Aug. 19, 2005 — -- No virgins were harmed in the making of Steve Carell's new movie. But countless chest follicles suffered unspeakable torture, and there may have been some nipple injuries.
Carell might be the hairiest comic east of Robin Williams. And when it came time to do the body-waxing scene in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," the 42-year-old from Concord, Mass., insisted that he would take the punishment without any computer-generated special effects -- in a single, excruciating, curse-Kelly-Clarkson's-name-at-the-top-of-your-lungs scene.
"It had to be real," Carell says. "It wouldn't be as funny if it was mocked up. You have to see it really happening."
The veteran of Chicago's famed Second City comedy troupe knows more than a little about laughter. He did a brief stint on "Saturday Night Live," before joining Jon Stewart's troupe of roving reporters for a five-year run on "The Daily Show." In one of his best bits, he provided the Moviephone voice in a spoof of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ."
"Hello, and welcome to Moviephone. To select "The Passion of the Christ" -- press one. To select Jesus Christ as your personal savior -- press two. If you were one of they who mocked him, I say unto thee -- press three. To hear these instructions again in Tongues -- press four."
It was a no-brainer to assume he'd parlay his success on Comedy Central's faux news show into supporting roles in film. But after several strong big-screen performances, including some scene-stealers in last year's "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," he has suddenly become "The Daily Show's" first movie star.
"We knew he was good," Stewart said Monday as he welcomed him back on the show as a guest to plug the new movie. "We didn't know he was this good."
It's not as if the role as a dimwitted weatherman on Will Ferrell's news team was much of a stretch. Who knew there'd be such a big market for pretend journalists? He provided similar services in Jim Carrey's "Bruce Almighty."
Even in less successful ventures-- like American TV's version of "The Office" and the box office dud "Bewitched" -- Carell cut through the din, and that impressed "Anchorman" producer Judd Apatow, who saw bigger things for the diminutive comic, best-known for playing nervous boobs.
When Apatow asked Carell if he had any film ideas, "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" came to life, and the two ended up co-writing the script.
Carell plays uber-geek Andy Steitzer, who lives alone and bikes to work at an electronics store, where he's reasonably popular, but suspiciously quiet when the guys trade stories about wild road trips to Tijuana.
All Andy has to talk about is his attempt to make the perfect egg salad sandwich. One co-worker wonders if he's secretly a serial killer.
Alas, poor Andy is as untouched by real life as the mint-condition superhero action figure collectibles that he talks to intimately. (Although he'd never dare remove one of them from its original packaging.)
And when the other guys (Paul Rudd, Romany Malco and Seth Rogen) find out just how pathetic Andy is, it's time for some heart-to-heart talks -- and a body waxing.
Oh, sure, they make fun of him, but they legitimately want to help him with "that 'Teen Wolf' thing" -- and other hairy problems.
"There's nothing funnier than a bunch of guys giving really terrible advice to a guy with a good heart just trying to get through the day," says Apatow, a writer-producer of such TV shows as "The Larry Sanders Show" and "Freaks and Geeks."
"The 40-Year-Old Virgin" marks Apatow's big screen directorial debut, and though the film might seem at first like an "American Pie" clone, he and Carell are clearly hoping the cast will come across as something more than over-the-top caricatures. It's still an R-rated sex comedy, but it aspires to have a little more soul.
"That's the point of the waxing," Carell says. "There's a specific gene we have where men enjoy watching other men in excruciating pain. You just laugh."
Under the right circumstances, of course, a woman enjoys watching a man squirm even more. At one point, Carell's character joins some sexually confused adolescents in group therapy. "Is it true that you lose it if you don't use it?" he asks the sex counselor, and as he does, you can see the woman's wry grin.
That's not just any woman. That's Nancy Walls, Carell's wife of 10 years. They met at Second City, worked together at "The Daily Show," and are now raising a 4-year-old girl and 1-year-old boy.
Working together again was great, but Carell says the body waxing gave him new appreciation for what his wife and her friends go through in the name of fashion.
"I can now empathize with all you women," the comic says. "I salute you, my comrades."