How A Scrapped Steve Carrell Sketch Idea Became The 40-Year-Old Virgin

"The 40-Year-Old Virgin," along with "Wedding Crashers," is credited for the string of successful bromantic comedy flicks that flooded theaters in the late 2000s. Judd Apatow produced, directed, and co-wrote the 2005 comedy farce with Steve Carell, who stars as Andy Stitzer, a middle-aged virgin and sales rep at a electronic store who is pressured by his co-workers to have sex for the first time. Carell originally came up with the idea, but it sat dormant in his head for years. 

Before "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," and "The Office" launched Carell's career, he honed his acting skills at The Second City, the famous Chicago-based improv scene that served as a starting point for many comedy powerhouses: Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, Joan Rivers, Chris Farley, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, just to name a few. For almost 10 years, starting in '84, Carell called The Second City home. There, he studied, preformed, and taught improv. During a 2022 interview on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," he said that, though he generated a lot of forgettable material while at the troupe, one idea stayed with him. He explained:

"There was one character I was working on, and it was a poker scene. The guy and all of his friends are talking about sex and they're trying to regale each other with all these stories of sexual conquest. My guy didn't have any sort of context, no frame of reference, and obviously was trying to lie."

Sound familiar? That's the catalytic scene in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," in which Andy's co-workers discover he's a virgin. Unfortunately, Carell was never able to get the sketch into a show, and the idea never formulated into anything until Judd Apatow entered the picture.

Judd Apatow saw a star in Steve Carell while working on Anchorman

Judd Apatow produced "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," the 2004 satirical comedy starring Will Ferrell. In the movie, Steve Carell plays supporting character Brick Tamland, Ron Burgundy's dimwitted weatherman who people seem to like because, as Tamland himself explains, "I am polite, and I'm rarely late. I like to eat ice cream, and I really enjoy a nice pair of slacks."

Going back to the Jimmy Fallon interview, "The Morning Show" actor recounted how Apatow approached him after "Anchorman" wrapped to schedule a pitch meeting. "So we got together, and I pitched all these other ideas," Carell said. "Just before I left, I said, 'You know what, there's one more – there was this thing I was kind of trying to get going at The Second City that never really went anywhere.'"

He described the poker game sketch, and Apatow saw dollar signs; he jumped on the idea immediately. "The next week he talked to an executive, sold it, we wrote it, it got greenlit," Carell explained. "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" went on to make more than $177 million at the box office worldwide against a $26 million budget, according to Box Office Mojo.

It's fascinating that Carell pitched the idea at the very last minute. It's almost as if he sensed that maybe Apatow wasn't gravitating toward his initial ideas and felt the door of opportunity closing on him; his fight-or-flight response kicked in, and out comes a brilliant decade-old idea from out of nowhere. If that's how it happened, then way to come through in the clutch, Steve Carell. But out of all the actors who worked on "Anchorman," why did Apatow approach Carell?

Judd Apatow wanted to turn Steve Carell into a movie star

In a 2020 interview with Vanity Fair, Judd Apatow told his own version of how "The 40-Year-Old  Virgin" came to life, and his story matches up with Steve Carell's almost to a tee. The one thing that was missing from Carell's story, however, is Apatow's reason for wanting the pitch meeting. "I would watch Steve Carell on set everyday, and he was always so hysterical," Apatow told Vanity Fair. "So one day, I walked up to him, and I said, 'Do you have any ideas about you being the star of the movie?'"

Basically, Apatow wanted to make Carell a movie star. For Carell, Apatow's question was 20 years in the making. After earning his chops at The Second City, he picked up minor TV and film roles, including voicing Gary in the "Saturday Night Live" animated sketch, "The Ambiguously Gay Duo." He landed a bigger role on "The Daily Show" where he played a version of himself as a correspondent who got into spirited and outlandish debates with fellow correspondents, especially Stephen Colbert, over hot topics such as the legalization of marijuana and taxes.

But Carell had never been positioned to star as the lead in a movie or on TV show. This may explain why he left no stone unturned and reached deep down in his mind to pull out an old idea from his Chicago days. But in any event, in his first starring role, Carell shined as the awkward and childlike Andy Stitzer. And I'm sure he learned that movie stars are only as strong as their supporting cast, with Seth Rogen, Romany Malco, and Paul Rudd also shining as Andy's sex obsessed co-workers. In fact, "The 40-Year-Old-Virgin" may be one of Paul Rudd's best movies too.