These days it's common practice for filmmakers to document every single aspect of a movie's creation for its eventual home video release – examining previsualization, creature development, fight choreography, set and costume design, effects rendering, and so on. When you're making a comedy, however, there seems to be less of interest in the different aspects of production (not the least of which because many of those above aren't even a factor), leaving only outtakes, gaffes, and alternate line readings to fill out the bonus features for a forthcoming Blu-ray or DVD.
Judd Apatow's Blu-ray for Funny People, however, runs contrary to expectations; indeed, it's by far the most complete and comprehensive portrait of a comedy production ever assembled. Featuring not only the requisite slate of alternate takes, film flubs, and extra scenes, but two different versions of the film, multiple featurettes, archive footage, and a feature-length documentary about the film's origins, development and production, the two-disc set takes the art of being funny very seriously. Disc One features the film itself, which is packaged with an extended cut which runs seven minutes longer, a commentary track featuring Judd Apatow, Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen, a two-part gag reel and a two-part line-o-rama session, which is similar to the compilations of alternate line readings and improvisations on previous Apatow home video releases. But even though the commentary offers its own share of insights and observations about the film, the four-part documentary "Funny People Diaries" by far provides the most in-depth and informative content of anything in the entire set, examining the daily demands of the production, the contributions of various cast and crew members, and most of all, the personal and professional foundations that inspired Apatow to develop this particular story.
Featuring archival footage of Apatow, Sandler and Rogen doing stand-up (the latter of whom was 13 when he started), this documentary delves into the writer-director's earliest days as a would-be comedian, his longtime relationship with Sandler, who was his roommate when the two first moved to Los Angeles, and eventually, the themes that emerged at the center of the film. Apatow holds nothing back in his daily descriptions of the shooting process, not only celebrating the fun of working with so many talented people, but describing in details his panic, fear and insecurity as the production moves towards completion. Like no other behind-the-scenes material I've ever seen, particularly (again) for a purported comedy, Apatow addresses the technical and artistic challenges of pulling back the curtain on stand-up comedy, ultimately examining the inextricable connection between sadness and humor that forms the heart of Funny People's story.
The commentary track further reinforces this in both structural and emotional dimensions, when early on Sandler and Apatow wistfully recall their experiences with the late Chris Farley as they watch Funny People, and then later describe the film's last scene as "a real motherf*cker" to figure out. But certainly having made several films and TV series before, Apatow seems to understand that these growing pains are part of the process of putting a meaningful movie together, which is precisely why when he tells himself not to "be a slave to logic and arc," he's not justifying self-indulgence but understanding that greater truth and meaning can be discovered by following an unconventional path.
Disc Two, meanwhile, is essentially an all-encompassing chronicle of the careers of everyone involved in the film leading up to Funny People. In the "From the Archives" section, Apatow collects original, uncut stand-up footage of himself, Sandler, and Rogen from decades past; in the documentary "Judd's High School Radio Show," on the other hand, Apatow's earliest days as a comedian groupie are explored via vintage interviews he conducted as a kid in order to learn the ropes as a stand-up. Although some of this material is condensed into the Disc One documentary, its unedited presentation here provides a real context for Apatow's affection for comedians, and his deep-rooted understanding not only of the profession, but the culture from which "funny people" come.
If one were worried the disc was merely a trip down memory lane for the cast and crew however, the remainder of the material is comprised mostly of surprisingly thorough promotional material featuring various characters in the film, deleted scenes, and more contemporary deconstructions of technical and artistic contributions to the film. In the former category, there's "Raaaaaaaandy!," a documentary on Aziz Ansari's character, who is quite possibly the only stand-up in history with his own DJ, and all of the produced segments for "Yo Teach...!," the offensive, unfunny sitcom that Jason Schwartzman's character stars in and lords over his roommates during the film. Additionally, there's a collection of segments and trailers from all of George Simmons' films that are mentioned in Funny People, most of which are suitably crass or bland enough to actually exist if Apatow and Sandler hadn't satirized their "high" concepts already.
While there's a lot of broad, silly material included in these features and mockumentaries, they also touch upon some of the strange and no doubt fundamental issues that comedians face during the development and performance of their material. For example, although it seems patently ridiculous to mathematically analyze whether six spins is funnier than seven during Randy's act, it speaks to the way in which comedians and performers analyze, organize and reconfigure their material to better play to their audiences. On the other hand, full routines of the characters like those in Disc Two's "Stand Up" section show how editing and manipulation of Apatow's narrative constructed successful routines for the various actors and comedians who tried out new material on stage expressly for the film.
Finally, there's an extensive database of deleted, extended and alternate scenes (more than 40) that show how Apatow's flexibility as a filmmaker allows for so many different (and no doubt difficult) options for him once principal photography is completed. Some of these are significantly less funny than others – and, quite frankly, are meant to be – but notwithstanding the overarching themes that the writer-director wanted to explore, this footage offers a look at the options he generated for himself during his search for a definitive and dramatically rewarding narrative structure. Not to mention, it offers even more footage of Ansari's character, who steals almost every scene in which he appears.
Ultimately, the content included here not only captures the amount of effort that literally went into the film's making, but reveals what truly helped get the movie made – namely, Apatow's complete understanding of and appreciation for his subject matter. It's safe to say that Funny People may be the saddest movie ever made about making people laugh, which may account for audiences' initial misgivings when the movie was first released. But even if there may be funnier sets released, given this one's complete portrait of the where, why and how comedians come up with their material, there are none more meaningful. By offering not only comedy itself, but the atmosphere, environment and most of all deep-rooted emotion in which it is created, Funny People proves that the best punch lines are the ones that linger long after they've been delivered, and Apatow guarantees with this Blu-ray that he'll enjoy the last laugh.