By the time their new comedy "Knocked Up" is released nationwide on June 1, Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen will have been working together on and off for more than eight years. But if you go by what Apatow told ABC's Joel Siegel, their relationship was love at first sight.
"He's 25 now. I met him when he was 16 years old," Apatow said of the young actor and star of his latest and most heavily anticipated film. "He's one of these freaks of nature. He came out of his mother's womb with a fully formed comic identity."
The trip from the placenta to Apatow's stable of talented comic actors was a little more complicated than they might admit, though still pretty linear.
Apatow hired Rogen after a single audition for the 1999 TV show "Freaks and Geeks." The show aired on NBC and became a cult hit, and like so many cult hits before, a ratings failure. It lasted just 15 episodes.
Today, with Rogen's silver screen star rising after a highly rated performance as Cal, one of Steve Carrell's buddies in 2005's "The 40 Year Old Virgin," the two are free to attack, with big studio-backing, any project they choose.
"One day [Rogen] came to my office. He was pitching me ideas. He wanted to do a big sci-fi comedy," Apatow said. "And I said, Seth, you don't need aliens and wizards to be funny. You could just get a girl pregnant … That would be enough for a whole movie."
As it turns out, he was right. The stripped down plot summary for "Knocked Up" reads like this: Slacker impregnates girl during one-night stand. Comedy ensues.
The jokes in between are crude, naturally. Apatow says the studio urges him to earn his R-ratings. But it's Rogen's "sweet heart," he said, that "shines through in those scenes" and triggers such a positive response from audiences.
Not always so sweet, Apatow remembers, was the road to becoming the L.A. Times-proclaimed "Mayor of Comedy." That's the title of a feature story on Apatow's career the paper ran on May 13.
Apatow said the phrase, which was quoted from another comedian, makes him uneasy.
"I think the writer interviewed a comedian who said that as a joke, as if it were true, as if people call me that. And she wrote it as if it were true and now I'm stuck with it," he said. "It's just a terrible, terrible, practical joke. The only mayor I can think of is the mayor of Munchkin Land."
Growing up in the Long Island suburbs of New York, Apatow was hardly the mayoral type. He preferred to spend his afternoon hours alone in front of the television. There's nothing apparently spectacular about that of course, but it's safe now to say he was doing more than passing the hours.
"I was fascinated by the comedians," he said, listing "I Love Lucy," Merv Griffin, Dinah Shore, Mike Douglas and "The Tonight Show" as his favorites. "That's all I wanted to do is get into this world of funny people."
The process took time, but Apatow would soon get his wish. He started a radio show a little after his 16th birthday and soon found himself interviewing promising young comedians.
"Now I had an excuse to ask them questions," he said. "I interviewed Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld in the early '80s before they were big stars and said, 'How do you write a joke?' and 'How do you get onstage?'"
Apatow would try his hand at stand-up comedy, but like a comic sage, decided he was better off writing the jokes than saying them in an empty room.
"Jim Carrey I was not," he said.