In "Funny People," Sandler's George Simmons is the sole occupant of a stunning Malibu mansion with a sea view – testament both to his success and his emptiness. His old flame Laura (Leslie Mann), the one woman he cared about among the many he didn't, is long gone. He pads about the palace like a debauched dauphin, and when his medical diagnosis hits home, he doesn't – to the film's credit – magically turn into Mr. Softy. He's as abrasive and self-centered as ever, only now he's bewildered, too.
The other major character in "Funny People" is Ira (Seth Rogen), a fledging stand-up comic George hires to stay with him as a combination comedy writer-secretary. Ira had been rooming with two other young comedy dudes, Mark (Jason Schwartzman), who stars in a dreadful TV sitcom, and Leo (Jonah Hill), whose brand of stand-up, like Ira's, is heavy on the horny-hormonal.
Surprisingly, given his own background, Apatow doesn't really capture the raucous highs and low of the backstage/onstage comedy club circus. It also doesn't make much sense that George, a major star, would hire Ira, a nobody with a so-so comedy routine. We're probably supposed to feel that George has hooked up with Ira precisely he's a nobody, but a nobody without much discernible talent?
On the other hand, the way he's portrayed, George isn't exactly a laugh riot either when he's performing. The movie clips of his that we see – where he plays a merman, or a squalling baby – are pretty stupid, and it's not clear if Apatow intended them to be that way. Is he saying that the foul-mouthed, babe-busting George is a fraud for making a fortune in family entertainment drivel? Or is he saying that George, deep down, is a childlike innocent? Maybe a little of both.