Judd Apatow hardly sat out the 2016 election cycle. The outspoken filmmaker denounced Donald Trump in interviews and broadcasted excerpts from Trump’s personal memoirs showcasing the president-elect’s longstanding perverse views on everything from women and money to self-inflation and revenge.
But Apatow’s greatest political move has been championing the careers of two of Hillary Clinton’s most visible supporters, Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer, who have advocated for numerous issues including women’s rights and gun safety.
Their commitment and success in engaging young people to vote made it particularly heartbreaking for Apatow to watch Tuesday’s election results with his 14-year-old daughter, Iris. “It was a terrible thing – to watch a daughter see such a lack of interest and respect for women,” Apatow tells Rolling Stone. “Hopefully, this will all lead to women in gigantic numbers realizing they have to be much more involved.”
The Emmy-winning producer, writer and filmmaker spoke to Rolling Stone after Trump’s unlikely victory about his fears for the presidency, the sad disconnect in working-class America and why comedy writers need to show up harder than ever in the next four years.
What were your first thoughts on Trump’s victory?
I think a lot of people were hurting. But to turn to this man and think he’s going to solve your problems is crazy. It’s sad to me that people thought he was about taking care of people who are struggling. But what he will do is get rid of regulations and bring in new laws that will just allow corporations to extract more money from the economy. It won’t go to the people who need it the most.
It’ll be sad to watch people realize that that’s what they voted for. They just wanted things to change. But they elected the same person [in 2000]. It’s Bush, with Cheney pulling the levers. Trying to make rich people richer. Not looking out at what these banks are doing, which led to the sub-prime mortgage meltdown. It’ll just be a different version of that. I’m the person that’s going to get the tax cut. I don’t need it and I don’t want it.
At what point in his candidacy did you feel Trump was dangerous?
I thought he was dangerous from day one. I never doubted the fact that he could win. Even up to a few days ago.
People were shocked. Political analysts were calling it an “early night” in Clinton’s favor all the way to the end.
Here’s the issue: When the news doesn’t understand the electorate and all their polling is wrong, they’re also reporting on it incorrectly for a year. That’s what makes it worse. Their reporting is based on feeling somewhat comfortable that he’s not going to win, so it’s not as aggressive.
“This is a man who doesn’t do diapers. Whose kids have to hang out in his office to get to see him. He doesn’t care about anybody.”
Can you compare this election to how you felt when Bush was elected in 2000?
I felt the same way today when Bush was elected. I didn’t understand why people didn’t realize how unqualified [Bush] was compared to Al Gore and my worst fears were realized. The War on Iraq happened, which people will be dealing with for hundreds of years. Now, Trump immediately has to decide what he’s going to do about NATO and missile shields in Europe and where our troops are. There are concrete questions on the table and he’s going to have to act. He’s now in charge of the drones [and] the nuclear arsenal.
This is a person who has zero qualifications. You could say I have the same qualifications as Trump to be president. He’s not a big thinker [or] a big reader. He’s not someone who understands any issue deeply, so who’s going to influence him? It will be big money. It’ll be those people who wrote him checks. This is like having Dick Cheney be president. It’s not someone who’s really going to bust everything up and “drain the swamp.”
At some level, [Trump voters] wanted an abusive father; a giant, collective, unconscious wound gets served by having this dark, cold man get elected to this position. This is a man who doesn’t do diapers. Whose kids have to hang out in his office to get to see him. He doesn’t care about anybody. He’s a casino owner who’s happy to milk you for your last penny. He’s a guy who owns a university who says he met every teacher and never met any of them. He’s not going to look out for anybody.
Does Trump scare you more than Bush?
Well, he scares me more because we’ve seen what’s happened over the last 20 years. Back then, we didn’t know how corrupt it could get. And so, when they think he’s the anti-corruption guy and he’s got Russia helping him get elected, then I don’t know how you convince people. It’s so obvious what’s happening.
As a California resident, do you see any similarities to when Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor?
Arnold was a more moderate person who just didn’t get much done. This is scarier because Trump is a very aggressive person. When other countries test us, what do we think this man is going to do? When North Korea does a missile test, what does Trump do? He’s been a toothless dog barking and going crazy, but now he has a nuclear arsenal. Now every morning someone reviews with him what sites they’re considering bombing with drones. The guy from The Apprentice is in charge of that.
What are your thoughts on Mike Pence?
He’s as bad as you get. Someone that wants to force you to bring a baby to term when it threatens your life; someone who believes in gay conversion therapy. [Pence] is the worst version of someone who brings their religion into government. I don’t want him making choices based on his religious beliefs. It’s scary. And what happens if several Supreme Court justices step down or pass away? Women could lose their right to choose very quickly. What is going to slow him down? Or will Trump suddenly reveal himself to be much more moderate? That would be wonderful. I hope Melania gets in his ear and says, “Hey, don’t be the bully.”
The Canadian immigration site crashed after Trump sealed the presidency. What do you make of people threatening to flee the country?
I don’t think anybody is going anywhere. Look, I certainly understand wanting to get to the nearest airport today. But now is the moment when people have to get organized and say, “We don’t want you to get rid of every regulation that makes our food safe [and] our air safe. We don’t want you to give billionaires tax cuts. We don’t want a wall [or] a deportation force.” If people get discouraged, then all of it will happen.
“If everyone gets quiet, it’s a disaster. You gotta get really loud, or we’re in serious trouble”
I look at it very simply: Even if you believe in different trade deals, a bigger military, and so on, you still shouldn’t elect the man that is a liar and a misogynist. He’s not a sane man. He lives in some fantasy that ISIS can be solved very quickly and people want that to be true so bad that they have voted for the person who makes no sense. And because he has no experience, you can’t prove that he can’t do it. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that at his age, people don’t care to make you rich. Sheldon Adelson isn’t hoping that a million more people become millionaires. He just doesn’t want to get prosecuted for his misdeeds. He just wants to make sure he can keep building casinos in China. The idea that we’ve convinced working-class people that the rich guy is their savior is so bizarre.
The media is blamed for overexposing Trump during the election cycle for its own gain. How much do you think that played into his victory?
Clearly that’s part of it. News has become entertainment, and because Trump was the most entertaining politician, he was going to get the most ratings. You can’t stop that. He’s an oddly charismatic madman, so people get a kick out of him. But all of that was slowly hypnotizing the electorate to believe in what he said, just through repetition. Was it okay for CNN to have all these surrogates on 24 hours a day? Let’s just have journalists. I don’t need all these caged shills for either party. They just fight all day long, but no one talks about what choices we need make about an aggressive Russia. Those conversations never happened. But they’re about to happen right now.
Is there any kind of activism you’re committed to doing now in the next four years?
I’m going to look for specific issues to try to get involved in, to try and prevent [Trump] from executing some of his worst plans. Congress has another election in two years. But Trump is going to do a bunch of stuff in the next year.
We need our current president to be involved, because there’s no clear Democratic leader to voice opposition to all of this. Look, I pray that they’re geniuses and we’re wrong about everything. But I just don’t think that’s the case. A lot of these things are big bureaucratic messes. You can’t just say “I want to fix the VA” and the VA functions perfectly in two weeks.
We saw so much incredible political satire in this election cycle pointed at Donald Trump. What do you say to people in the comedy world who are feeling defeated?
A lot of people did important work, but it clearly didn’t reach the people whose minds it needed to affect. The people who are right wing, they watch the news that agrees with them. They’re not even watching CNN, so they’re certainly not watching John Oliver or Bill Maher. As amazing as all these people are connecting with millennials, for most of the electorate, they don’t look at any of it. And that’s the sad part because then it’s entertainment for people who agree with you already.
There are also massive fears coming from artists, writers and journalists on what will be allowed in a Trump presidency. What do you say to them?
Nixon completely abused his control of the FBI and investigated people, tracked people. So how do we prevent Donald Trump from doing that? There’s no sense of moderation about anything. He says he wants to sue all these women who say he assaulted them. He’s always on the offensive. He locks out journalists [and] gets crowds riled up almost to the point of violence against journalists.
It is scary for the creative community, but you can’t hurt it because that’s where people go to get release from this madness. And people might need more of it now. So I’m not concerned about the creative business. I’m more concerned that [Trump] breaks the spirit of people to think that their efforts didn’t work. I think people need to find politicians they support and get behind them in a big way, and they should choose specific issues to be really loud about and find ways to fight for their point of view. If everyone gets quiet, it’s a disaster. You gotta get really loud, or we’re in serious trouble.