Paul Feig: Le Geek, C'est Chic

Nov 7, 2013
Originally published on June 18, 2015 10:02 pm

Paul Feig has always been a big believer in the underdog. It was evident in every aspect of his labor of love, Freaks and Geeks, the short-lived TV show that was part memoir and perfectly captured the pains and joys of adolescence. It's also evident in his ongoing campaign to put more women on movie screens. And not as the "mean girlfriend or wife who's a drag," but female characters who are dynamic, multifaceted, and above all, funny.

As Feig explained to Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg, he's tired of seeing talented female comedians relegated to one-note roles.

"That's not cool," he said. "I just want all these funny women to be stars."

Feig directed the hit film Bridesmaids in 2011, and his latest film, The Heat — starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy — grew out of a screenplay originally referred to as "The Untitled Female Buddy Cop Comedy."

From humble beginnings as a child magician ("I dabbled in the dark arts"), Feig began performing stand-up comedy at the ripe old age of 15 at a Detroit biker bar. For years, he worked as an actor in small roles, most notably as the biology teacher on Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. From the start, it was clear that Feig embraced his "geekiness."

While the beloved but underappreciated Freaks and Geeks — Feig's creation with producer Judd Apatow — only lasted for 18 episodes, over the years it's won over countless fans and has had a lasting impact on comedy. The show has also launched the careers of some of today's most recognizable comedic actors: James Franco, Seth Rogen and Jason Segel — just to name a few.

"I love them. They're like my children," Feig said.

So it seemed fitting that Feig's Ask Me Another challenge be a quiz about what everybody on the show's impressive roster has been up to since their heyday as a freak or a geek.

This segment originally ran on July 19, 2013.

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Now let me introduce to you my favorite geek. Give it up for our VIP. He's the writer of the cult favorite television series "Freaks and Geeks" and the director of "Bridesmaids" and "The Heat." Please welcome Paul Feig.


PAUL FEIG: Oh, go on. Go on. Thanks, everybody. Hello, Ophira.

EISENBERG: Hello. Now, I take it if I were to ask you are you a freak or a geek you're in the geek factor?

FEIG: Nah, I was neither. I was very, very cool.

EISENBERG: You were very cool. Yeah.


FEIG: Very handsome. No, I think I was firmly in the geek category. But I had a lot of friends who were freaks and we found that the freaks and the geeks were very similar, they were just at different ends of the spectrum.

EISENBERG: So let's start in the beginning. You as a child did some magic. You were a child magician.

FEIG: Yes. I dabbled in the dark arts, if you will.


EISENBERG: And then you started standup...

FEIG: Yes.

EISENBERG: a teenager.

FEIG: Yeah, 15 years old I started doing standup. And it was at a place in Detroit and it was a biker bar, basically, where standup was occurring.


FEIG: Because of course bikes and standup go really well together.

EISENBERG: Yeah, great audience.

FEIG: A big hog and a guy telling a joke and then you're all set.

EISENBERG: You were an actor and then you decided to switch sides of the camera.

FEIG: Yeah, I was an actor for a long time. I was a regular on a lot of TV series that made it just one season and got cancelled. Perhaps you remember "Dirty Dancing: The TV Series."


FEIG: If you love the movie, stay for the TV show. But then I finally got a role to be a regular on "Sabrina the Teenage Witch."

EISENBERG: Right. Yeah.


FEIG: Why, thank you. And they said NPR audiences are smart.


EISENBERG: Yeah, we challenge that.

FEIG: Exactly. And so it's like finally, I'm taken care of. And I get, like, the end of the first season and I'm like this is great. I'm going to take all my money and make this independent feature and then I'll go back and make more money. And then they wrote me out of the show.


FEIG: Yeah, I know. Thank you. Thank you very much.

EISENBERG: Yeah. So then you go through this kind of tough period, obviously, in your career after the independent film.

FEIG: Yeah.


FEIG: Yes.

EISENBERG: And then you have the opportunity to direct "Bridesmaids."

FEIG: In 2007, I got invited to a table read of it by my friend Judd Apatow who we did, you know, "Freaks and Geeks" together with. And I've always been trying to get projects for women. You know, I just like funny women. I want to have them in a lot of roles. And it seemed great because...


FEIG: Thank you so much, ladies. You need more movies.


FEIG: You need a lot more movies.

EISENBERG: Can I - but why? I mean, I'm very happy and I'm pro you being this person but why do you want to be this person that is like, you know, I want more movies with funny women; I'm going to make that happen?

FEIG: Because all my friends growing - I had so many friends who were women and girls. I had a lot of bullies when I was growing up and so I'd always run to the girls, like, please, let's just hang out, you know.


FEIG: You're not mean. Well, a couple of you are mean but we won't hang out with them. And now professionally I've known over the years so many funny, funny women and then I go to the movies and I see, like, a male comedy and all those funny women aren't being funny. They're being, like, the mean girlfriend or the wife who's a drag. And it's like, well, that's not cool. So I want to right the wrong.

I mean, I just want all these funny women to be stars. Right?


EISENBERG: Agreed. Agreed. So you go to a table read for "Bridesmaids" in 2007.

FEIG: Yeah. It was so much fun and the women were just so great. We got to, you know, audition all these great women and then, you know, into our lives came Melissa McCarthy.

Yeah. Who is just this force of nature that came in towards the end of the casting process. And she came up with this kind of ultra, uber confidence for it. And at first I was like she's playing it kind of butch. That's kind of a cool way to go. And I'd never seen anything like that. And then when we were - I always liked to let Melissa kind of put together whatever wardrobe she wants for the character and she's like I have to wear pearls.


FEIG: And I was like, well, that's hilarious. And she's like I have to have the carpal tunnel thing.

EISENBERG: Right. I loved that.


FEIG: I was like, well, I'm in. OK.

EISENBERG: Great detail. Melissa McCarthy is in "The Heat" and I imagine that you brought her into that script.

FEIG: Well, you know what it was? I got sent the script and I was trying to figure out what to do after "Bridesmaids" and I was developing a few things but I wanted that kind of follow up with the same humor but kind of in a different world. And this script dropped out onto my desk entitled "The Untitled Female Buddy Cop Comedy."


FEIG: So I was immediately like I'm in.


FEIG: And it just happened to go with one of the funniest scripts I've ever read. Katie Dippold, who writes on "Parks and Recreation" wrote this script who is one of the most awesome writers I've ever worked with. And then also I was told that Sandra Bullock had read the script and liked it and wanted to do it. So I was like I'm in. But then as I'm reading the script, it's like 10 pages in I was like this is the perfect role for Melissa.

And then she agreed to do it and we went off to Boston and we did it.

EISENBERG: Off to Boston. And it is...

FEIG: Yeah, off to Boston.

EISENBERG: ...hilarious.

FEIG: Thank you.

EISENBERG: It is so funny.

FEIG: Thank you.

EISENBERG: All right. We are going to put you in the seat - in the heat.

FEIG: Yes.

EISENBERG: Of the seat.

FEIG: The heat seat?

EISENBERG: The heat seat.

FEIG: The seat heat?

EISENBERG: Of the puzzle hot seat.

FEIG: I think I'm already sitting in it.

EISENBERG: Yes. We're going to put you up for an ASK ME ANOTHER challenge. Would you like to take on a new game show experience...

FEIG: Oh, I would.


FEIG: Oh, I would.

EISENBERG: OK, fantastic. Another hand for Paul Feig, everybody.


FEIG: Thanks, Ophira. Thanks, guys.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: You're going to're going to're to stay and have some fun (echoes)...

EISENBERG: Stay tuned. We're going to put celebrities on a first-name basis, plus, we'll test our VIP director Paul Feig in a trivia challenge we've created just for him. This is NPR's ASK ME ANOTHER. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.