The new issue of Vanity Fair, the magazine’s first-ever devoted solely to comedy, is terrific. The highlight is probably the interview with Mike Nichols and his one-time comedy partner Elaine May, who almost never gives interviews. (The wildly popular duo helped turn improv into the huge part of American comedy it has since become.) But it has plenty of competition: The conversation with Albert Brooks is great, and the oral history of Freaks and Geeks—which, unlike much of the issue, you can read online—is getting lots of much-deserved love on the web. There’s also a Martin Short profile, a story about the making of the Blues Brothers full of crazy Belushi anecdotes, a Proust Questionnaire filled out by Louis C.K., and more.
So does it matter that Judd Apatow edited it? (He is the magazine’s third guest editor; Tom Ford oversaw the 2006 Hollywood issue—he had just recently formed a production company—and Bono edited the Africa issue, in 2007.) Obviously it matters in the sense that some (most?) of the issue’s great pieces probably would not have happened without him. He was the executive producer behind Freaks and Geeks, and just directed Albert Brooks in This Is 40, so he is uniquely well suited to getting those people to talk to the magazine. Of course, that also means he stands to financially benefit from positive coverage for those productions. (He did not, however, get paid for his work on the issue, apparently.) So is it a problem if he’s overseeing that coverage?
Perhaps not. There are no reviews in the issue; it is a mix of interviews, oral histories, and profiles. And a very informal survey of friends both inside and outside of journalism suggested that few people see anything wrong with Apatow editing such pieces. The question has not, so far as I can tell, been publicly raised before now. The issue was first announced back in October; at the time, Entertainment Weekly noted that, since Apatow is “the executive producer of HBO’s show Girls … it’s likely Lena Dunham will be making an appearance in Vanity Fair’s coverage.” (She does.) The person who wrote that sentence made no suggestion that there was anything untoward about it. And the rest of the world seems to agree.
Many magazines would probably not enter into such an arrangement. But Vanity Fair, which is perhaps best known for its lavish photo spreads and equally lavish Oscar party, does not present itself as a totally independent observer of celebrity culture, nor does it seem to be regarded as such by its readership. When I emailed its editor, Graydon Carter, about the matter, he was frank about the access that bringing Apatow aboard provided:
Apatow is one of the most relevant, inventive and funny directors working today. And it just so happens that comedy is having a moment and Judd is one of the figures that defines it. He provided access to a slew of talented people, both in and out of his own sphere, and he worked hard and with tremendous enthusiasm to produce an issue that is a fantastic read and that I’m quite proud of.