I just listened to the Judd Apatow interview on Alec Baldwin’s podcast Here’s the Thing. Apatow has been the writer, producer and occasionally director of, and actor in, many of the biggest movie and TV comedies of the past decade including Bridesmaids and Girls. Like most highly successful people, the seeds of his career were planted early:

Judd Apatow began studying the art of making people laugh as a kid, when he would rush home from school to watch TV from 3:30 until after midnight; “All in the Family,” “Rhoda,” “Mary Tyler Moore,” “Taxi.” On the weekend he’d transcribe the bits he heard on “Saturday Night Live.”

You can listen to the show or read the transcript and get a powerful formula for how to succeed in the work of your choice: thousands of hours of perfecting your craft, mixed with a truckload of risks taken to improve your skill. You can hear the tension in Apatow’s voice when he describes the excruciating feeling it took to ask for help from those he admires in his field. And he’s Judd Apatow!

My favorite line in the interview was when he emailed James L. Brooks (of Mary Tyler Moore fame) for help during the creative process of one of his pictures:

Remind me what the movie is about again. I forgot.

Alec Baldwin asked him at what point was it–in the writing phase?–that he needed to know.

No. While we were shooting. (Apatow replied.)

To be so humble about his own inability to remember what his movie was about, and to share this seemingly embarrassing question with an idol of his, seemed astonishing to me. It felt like a huge privilege to peek behind the curtain of his process in such an intimate way.

I have to believe that his mentor’s generosity of spirit was based on his having once traversed his own rocky course to success. Sharing it with the public is a gift I’m thrilled to receive.

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