(VARIETY) — "I feel like I have enough work now that, if I died, my 'in memorium' reel would be impressive," joked Judd Apatow as he took to the stage of the Film Society of Lincoln Center Monday night for a loosely structured chat with one of his most devoted artistic collaborators, "Girls" creator and star Lena Dunham. The 90-minute talk about life, art and the business of being funny capped the Film Society's weeklong Apatow retrospective leading up to the release of his Amy Schumer comedy, "Trainwreck," which opens Friday.
"When you don't write, it's only half the work," Apatow mused of the new film, which he directed from Schumer's original script, in a response typical of an evening that alternated between writer's-room zingers and more serious reflections by both participants on the creative processes. In comparing their respective approaches to writing, Apatow observed that "Lena loves to write. When she's having a bad day, she'll go write to feel better. For me, writing feels like facing a mirror that is telling me all of my unworthiness."
Photos of Lena Dunham from over the years:
Judd Apatow and Lena Dunham talk Bill Cosby, industry diversity at Lincoln Center
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 02: Lena Dunham discusses Let Girls Learn at The American Magazine Media Conference at Grand Hyatt New York on February 2, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/WireImage)
PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 24: Actress Lena Dunham speaks from the podium at the Lena Dunham and Planned Parenthood Host Sex, Politics & Film Cocktail Reception at The Spur on January 24, 2016 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 24: Honoree Lena Dunham speaks onstage at Variety's Power of Women New York presented by Lifetime at Cipriani 42nd Street on April 24, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Brian Ach/Getty Images for Variety)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - JANUARY 13: Actress Lena Dunham attends ELLE's Annual Women in Television Celebration on January 13, 2015 at Sunset Tower in West Hollywood, California. Presented by Hearts on Fire and Olay. (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images for ELLE)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: Actress Lena Dunham attends HBO's post Golden Globe Awards party at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: Actress/director Lena Dunham (L) and singer/songwriter Taylor Swift attend HBO's Official Golden Globe Awards After Party at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 11, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 05: Lena Dunham attends the 'Girls' season four premiere at American Museum of Natural History on January 5, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 02: Actress/Author Lena Dunham reads from her book, 'Not That Kind of Girl' during the 2014 Ally Coalition's Talent Show at New World Stages on December 2, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Pont/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - NOVEMBER 11: Actress / Director Lena Dunham attends Pen Center USA's 24th Annual Literary Awards Festival at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel on November 11, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic)
LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 29: Lena Dunham meets fans and signs copies of her book 'Not That Kind Of Girl' at Waterstones, Piccadilly on October 29, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 14: Actress Lena Dunham signs copies of 'Not That Kind Of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's 'Learned.' at Barnes & Noble bookstore at The Grove on October 14, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 30: Television personality Robin Roberts (L) and actress Lena Dunham tape an interview at 'Good Morning America' at the ABC Times Square Studios on September 30, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Ray Tamarra/GC Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 25: Actress Lena Dunham arrives at the 66th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on August 25, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - AUGUST 23: Actress Lena Dunham attends Variety and Women in Film Emmy Nominee Celebration powered by Samsung Galaxy on August 23, 2014 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Variety)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 05: [EDITOR'S NOTE: Image has been digitally processed] Lena Dunham attends the 'Charles James: Beyond Fashion' Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 5, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 23: Director Lena Dunham on the set of 'Girls' on April 23, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Bobby Bank/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 01: Lena Dunham filming 'Girls' on May 1, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Steve Sands/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 07: Lena Dunham attends the 2014 Point Honors New York gala at New York Public Library on April 7, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Nomi Ellenson/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 18: Lena Dunham visits 'The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon' at Rockefeller Center on March 18, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/NBC/Getty Images for 'The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon')
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 27: Actress Lena Dunham attends the Fox Searchlight Pictures' 'Dom Hemingway' screening hosted by The Cinema Society And Links Of London on March 27, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
NORTH HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 13: Actress Lena Dunham attends an evening with 'Girls' at Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre on March 13, 2014 in North Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 13: Writer/director Lena Dunham poses with Best Actress in a TV Comedy Award in the press room during the 70th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 13, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 09: Lena Dunham attends the premiere of 'Girls' season 2 hosted by HBO at NYU Skirball Center on January 9, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
Cast member Lena Dunham arrives at the premiere of Universal's 'This Is 40,' December 12, 2012 at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 12: Writer/Director/Actress Lena Dunham attends 'Girls' Greenroom Photo Op during the 2012 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival at Paramount Theatre on March 12, 2012 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images for SXSW)
SANTA MONICA, CA - FEBRUARY 26: Actress/filmmaker Lena Dunham, winner of Best First Screenplay for 'Tiny Furniture,' accepts award onstage during the 2011 Film Independent Spirit Awards at Santa Monica Beach on February 26, 2011 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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Still, Apatow added, he prefers writing to most other activities, including any kind of sports or exercise. "I don't like sweating. I don't like moving fast. I don't like counting. And I take no pride in physical feats, whereas I do take pride in writing a new boner joke," he said. "That's my four-minute mile."
Surprising no one who follows either filmmaker on social media, the conversation turned at several points to the ongoing Bill Cosby scandal. "He must know by now about you," Dunham prodded Apatow, before revealing that she was largely unfamiliar with the cultural legacy of "The Cosby Show" when the comedian's rape allegations first surfaced, having spent her '80s youth more devoted to other sitcoms of the era. "It's interesting, because to me Bill Cosby is just a rapist," she said, then playfully admonished a journalist in the crowd taking notes. "Don't write that down. Don't f–k with us." (Asked later if she would consider participating in a hypothetical Comedy Central roast of Cosby, Dunham responded, "If Bill Cosby agreed to be roasted on a spit, I would participate.")
Apatow then launched into the spot-on Cosby impression he's been road-testing in a series of recent stand-up comedy gigs, and pulled out a yellow legal pad to try some additional jokes on the sold-out crowd in advance of his set on "The Tonight Show" next Monday. Having abandoned his fledgling stand-up career as a young man when he realized he wasn't as funny as his then-roommate, Adam Sandler, Apatow said he feels reinvigorated to be back on stage, citing the instant gratification of interacting with a live audience versus the years-long process of making a movie.
Dunham, meanwhile, praised "Trainwreck" as "really great feminist art" and said she hoped it would silence any lingering impressions (stemming from comments made by "Knocked Up" star Katherine Heigl in a widely quoted 2007 Vanity Fair interview) that Apatow doesn't feature strong female characters in his work. "I never understood the idea that I was the 'dude guy,'" Apatow responded, noting that, as a young comedy fan in the late '70s and early '80s, he was perplexed that a comic as gifted as Gilda Radner couldn't land better movie roles. But he was also quick to praise collaborators like Schumer, Dunham and "Bridesmaids" scribes Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo for their invaluable distaff perspective. "As a guy, I can't say that I understand women well enough to not have strong collaborators," he said. "I couldn't do that stuff by myself."
Apatow, an executive producer and occasional writer on "Girls," hailed Dunham for the honesty and candor of her work, citing the Season 2 storyline in which her character is revealed to suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, an affliction that Dunham herself has battled since childhood. "I couldn't imagine a world in which other people would want to share that experience," said Dunham, adding that Apatow insisted she keep the storyline when she began to have second thoughts. Apatow also offered a cryptic hint about his and Dunham's future plans together, stating that "we don't know exactly when 'Girls' will end, but, uh, let's say it's not forever," and lavishing praise on a new feature script Dunham had recently shown him.
As the evening drew to a close, Apatow and Dunham fielded an audience question about the need for not just gender but racial diversity in the overwhelmingly white Hollywood system. "I think it's essential that we as artists/viewers/producers keep pushing the ball forward," said Dunham, who cited her own efforts on "Girls" to reflect the ethnic and cultural diversity of New York itself, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes.
"It takes a concerted effort by the people in power to make that happen," added Apatow. "There shouldn't just be one Kevin Hart. There should be 15 Kevin Harts."
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