Writer-director (and now producer) John Hamburg has never had trouble pleasing the masses. The majority of his writing credits are populist comedies starring box office champ Ben Stiller: Meet the Parents, Along Came Polly, Zoolander. But with Hamburg’s latest effort, I Love You, Man, it has become clear that pleasing comedy fans of all stripes is the only thing the man cares about. By putting together a maniacally overloaded cast that includes members of niche comedy troupes (Joe Lo Truglio, Rob Huebel), featured players on hit TV shows (Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg), acting veterans (Jane Curtin, J.K. Simmons) and one A-list director (Jon Favreau), Hamburg has come very close to this goal.
And this isn’t even mentioning the stars of the picture: Paul Rudd and Jason Segel. The result is a comedy about Peter Klaven (Rudd) as he scrambles to find a best man before his wedding day. After meeting Sydney Fife (Segel), Klaven’s once-docile existence is turned into a wonderfully awkward hurricane of man dates, the Incredible Hulk and Canadian prog-rock icons Rush.
“It actually originated in a script called Let’s Make Friends by Larry Levin in 2002,” says Hamburg. “Donald De Line, who is my fellow producer on the movie, was developing it and had sent it to me back then to see if I was interested in developing it as a director.”
Hamburg then rewrote the script, steering the main character in a new direction. “The reason my main character doesn’t have friends is that he’s always been a girlfriend guy and related to women,” says Hamburg. “I wanted to make him very relatable, not some freak who doesn’t have friends because he’s a social misfit. I just knew people in my life who were always focused on their girlfriends or on work, and their male friendships just fell by the wayside.”
When the Hamburg spoke with MovieMaker, he filled us in on why having a cast full of funnier writers than him was a good thing and what Judd Apatow has actually done to the comedy landscape.
Andrew Gnerre (MM): Did you write this movie specifically for anybody? Did you have people in mind that you wanted to cast?
John Hamburg (JH): Only Rush and Lou Ferrigno. I definitely wanted the actual people for that. The way I usually write is I just think of the characters; it’s not like I write for a specific person.
Basically I turned in my draft, Donald De Line and I spoke and we told the studio that Paul Rudd and Jason Segel are the two guys we want to play these parts. And you know, they wanted to do it, and we went off and made the movie.
MM: The cast in general is just really outrageous. There are so many really great comedy troupes represented in the movie.
JH: Yeah, that’s been one of the most fun parts of making the movie was getting to work with first of all, a lot of people who I’ve known for many, many years. You know, like Tom Lennon and Joe Lo Truglio, and even Jason Segel I had worked with years ago on “Undeclared.” And then some new people: Rob Huebel from Human Giant… So it’s kind of a great combination of old familiar friends and then new people who just blew me away with how funny they were.
MM: Yeah, it was great to see them all melding together.
JH: I know, it’s kind of an interesting battle of a lot of this sketch comedy. It’s not a conscious decision where I was like, ‘Let me put this person from this group.’ Suddenly we just had members of “The State,” “SNL,” “Upright Citizens Brigade,” “Human Giant”; it went on and on.
MM: Was there a Broken Lizard appearance from someone?
JH: That’s right, that’s Jay Chandrasekhar. So we had Broken Lizard representing, too.
MM: Also, as a result of that, you have a cast filled with people who write comedy themselves. How does that affect production?
JH: It’s not like we had an outline and everybody just improvised, but when you have that many funny people, there are so many things that come up that aren’t in the script. It’s just a very open, collaborative thing. And when you have writers like Tom Lennon and really strong writers like Rob Huebel or Jay Chandrasekhar, they just throw out things—really funny things—constantly. And as a writer, if somebody comes up with something that’s funnier than what I’ve come up with, it makes me look good, so I’m thrilled. Whatever idea is the funniest; we just try a lot of different stuff and see what sticks.
There’s a scene, it’ll be on the DVD, there’s only a short version of it in the movie, where Paul Rudd goes on his date with Tom Lennon. There’s hours of footage of them being on this date, talking about different subjects. I would throw out an idea, just a one-line thing, like “Billy Crystal.” And then they would start riffing on Billy Crystal’s one-man show. My dad actually came to the set one day and he was sitting there watching, and he just turned to one of the producers and said, “Explain to me why this is funny.” (laughs)
MM: It seems like a lot of the jokes you let breathe and gave more time to than other comedies.
JH: And did that work for you?
MM: I thought it did. I thought it gave the impression of friends sitting around, joking.
JH: That’s what we wanted. We’ve been through a lot of previews and we’re really precise in the way that we edit it. And if we’ve kept to the joke a couple of times and it doesn’t work for 500 people, it’s gone. If we’re trying to be funny, and we’re not, then we lose it.
I don’t want to you to think that everything’s cut for the joke or trying to be funny. And that’s why I think there are certain moments that do breathe a little better, just some awkward pauses, because that’s what life is full of. For me at least, maybe for most people not.
MM: It’s your first feature credit as a producer.
MM: How does that change things on set?
JH: Well, first of all, I was really fortunate to have a great partner in Donald De Line. He’s been developing this for a long time and he’s a wonderful movie producer. The more movies that I was involved in, I found myself getting involved with more aspects other than just the writing and directing. There’s budget issues, there’s marketing, there’s so many components that go into a movie, and I felt like as a writer-director, there’s something I wanted to add to my resume—not to my resume, but just to the experience. You know, you pour your heart and soul into this stuff and you just want to see it through in the most complete way. It doesn’t really change the experience on set all that much; there were other producers on the movie to help out with a ton of stuff. It just allows you to be a part of the process from beginning to end.
MM: When you write, where do you start?
JH: For me it might start with a one-line idea or a basic storyline, or in this case there was a script. But it’s all about the characters, and then the comedy comes out of the characters. I just write pages and pages of character descriptions and dialogue and that informs scenes, jokes.
I find when comedy doesn’t work that well, there’s not really character behind it. So that’s where a lot of it comes from for me. I just sketch out the characters and the fill it in with an outline.
MM: Were there any specific movies or directors that you looked to at this movie for inspiration?
JH: You know, I don’t think it’s that I looked for this one movie, I think it’s just the more movies I watch, the older I get, the more I seem to gravitate towards kind of naturalistic, character-based comedy. It can come from a movie like Billy Wilder’s The Apartment. We aspire to that; it’s comedy, but it’s really human. Not that we get there, but we certainly try. James L. Brooks’ movies, those are the movies that just kind of stay with me and I could just watch again and again. I mean, I love anything from Borat a couple of years ago to Dumb and Dumber; as long as it’s funny, I don’t care what it is. But I think for this movie, we were trying for a more natural feel, where you just felt like you were hanging out with a bunch of people.
MM: Being in the field of R-rated comedies, have you noticed a marked difference as a result of the Apatow productions.
JH: We worked together and I learned a lot working with him; he’s an awesome filmmaker. One of the great things he’s done is open up who movie executives will consider viable enough to star in movies. So I think that’s been one real effect. Judd is a brilliant director and producer, and I think that having the foresight to say, “I can base the entire movie on Seth Rogen or Steve Carell,” at the time really opened up the possibilities. So I totally thank him for that. Paul Rudd and Jason Segel are brilliant comic actors, and obviously they’ve had a lot of success but, you know, neither of them have been—it’s not like you can point to five studio movies where they were the lead before these.