Universal Pictures has kept its key funny guy in the studio fold, signing a three-picture directing deal with “Funny People” helmer Judd Apatow.

While Apatow produces films for other studios, he has never directed a film outside of Universal. Studio opens his latest, “Funny People,” today on 3,007 screens.

Apatow made his directing debut on 2005 comedy hit “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” which he followed with 2007’s “Knocked Up.”

In the process, he has helped reestablish the R-rated comedy and created comic stars of Steve Carell, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Katherine Heigl, Jonah Hill and Leslie Mann. Rogen, Hill and Mann star in “Funny People,” alongside Adam Sandler, Eric Bana and Jason Schwartzman.

Apatow has not yet committed to his next directing vehicle. He writes his films himself, and that process will begin after “Funny People” opens.

Universal chairman Marc Shmuger, who made the Apatow deal with co-chairman David Linde, said that the most rewarding part is the opportunity to continue collaborating with an artist who is still testing his range as a director.

“I feel like we’re growing with him and watching him mature as a filmmaker, and that is a thrilling thing to be part of,” Shmuger said. “To know he’ll direct his next three pictures here is a vote of confidence to our entire organization. It has become a true collaboration and partnership.”

Apatow said: “Everyone at Universal has been incredibly supportive of my directing career since day one.I am thrilled I am able to continue that relationship.”