HBO's Emmy-Nominated New Yorker Cartoonist Bruce Eric Kaplan on His New Series With Judd Apatow (Q&A)

Kaplan Author 2011

The former "Seinfeld" staffer talks to THR about his new cartoon novella and his new Lena Dunham/Apatow HBO show.

Bruce Eric Kaplan is the only famous New Yorker cartoonist who also got three Emmy noms for Six Feet Under (he was a writer and executive producer). He tells The Hollywood Reporter about his two new projects, the cartoon novella Everything Is Going to Be Okay and Judd Apatow's forthcoming HBO show Girls.

THR: Everything is Going to Be Okay features Edmund and Rosemary, the couple from your New Yorker cartoons, which, your editor says, "make the Addams Family look like the Brady Bunch." Edmund gets invited to write a commencement speech for a college graduation. Even though Edmund's speech is disastrous, your book has actually been used by at least one real celeb who had to give a graduation speech. It's sort of wise, actually. But why do a book about a graduation speech?

Bruce Eric Kaplan: I'm just interested in graduation speeches. It's a time when people are trying to make sense of their lives.

THR: Kind of like the forthcoming HBO show you're co-executive producing, Girls, by and starring Lena Dunham (Tiny Furniture).

Kaplan: The show is about young women in Brooklyn, just after graduation, sort of figuring out what to do with their lives. I went for my meeting with Lena and Jenni Konner, another producer with Judd Apatow, and I knew the irony of being a middle aged man -- like, why do I feel connected to this? Because I would never meet on something unless it’s like, “I feel very connected to this material.” And although I am not a girl in her 20s in Brooklyn in 2011, I do identify with this feeling of, “Why am I here? How do I do it better? How do I get some meaning out of life? It’s all so confusing.” And it’s sort of part of why I wrote this book, obviously because there’s a lot of similar thematic stuff. I don’t know if it means that I’m arrested or I’m permanently existential, but I’m always grappling. Even though obviously I’m far along in my career, I was up last night being like, “What am I doing? Why am I doing this, should I be doing something else?”

THR: The first big show you worked on was Seinfeld. Wasn't one episode inspired by your New Yorker cartoon?

Kaplan: Yeah. ["The Cartoon," 1998.]

THR: Is Girls Seinfeld-esque?

Kaplan: Lena’s very much interested in what is truthful, not like, “Oh, wouldn’t it be funny if her car slammed into a wall?” She’s more like, “What if this happened, how would you handle it?” It’s Seinfeldian, sort of, because even the Seinfelds that are very sort of broad stories, especially towards the end, it was Larry [David] and Jerry’s sensibility of, “What would you say in this situation? What would you really do, what would you really feel?” If someone put a piece of food in the garbage, you do want to take it out, even though you know it’s gross. It's just genuine emotion.

THR: Your wife, Kate Robin, is also an HBO person.

Kaplan: Yep, she has a pilot for HBO called Spring/Fall. It’s about the fashion industry.

THR: Are there any other famous New Yorker cartoonists who also do TV?

Kaplan: Yes, Alex Gregory. He has an independent film [A Good Old Fashioned Orgy], but he’s worked on things like King of the Hill.

THR: Gregory said a great thing in The New Yorker: "The caption for a great cartoon frequently comes in the same zingery form as a TV sitcom still has to feel naturalistic, but in the least amount of real estate. So yeah, the editing is actually the most crucial part. Bruce Eric Kaplan is a perfect example of that."