Judd Apatow on Why ‘Waiting for Guffman’ Is His ‘Citizen Kane’

This essay is one of several contributed by filmmakers and actors as part of Variety’s 100 Greatest Movies of All Time package.

How do you pick the greatest movies of all time? What are the requirements? How about a movie that you have watched a hundred times? How about a movie that stars all of your favorite funny people being as funny as they have ever been? How about a comedy that is gentle, riotous and infectious?

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I’ve never understood why that wasn’t as important as “Citizen Kane” when making these lists. Well, “Waiting for Guffman” is my “Citizen Kane.” Has anyone watched “Citizen Kane” more than three times? Maybe eight people. Does anyone think Orson Welles’ performance is better than Eugene Levy’s in “Guffman”? If you were feeling down about the state of the world, what would you watch, “Waiting for Guffman” or “Citizen Kane”? They need to move “Waiting for Guffman” much higher on this list! Christopher Guest is a legendary comic force. The man behind “A Mighty Wind,” “Best in Show” and the star and co-writer of “This Is Spinal Tap” has brought the world countless comic pleasures, but “Guffman” is my favorite.

It is the story of struggling theater director Corky St. Clair’s efforts to put on a musical in the small town of Blaine, Mo., celebrating its illustrious history, which includes flying saucers and being the wooden stool capital of America. Corky casts the citizens of this small town to put on “Red White and Blaine,” and they are played by Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Fred Willard, Parker Posey and Bob Balaban. This film is filled with classic moments and jokes: Fred Willard and Catherine O’Hara, as travel agents who have never left the state, singing “Midnight at the Oasis.” Dairy Queen employee Parker Posey’s deeply troubling, hysterical rendition of “Teacher’s Pet.” Corky’s disastrous attempt at a musical based on the film “Backdraft.” Every word out of Fred Willard’s mouth. Every word out of Bob Balaban’s mouth. Corky talking about his wife, Bonnie, who for some reason we never meet. Even though the musical is ridiculous, you can’t help but hope that big-time theater producer Guffman will show up and make them all stars. 

They don’t make movies like this much anymore, even though we desperately need them. Maybe only Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy know how to create them. I pray we get a few more so we can knock “Citizen Kane” even farther down the list. Hell, maybe we can get it off this list next year!

Judd Apatow is the director of “Knocked Up” and “Trainwreck.”

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