen.

Should everybody have the right to say things?

LEE: Are we contributing to the moral demise of the country? Yes. They were always sensitive about religious stuff, too. That was kind of the biggest thing. We had a little puppet on the cross, and they said, “You can do God, you just can’t do Jesus. God is just an abstract idea, but Jesus? People will get offended.”

CHATMAN: Someone actually said this to us. Please print that; I want it on the record. I’ll say it again so you get it right, and you promise you’ll print it. Someone at the network said, “You can make fun of God because he doesn’t exist, but you can’t make fun of Jesus, because he’s God’s son.”

Judd Apatow

Though he felt unable to find his own unique voice and persona as a stand-up, Judd Apatow’s outsized comic gifts and originality were immediately apparent, and earned him the respect of some of comedy’s biggest names. A gifted writer, he moved easily into writing and producing television, yielding cult hits The Ben Stiller Show, The Larry Sanders Show, The Critic, Freaks and Geeks, and Undeclared. He transitioned deftly into features, producing The Cable Guy and Anchorman before breaking out as a writer/director with the sleeper hit The 40-Year-O/d Virgin and becoming the most in-demand-and profitable-comedy guru in Hollywood. Apatow has raised the bar for exploring heartfelt, touching human experience through sometimes profane, always smart comedy.

APATOW: I think it’s fun when men open up. That’s why in Knocked Up, they take mushrooms so they can say what they’re really thinking — which I did once; I was on mushrooms on a first date with this woman and after she rejected me, for three straight hours, I just asked her why.

From the book iSatiristas! Comedians, Contrarians, Raconteurs & Vulgarians by Paul Provenza and Dan Dion. Copyright© 2010 by Paul Provenza. Photographs by Dan Dion. Reprinted by permission of It Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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