Wednesday night on Late Night with Seth Meyers, comedy titan Judd Apatow addressed sexual harassment as best he could.
"My instinct is always to say the thing they say, 'Don't say,' which is like, 'It concerns as the father of two daughters, it concerns me," Apatow told host Seth Meyers in regards to the recent sexual harassment watershed. When Meyers asked Apatow about the allegations against former Senator Al Franken, Apatow joked that he'd gone through all of the photos in his iCloud, looking for something incriminating. Franken became the subject of controversy when one of his accusers, the TV host Leeann Tweeden, produced a photo of Franken groping her. (Franken has since apologized, and Tweeden said during a press conference that she accepts the apology.)
"It's concerning because I was like, 'What photos have I taken in my life?'" Apatow told Meyers. "You ever think that? Do you do the Rolodex, just go like, 'What have I done?' So, I went through all my photos. I went through 35,000 photos, honestly, and scrolled to see, like, what do I have on the cloud that will someone will find one day and end me."
Apatow is promoting his recent comedy special, which arrived on Netflix in early December, and the HBO show Crashing, which he produces. In essence, he's doing his job. As a comedian, Apatow is expected to comment on the day's news. He's also expected to promote his work, and a late night television show is the right place to do it. This means his appearance on Late Night is a natural, almost professional place for him to discuss sexual misconduct in a comedic way. Where else can you crack jokes about masturbation and groping but Late Night, the show known for its nine-minute-long diatribes about the country?
But Apatow's comments ring hollow, illuminating a blind spot. As someone with a platform, he has a responsibility to talk about sexual assault in Hollywood, but he keeps bumping into his own privilege, even as he employs comedy's radical honesty. He joked that when he discovered the news about Al Franken, he first worried about his own reputation: Is there anything in his backlog that might take him down? It's unclear if this is a joke, or if this is Apatow being vulnerable. As a high-profile man in comedy, he has found himself under the microscope. Maybe he has sifted through 35,000 photos in his iCloud. Maybe he's just thought about it. But should he be making a joke about it?
Apatow then told Meyers that he found "hundreds of photos" of himself "pretending to blow guys." He added, "But we were all laughing and I think it's okay."
Again, the joke seems unclear. Is Apatow jokingly using the same rhetoric that those accused of sexual misconduct have employed? When confronted with his own photo, Franken responded, "It was clearly intended to be funny but wasn't." (He later issued a more contrite statement that didn't mention the intended humor.)
In the same interview, Apatow cracked a joke about a Russian "hooker" and masturbation. After a few minutes, Meyers pivots to the topic of Crashing, Apatow's show on HBO. Apatow did his duty: He talked about (and joked about, maybe) sexual misconduct in Hollywood, and now he's free to promote his show.
Apatow is clearly anti-sexual harassment, but he appears to lack the tools to talk about it. Today, though, it's difficult to know what kind of tools those are. Seth Meyers has received attention for how he handles sexual misconduct — particularly because he invites his women staffers on the show to discuss the topic. Meyers is deferential when it comes to the discussion, often handing off his platform to someone who might be more equipped to talk about it. Next to Meyers, Apatow seems ill-equipped. For someone who has resisted the title of feminist in the past, perhaps sexual transgressions against women shouldn't be his go-to topic.
Comedians are expected to join the conversation. They are maybe expected to lead it, too. Apatow notably jokes about the comedian Bill Cosby in his standup. But when does joining the conversation amount to intruding in a private, and very tense space?
Refinery29 has reached out to representation for Apatow for comment.
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