<p>A candid conversation with our newest cover boy about life as a stoner hero, making the world safe for chubby; Jewish guys and, of course, porn.<br></p>
Director Judd Apatow can pinpoint the exact moment he knew Seth Rogen would become a star. It was in 2000, during a taping of Apatow’s first TV show, Freaks and Geeks. Rogen, just 18 years old at the time, was playing a teenage pothead who had learned his girlfriend was born with ambiguous genitals—or as he would later explain to his friends, both “the gun and the holster.”
“The episode could have been bad in so many ways,” Apatow remembers. “It could have been too sweet or too insensitive and nasty. But Seth played it real. He acted exactly the way one would feel when given that information.”
In just one short scene you can see the genesis of Rogen’s comedy persona. He’s sexually awkward and self-conscious in a weirdly charming way, making jokes to mask his panic. He’s simultaneously the coolest person in the room and a scared little kid who doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do next.
“It was such a vulnerable, funny, very human performance,” Apatow says. “I thought, I would love to watch an entire movie starring this guy.”
Apatow got his wish, but it didn’t happen overnight. After several years of relative obscurity in tiny roles in movies like Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Donnie Darko, Rogen got his first taste of mainstream success in Apatow’s comedy hit The 40-Year-Old Virgin, in which he plays Steve Carell’s sex-fiend buddy.
Rogen finally got his shot at stardom in 2007, in a role he seemed utterly unqualified for: the male lead in a romantic comedy. But Knocked Up—written and directed by Apatow—is a romantic comedy about unplanned pregnancy. It’s a movie about growing up and accepting responsibility, but it never skimps on the crude humor.
Many of the jokes in Knocked Up would have had the teenage Rogen rolling in the aisles. Born and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia in a Jewish family (his mother was a social worker, and his dad toiled for a nonprofit), Rogen was something of a comedic prodigy: He made his stand-up-comedy debut at just 13, and while his jokes were unpolished, there were glimmers of the profane wit that would soon conquer Hollywood. When hecklers tried to boo him off the stage, Rogen would fire back, “I’m 13. In 30 years I’ll be 43. You’ll be dead.”
Around the same time, Rogen and his best friend, Evan Goldberg, wrote a screenplay called Superbad, an obscenity-laced romp about high school kids trying to get laid. It was 12 years before the movie was finally made, in no small part thanks to Rogen’s celebrity clout. Last year he starred in Pineapple Express, an action comedy about stoners, and in Zack and Miri Make a Porno, in which a pair of platonic friends make an adult film to pay their bills.
Rogen, who just turned 27, may surprise fans with his latest movie, Observe and Report, a dark comedy about an egomaniacal mall security guard. He also provides one of the voices in the animated Monsters vs. Aliens and is working on a script for The Green Hornet, due out in 2010, in which Rogen will portray the titular—and, at least by Rogen standards, lean—crime fighter.
Writer Eric Spitznagel, who last interviewed Tina Fey and Steve Carell for Playboy, recently caught up with Rogen on the set of Funny People, his third movie with director and longtime collaborator Apatow. Spitznagel reports, “I expected Rogen to look like his portrait from the Knocked Up movie poster, with the pudgy cheeks and unkempt Jewfro. But when I met him his hair was neatly shorn, his skin had a healthy glow, and despite his constant self-deprecation—Rogen joked about his ‘soft, gelatin-like physique'—he could be described as almost slender.
"He may no longer be a candidate for diabetes and heart disease, and his once tangled hair may look respectable now, but when you hear that laugh, like that of a lecherous uncle who has just told you the dirtiest joke he knows, it’s clear Rogen hasn’t changed much.”
PLAYBOY: In Observe and Report you play against type.
ROGEN: Do I?
PLAYBOY: Well, sure. You’re usually the cuddly schlub, but in this movie you’re playing a mall cop named Ronnie who is a racist asshole.
ROGEN: [Laughs] Yeah, he’s not the type of guy you would want to spend any time with. I think people look at the characters I’ve done in movies and think, I’d like to hang out with that guy. But not this time.
PLAYBOY: Was it a difficult adjustment to play somebody audiences will likely despise?
ROGEN: I think it’s funny. Director Jody Hill is great at writing these oddly epic tales about horribly tragic people who just keep getting worse and worse. That’s what I loved about his first movie, Foot Fist Way. He pitched it to me as a comedic Taxi Driver. It’s about a guy who is kind of a vigilante on a mission. He’s a little crazy and slowly becomes more and more unhinged, and he has these objects of obsession that he pines for.
PLAYBOY: When you describe it that way, it doesn’t sound at all different from your other films.
ROGEN: Not really, no.
PLAYBOY: Other than the vigilante stuff.
ROGEN: I don’t think it’s all that different. Observe and Report is about a loser and an outsider, and that’s what Superbad, Pineapple Express and Knocked Up are all about. It’s about these guys who don’t feel they belong in the world. It’s really the same kind of story. Ronnie is a much more aggressively difficult person to be around, but the general feelings driving him—how do I find my place in all this?—are very relatable, I think.
PLAYBOY: He’s probably the least similar to you of any of your movie characters. Do you two have anything in common?
ROGEN: We both have disrespect for the cops. Ronnie absolutely hates the police, and I feel sort of the same way. That’s something I’ve realized is a common thread running through the movies I’ve done. We’ve always gone out of our way to disparage the police.
PLAYBOY: That’s true. Even when you played a policeman in Superbad, he was a drunken moron.
ROGEN: In Pineapple Express I don’t think any line gets a bigger response from audiences than when James Franco starts screaming “Fuck the police.”
PLAYBOY: Have you had bad experiences with cops?
ROGEN: When I was younger, yeah. We would get caught with weed and beer all the time. When I first came to L.A. I got caught smoking weed on a beach in Malibu and had to go to court. It was the craziest thing ever. I was thinking, We’re in Los Angeles. There are probably 400 people getting murdered at this second, and these two cops are taking an hour to write up my court summons for smoking a joint on the beach. That just seemed so fucking ridiculous to me.
PLAYBOY: Didn’t you once get into trouble for hugging a cop?
ROGEN: Yeah. That happened when I was a kid. I was really messed up—too much alcohol at a young age. My tiny frame could not support it all. I guess I thought maybe I could appeal to the cop by hugging him. Apparently, they view that as assault.
PLAYBOY: There’s no hugging in Observe and Report. It almost qualifies as an action film.
ROGEN: It’s close. It gets pretty violent.
PLAYBOY: Did you do your own stunts?
ROGEN: I did, yeah. In fact, I accidentally broke a guy’s nose. I punched a stuntman in the face and broke his nose. He got a little too close. He claimed it wasn’t my fault, which was very noble of him.
PLAYBOY: Did you know instantly that it was broken?
ROGEN: Oh yeah. It made a really loud popping sound. You could hear it. Everybody on the set could hear it. It was kind of disgusting. But we used that shot in the final cut. There’s a scene in the movie when you can see me breaking a guy’s nose.
PLAYBOY: It’s hard not to notice you’ve been losing weight. When did you realize it was time to slim down and get into shape?
ROGEN: It was on Observe and Report. We shot the movie in Albuquerque, which is at a very high altitude. I’m somebody who can barely breathe in Los Angeles, which is at sea level. I can’t walk up a flight of stairs. Albuquerque is at an elevation of about two miles, and the air is very thin. There were some big action scenes. Every day it felt as if I were climbing Everest. So the stunts were really hard, much harder than they should’ve been. But they’re nothing compared with what we’re planning to do in Green Hornet.
PLAYBOY: Which is essentially a superhero movie.
ROGEN: I realized if I was going to make Green Hornet, I needed to lose weight. Aside from how the character is supposed to look, I couldn’t physically make the movie in the shape I was in. It would have literally killed me.
PLAYBOY: For somebody who isn’t classically attractive, you’ve been naked in movies an awful lot.
ROGEN: I suppose that’s true.
PLAYBOY: Porn star Ron Jeremy shaves his back before a sex scene. Do you have any special preparations for on-screen nudity?
ROGEN: Nope. Nothing. They did have me shave my back for Knocked Up, but I fought it. I didn’t think it was a good idea. Judd Apatow said, “People are not ready for a hairy back in a sex scene. We’re just not there yet as a society.” In Observe and Report I am shirtless and I have back hair, and it’s glorious.
PLAYBOY: The only thing you haven’t done yet is full frontal.
ROGEN: I know, I know. When Jason Segel showed his dick in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, it changed everything. I was like, Fuck! Does that mean I’m going to have to show my dick too? Is that what we’re doing now? I don’t know if I’m ready for that. I’ll show my balls, maybe. To me, balls are funnier than dicks.
PLAYBOY: What would it take for you to drop trou for a movie? Would it depend on the material?
ROGEN: It would, yeah. It would have to be funny. I’m a very serious actor when it comes to nudity. I’m like Meryl Streep.
PLAYBOY: Why have male genitals become a comedy staple in recent years?
ROGEN: I think it comes in waves. For comedy to be truly effective it must be shocking in some way, and it’s getting harder and harder to shock people. So yeah, we gotta pull out our fucking dicks now.
PLAYBOY: There aren’t many naked female boobs in sex comedies anymore. Are boobs just not as funny as penises?
ROGEN: I don’t think boobs are funny at all. Period.
ROGEN: Because it’s impossible to whack off and laugh at the same time. You know what I mean? Boobs and comedy stimulate two conflicting parts of the brain. Do I get to be horny over these boobs or think this is funny because of the comedy? It’s too much for the male brain to process.
PLAYBOY: It’s different for women?
ROGEN: It’s completely different. Women are not nearly as attracted to the image of a flaccid penis as we are to the image of boobs. It doesn’t even matter if the boobs are unattractive.
PLAYBOY: Porn is a recurring motif in your work. Knocked Up, Superbad and Zack and Miri are littered with graphic conversations about porn. Now you and Evan Goldberg are working on a pornshop sitcom for Showtime. Is that a coincidence or a conscious choice?
ROGEN: You write what you know. It’s the first thing they teach you. You don’t see me writing movies about rocket scientists.
PLAYBOY: Do you remember the first porn movie you ever saw?
ROGEN: It was called Fisherman’s Wife, and it really freaked me out. In one of the scenes this guy jacks off into an ashtray, throws it at a girl and makes her lick it off.
PLAYBOY: Wow. How did that not turn you off to sex?
ROGEN: It did! It made me afraid of sex. I saw it when I was a teenager, long before I had ever had sex. I thought that’s what sex was. I was like, How do I get there? I don’t even know how to kiss a girl yet. Do I bring the ashtray?
PLAYBOY: It seems like modern porn is increasingly edgy.
ROGEN: Especially with the Internet, you can find the sickest shit you can possibly imagine. It’s all out there. I don’t like this new trend of seeing how big they can stretch out a girl’s asshole. What are we going for here, guys? We all need to sit down and talk about this like civilized people. To what end, gentlemen, to what end?
PLAYBOY: Has watching porn taught you anything surprising about sexuality?
ROGEN: I think transgender pornography is the elephant in America’s bedroom. If you join any heterosexual porno website, there is an inordinate amount of transsexual and transgender pornography available. Clearly people are watching it, or the sites wouldn’t keep selling it. More dudes are into chicks with dicks than you would generally assume.
PLAYBOY: It’s starting to make sense why there’s so much male nudity in comedy: Hollywood is just giving the people what they want.
ROGEN: Exactly. They want more penises in their movies. Porno, comedy—it doesn’t matter.
PLAYBOY: At least in your movies porn is a source of male bonding. Do you and your collaborator Goldberg watch a lot of porn together?
ROGEN: Never. Never would we watch porn together. I realized very early that there are two types of men in this world: Those who are comfortable sitting in a large group of men watching porn and those who are uncomfortable sitting in a large group of men watching porn. I am definitely in the latter category.
PLAYBOY: You’re not the sort to enjoy frathouse hazing?
ROGEN: We don’t have frats like that per se in Canada, thank God. For that reason alone I’m happy to be Canadian.
PLAYBOY: But you have admitted that you and Goldberg share passwords to porno websites. Isn’t that a sort of bonding?
ROGEN: Yeah, but we don’t watch porn together. I guess that’s the difference. On a lot of these porno web pages, people write reviews for the scenes—like in a talk-back section—and those reviews can be the funniest things in the entire universe.
PLAYBOY: Could you give us an example?
ROGEN: There might be a scene with a 400-pound woman with a butterfly tattoo having sex, and the comment will be “I hate it when women destroy their bodies with tattoos.” PLAYBOY: You started doing stand-up in your early teens, at an age when most people are pretty self-conscious.
ROGEN: I didn’t have that. That didn’t come for me until later. When I was doing stand-up, I was just 13. It wasn’t until I was 16 or 17 that I got self-conscious and insecure. As soon as I found out all my friends had gotten blow jobs, that’s when I got insecure.
PLAYBOY: Wasn’t your first gig at a lesbian club?
ROGEN: It was, yes. The club was called the Lotus, so that should’ve been a giveaway right there.
PLAYBOY: Did it occur to you midway through your set, Wait a minute, there’s nothing but ladies here?
ROGEN: No, I knew they were lesbians before I went on, thank God. They were very nice to me. That’s the thing about lesbians: They have no problem with young, cherubic boys who have not yet become men. I was very nonthreatening, and I hadn’t wronged any of them in any way. So yeah, it was good. I highly recommend doing stand-up comedy for lesbians. They can hold their liquor.
PLAYBOY: Are you proud of the jokes you wrote back then?
ROGEN: They were not fantastic. I had something about how my grandparents were deaf and had whole conversations in which they couldn’t hear each other. It was mostly just stupid, hackneyed stuff. A lot of misunderstood-argument jokes and Jewish-camp jokes.
PLAYBOY: Did you attend a Jewish summer camp as a kid?
ROGEN: I did, and I loved it. There were no rules and no adults. At least at the camp I went to, the oldest person was 21. Our counselors were 17 or 18 years old, and we were 15 or 16. There were no parents around at all.
PLAYBOY: So it was basically Lord of the Flies.
ROGEN: Yep, pretty much. It was just a bunch of young guys set loose on an island. You could run free for the first time, stay up all night and do whatever you wanted. We listened to some of the filthiest shit you can imagine.
PLAYBOY: Filthy how? Sexually?
ROGEN: Mostly comedy and music. We listened to a lot of Wu-Tang Clan and Adam Sandler records.
PLAYBOY: You’ve claimed that Sandler and specifically his song “At a Medium Pace” from the 1993 album They’re All Gonna Laugh at You! inspired much of your comic persona.
ROGEN: That’s true.
PLAYBOY: Which part exactly? When Sandler sings about sticking shampoo bottles up his ass, the pube shaving, the strap-on dildos or the constant whacking off?
ROGEN: All of it, man, all of it. I loved everything about it. It’s sweet and dirty. That’s something I’ve tried to do with every movie I’ve ever done. It’s about mixing the tones of sweet and filthy.
PLAYBOY: Did Sandler’s movies appeal to you as much as his records?
ROGEN: Definitely. He’s just one of those comics every guy my age loved when we were growing up. Whenever one of his movies came out, we felt as if it belonged to us. We went to see Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison, and we were like, Ah, this guy is making movies for us. We’re his audience.
PLAYBOY: When did you realize you might be funny enough to become a professional comedian?
ROGEN: I don’t know. I didn’t wake up one morning and realize, Wait a minute, everybody thinks I’m hilarious—maybe I should do this for a living. Honestly, if you put me in a room with all my friends, I am by no means the funny guy. If you didn’t know me from movies and you just put us all in the same room, I don’t think you would look at me and say, “That guy should be in comedy.” When I got on Freaks and Geeks, all my friends said, “Why the fuck are you on TV? We’re funnier than you are.”
PLAYBOY: So why did you end up doing it?
ROGEN: It was a calculated decision. I didn’t want a real job, simple as that. It was either get into comedy or end up working at a fucking bank or something. I wanted a career that did not require a college education.
PLAYBOY: You’ve described your parents as radical socialists. Did you grow up in a politically charged environment?
ROGEN: Not really. They weren’t militant or anything. My dad sometimes yelled at people at political rallies, and he made it on the news a couple of times. But remember, we were in Canada, where everything is a little more socialist than it is here, so there was less for them to complain about.
PLAYBOY: Were they supportive of your comedic ambitions, or did they have hopes you might end up in politics?
ROGEN: They knew I didn’t give a shit at all about politics. That part of them did not rub off on me in any way. They were definitely supportive of what I was doing in comedy. My mom would drive me to shows all the time. I think they saw I was kind of good at it and really enjoyed it. That was always their mantra: Just do what makes you happy.
PLAYBOY: In your high school yearbook you railed against the uselessness of education. You wrote, “Ever since I started earning more than my own teachers, everything kind of fell into perspective.” Do you still feel that way, or was it the egotism of youth?
ROGEN: I can’t defend it. I wrote that when I was 17 years old and I’d just made $30,000 on Freaks and Geeks, which at the time seemed like a fortune. But still, I was such a fucking cocky little asshole.
PLAYBOY: Unlike your high school peers, you were hanging out at nightclubs, watching adult stand-up comics tell dirty jokes. Did they corrupt your young mind?
ROGEN: Absolutely. It completely desensitized me to filth. From the time I was 13 until I moved to L.A., on a regular basis I was listening to people say the dirtiest things you can say, and I saw them get huge laughs for saying it.
PLAYBOY: How filthy was your material?
ROGEN: Oh man, all my jokes were tame. I didn’t even swear onstage until I was 16. I used to dance on the line between dirty and clean.
PLAYBOY: On Freaks and Geeks, you were a teenager playing a teenager. Isn’t that like writing about divorce while you’re in the middle of a divorce? What kind of perspective could you possibly have?
ROGEN: I think it helped. That’s what Judd liked about it. That’s why he hired me as a writer for Undeclared, because I was the exact age of the people we were writing about. A lack of perspective can be helpful for a writer—you don’t get caught up worrying about how people will perceive it. You’re just writing about the world exactly as you see it.
PLAYBOY: You and Goldberg wrote Superbad when you were just 13, right?
ROGEN: That’s right. We were two guys in high school writing about two guys in high school. There were no discussions like, “Remember when that happened?” It was “This just fucking happened today. Let’s go write it down.”
PLAYBOY: Just how accurate was it? Did you and your friends really have such graphic conversations about sex as teenagers?
ROGEN: Very much so. When Evan and I started writing it we wanted it to be as realistic to our experience as possible. So many movies and TV shows about high get laid. I remember being in a movie theater with a bunch of my friends, having the sickest conversation about blow jobs. One of us had gotten a blow job, and we were talking about it. I just remember thinking, There is nothing like this in movies. This is fucking crazy. If I heard this in a movie, I would be the happiest person on earth. That was really a lot of the inspiration.
PLAYBOY: Apatow passed out a questionnaire to the cast of Freaks and Geeks, asking them to share their most painful childhood memories. What was your most painful memory?
ROGEN: [Long pause] One time when I was in second grade I was picking my nose in the back of class. The janitor was in the room, and he said, “Hey, everyone, look! Seth’s picking his nose!” Everybody stared at me and laughed. That was pretty bad.
PLAYBOY: That’s your worst memory? Being teased for nose picking?
ROGEN: Yeah, pretty much. Nothing horrible happened to me as a kid.
PLAYBOY: So you’re not one of those people who think comedy comes from pain?
ROGEN: I think pain can help, but it’s more about your attitude. I had an incredibly pleasant childhood. I have a great relationship with my parents. But when something bad happens to me, I’m not somebody who thinks, What the hell? This isn’t fair! I’m more like, Yep, that seems about right. I think that’s more conducive to comedy. Whether you’ve actually had pain in your life isn’t important. If you’re the kind of person who expects pain, then you’re probably more inclined to become a comedian.
PLAYBOY: Judd Apatow has blamed you for making his movies increasingly raunchy. You were always pushing him to be, in his words, more “outrageously dirty.” Is that a fair assessment?
ROGEN: It is fair.
PLAYBOY: How did you convince him to embrace his inner filthmonger?
ROGEN: I just told him how I felt. When we were making The 40-Year-Old Virgin—and by “we” I mean Judd, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell and myself—it was a big deal. It was our first chance to make a movie. I had very strong opinions about what we should be doing and what I thought was lacking in comedy films at the time. I told Judd, “This is our chance! They’ll never fucking make Superbad!” We had already tried to pitch that movie, along with Pineapple Express, but nobody was buying. “They’re not going to let us do anything else, but they’re letting us make this movie. Let’s do it right!”
PLAYBOY: How did Steve Carell feel about the filthy dialogue?
ROGEN: He was a little nervous, but that’s what made it funny. Steve is just so genuinely sweet that I knew the filthier the rest of us were, the funnier he would be. I remember having those discussions about it with Steve and Judd, and Steve was particularly resistant to it. He asked me to type up a version of the script without a single swear word in it, just so we would have it when we were shooting, in case it was obviously too dirty and the studio threatened to shut us down. We could say, “Okay, here’s a version without any cursing whatsoever.” It was just a safety net.
PLAYBOY: It makes sense that Carell would be so protective. The 40-Year-Old Virgin was his breakout role.
ROGEN: Yeah, of course. I understood that. But I was still aggressive about how important it was that we make an R-rated comedy about sex. Not PG or PG-13 but a hard R. We needed to have lots of scenes with dudes talking about sex in a realistic, dirty way. If we didn’t do that, I told them, we would miss a huge opportunity.
PLAYBOY: They listened to you, and it paid off. The success of The 40-Year-Old Virgin led to Superbad and Knocked Up.
ROGEN: It certainly helped.
PLAYBOY: Knocked Up has been criticized for being too far-fetched. Could a stoned, unemployed slacker really hook up with a woman as hot as Katherine Heigl, even if she were blind drunk?
ROGEN: The people who say that are just guys with ugly girlfriends. That’s all that is. [laughs] Honestly, I think that’s a bullshit complaint. Before I was in movies I dated women who were far more attractive than I had any right to be dating. Sometimes it just comes down to your personality. Saying otherwise is demeaning to women.
PLAYBOY: How is it demeaning?
ROGEN: Maybe my character in Knocked Up doesn’t have the greatest personality, but he has his moments. He’s positive, he’s funny—it’s not like he’s a horrible person. I think it’s a discredit to women to suggest they wouldn’t be able to recognize that a guy is kind and worthwhile even though he might be a little chubby. So basically, if a woman is attractive, that means she’s automatically an idiot and superficial?
PLAYBOY: What happens after the end credits in Knocked Up? Does the happy couple stay together?
ROGEN: Probably not. I think they get divorced. Not right away, of course. They would wait till the kid was older, like eight or nine or maybe in his teens. They’d try to make it work for a while.
PLAYBOY: Doesn’t that ruin the movie for you? What’s the point of these people having a baby together if their relationship is doomed to fall apart?
ROGEN: The goal of Knocked Up is that the baby is born under nice circumstances. The father is in the delivery room, doing the responsible thing, and the mother is happy. What happens next could be a disaster, but we didn’t need to go any further. That was our ending.
PLAYBOY: Is it true you never held a baby until shooting the delivery-room scene for Knocked Up?
ROGEN: It is. That was literally my first time holding a baby.
PLAYBOY: Was it a scary experience or something you would like to try again?
ROGEN: I haven’t held one since.
PLAYBOY: So fatherhood isn’t in the cards for you?
ROGEN: It’s nowhere on my radar.
PLAYBOY: A baby to you would just be…?
ROGEN: Something that gets in the way of what I love doing.
PLAYBOY: Is it possible you’ll be like Tony Randall and have kids in your late 70s?
ROGEN: Maybe. People claim their kids bring them happiness. They tell me this all the time. I hear the words come out of their mouth, but I don’t believe them. My girlfriend and I have lots of discussions about how we don’t want kids.
PLAYBOY: In Knocked Up your character claims that Eric Bana in Munich made it easier for Jewish guys to get laid. The same could be said of you.
ROGEN: I don’t know if I’m getting anybody laid, but I have seen more guys lately who kind of look like me. I see commercials every once in a while and think, That dude wouldn’t be on TV if it weren’t for Knocked Up. They probably traded in their glasses for a slightly thicker frame, let their hair grow out just a bit and let their stubble come in. I created a new look for rotund Jews. It’s an easily attainable look.
PLAYBOY: You’re like Woody Allen in that regard.
ROGEN: I guess so. He created a look for small, nebbishy Jews, and I’m doing the same for chubby Jewish guys. I was just thinking about this the other day. In the 1980s, comedies were all about really cool guys. Like in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ferris is awesome and smooth, and he has his shit together. But these days nobody wants to see a comedy about a guy who is incredibly cool, has a hot fucking girlfriend, skips school perfectly and has the funnest day ever. Today Cameron [the dorky sidekick] would be the star of that movie.
PLAYBOY: Your circle of friends in Knocked Up—Jason Segel, Jay Baruchel, Martin Starr and Jonah Hill—are also your friends in real life. Do you guys really hang out and play video games all day?
ROGEN: When we’re not working on a movie, yeah, pretty much. We also like to box one another for some reason, or we’ll make up drinking games, like Edward 40-Hands.
PLAYBOY: What’s Edward 40-Hands?
ROGEN: You duct-tape a 40-ounce bottle of beer to each of your hands, and you can’t take them off till you’re done drinking both of them. We’ve had a few 40-Hands parties.
PLAYBOY: Do those parties typically end with a lot of puking?
ROGEN: It’s not that bad, really. Two 40s is the equivalent of, what, six beers? You want to drink fast to get the fucking things off your hands, but you don’t want to drink it so fast that you get sick. It’s a mental battle more than anything.
PLAYBOY: You’ve admitted that many of your movies are semiautobiographical. Let’s separate the truth from the fiction. We’ll mention a few plot points from your film oeuvre, and you tell us what’s real and what’s fabricated.
ROGEN: All right, let’s do it.
PLAYBOY: Losing part of your ear in a gangland shoot-out [Pineapple Express].
ROGEN: That never happened.
PLAYBOY: A woman who has her period does a grind dance against you, covering your leg with menstrual blood [Superbad].
ROGEN: No, but that did happen to a friend of ours, and we were the guys on the couch who discovered it. I forget who noticed it first, but one of us pointed it out—"What is that, red wine?“
PLAYBOY: Seeing a Cirque du Soleil show in Vegas while tripping on hallucinogenic mushrooms [Knocked Up].
ROGEN: That’s 60 percent true.
PLAYBOY: Please explain.
ROGEN: The drug might not have been mushrooms, but the rest is true.
PLAYBOY: Was Paul Rudd involved?
PLAYBOY: Being so obsessed with dicks as a kid that you used to compulsively draw them and hide the pictures in a lunch box [Superbad].
ROGEN: No, that’s fiction. That was a pure moment of imagination, which I don’t have many of.
PLAYBOY: Accidentally performing a "Dutch rudder” on a male friend [Zack and Miri Make a Porno].
ROGEN: Well, I did do it while shooting the movie, so I guess that’s true.
PLAYBOY: A Dutch rudder, of course, is when you jerk off another guy with his own hand. Were you shocked when you found out what that phrase means?
ROGEN: I’m always amazed when somebody tells me about an obscure sexual fetish I’ve never heard of. Kevin Smith, the director of Zack and Miri, is like a filth database.
PLAYBOY: Going to Tijuana to see a donkey sex show and feeling bad for the donkey [Knocked Up].
ROGEN: I’ve never even been to Tijuana.
PLAYBOY: Admitting you would watch a Rosie O'Donnell sex tape [Zack and Miri Make a Porno].
ROGEN: Yeah, I would. I would watch any celebrity’s sex tape.
PLAYBOY: But Rosie O'Donnell’s? That may be too much.
ROGEN: Really? I think you’re lying.
PLAYBOY: We think you’re lying.
ROGEN: You wouldn’t even look at it for a second, just out of curiosity?
PLAYBOY: Okay, fine. Just for a second.
ROGEN: I knew it!
PLAYBOY: Befriending your pot dealer and joining forces to take down a drug cartel [Pineapple Express].
ROGEN: Not true.
PLAYBOY: Which part?
ROGEN: Both. They’re both fictional.
PLAYBOY: You’ve never been friends with any of your dealers?
ROGEN: My experience has been the exact opposite. I’ve had really weird pot dealers, generally speaking, and I haven’t wanted to spend any time with them.
PLAYBOY: Weird how?
ROGEN: Maybe it’s not them. Maybe I’m just impatient. You’re kind of at their mercy. You just have to wait there until they’re ready to weigh it and give it to you. And that can take forever, for God’s sake. I remember one guy who would just take all night to do it, and I’d be like, “Okay, man, can we get this fucking show on the road?”
PLAYBOY: Why is nobody more needy and insecure than a drug dealer?
ROGEN: I know, right? They get so hurt if you just want to rush out. They’ll say things like, “Are you just gonna buy it and leave?” Well, yeah, why wouldn’t I? It’s not like you go to a supermarket and the checkout guy says, “What, you’re just going to buy your milk and leave? Come on, let’s hang out!”
PLAYBOY: You did a convincing job playing stoned in Pineapple Express. Are you just an exceptionally talented actor, or was your prop department well stocked with dime bags?
ROGEN: [Laughs] No, I wasn’t stoned in that movie. It wouldn’t have helped even if I were, because I act pretty much exactly the same when I’m sober as when I’m stoned. You wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Also, James Franco doesn’t even smoke weed. I hope I haven’t ruined it for anybody. Franco and I have never smoked weed together in real life. We always marvel at that.
PLAYBOY: What did you use as a substitute?
ROGEN: It was some sort of benign plant. It’s called Wizard Smoke. I’ve seen it advertised in High Times magazine. It’s supposed to be an herbal substitute that looks a lot like weed but doesn’t get you high.
PLAYBOY: You were named Stoner of the Year at the 2007 Stony Awards. Do you feel you hit your peak too soon as a pot icon?
ROGEN: A little bit, yeah. The Stony Award is my Oscar. It’s the award of all awards, in my opinion. I’m glad I hit it when I did, but it’s a slow and steady decline from there. Franco won it the next year, for Pineapple Express, so we back-to-backed it.
PLAYBOY: He did? But he doesn’t even smoke pot!
ROGEN: I know. That’s outrageous. I almost raised a flag there, but I didn’t. At least he played a stoner, and I’m sure he’s the first stoner character to be nominated for a Golden Globe. For that alone he deserves a Stony Award.
PLAYBOY: Isn’t the award statue a bong?
ROGEN: It is a bong. It’s mounted on a little podium thing.
PLAYBOY: Have you ever tried to smoke weed in it?
ROGEN: I have, actually. I put it off for a while and eventually decided not to do it. It seemed oddly disrespectful. But then I had a party, and I saw somebody holding it with smoke coming out of it. I thought, Ah well, there goes my pristine Stony Award.
PLAYBOY: Just how superobsessive are you about marijuana? If we mentioned purple Afghani train wreck, would you know what we’re talking about?
ROGEN: [Laughs] Yeah. I know something about weed. I know the difference between a sativa and an indica.
PLAYBOY: Do you know enough to have a conversation with Woody Harrelson?
ROGEN: I think I could, yeah. That doesn’t mean I would. I’ve met a few celebrities who are notorious for smoking weed, and I can’t ever bring it up with them. I get shy about it. So I don’t know what I would say to Woody. “So…smoke a lot of weed, do you? Me too!”
PLAYBOY: There was some controversy about your appearance on the 2008 MTV Movie Awards, when you and James Franco appeared to be smoking a real joint on national television. Did the backlash surprise you?
ROGEN: Not really. MTV is just insanely stupid. They knew well in advance what we were going to do. We sent them a script weeks earlier. When they cut away in the middle of our bit, it made it seem like a much bigger deal than it actually was, and it effectively ruined our joke.
PLAYBOY: So what you were smoking wasn’t a real joint?
ROGEN: Of course not. But that’s not my problem. I’m not offended as a pot smoker; I’m offended as a comedian.
PLAYBOY: You think MTV was trying to create controversy?
ROGEN: I think they were being hypocritical. They have shows like The Real World, which is all about drinking and fucking. If that’s their idea of entertainment, then our goofy little joke about smoking a fake joint should be harmless. They’re documenting the lives of promiscuous young people without any of the repercussions. Not that I care. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be allowed to show that. I’m just saying if that’s your idea of acceptable behavior, don’t give us a fucking hard time about one stupid joint.
PLAYBOY: Was it surprising when MTV turned against you?
ROGEN: Not at all. MTV has always fucked us. It was a nightmare doing interviews with them for Pineapple Express. We were on TRL, which thank God is over. I never have to go on that fucking show again.
PLAYBOY: You didn’t care for it?
ROGEN: I did not. It wasn’t even live. It was all a big lie. It was painful because Franco and I went on to promote Pineapple, and the producers told us, “Okay, you can’t mention weed at all.” That just stunned me. The movie’s about weed! How would we even describe it? Why are we here if we can’t talk about weed? That’s just so silly and absurd to me. It’s like bringing on the cast from Transformers and telling them, “You can’t talk about robots.”
PLAYBOY: How will you evolve as you get older? You can’t keep playing the scruffy stoner type forever, can you?
ROGEN: I have no idea. I don’t think about that, to be honest.
PLAYBOY: You don’t wonder what your career will look like in another five, 10, 20 years?
ROGEN: I really don’t. I have no overall career plan. I take it on a movie-by-movie basis. It’s all I can do.
PLAYBOY: A lot of comic actors yearn for credibility, hoping to cross over into dramatic roles. Do you have ambitions beyond comedy?
ROGEN: Somebody recently said to me, “Man, if Green Hornet does well, you guys will be able to make whatever movies you want.” No, we’ve always made the movies we want. Every movie we’ve made has been the movie we wanted. We didn’t make Superbad to get somewhere else. We didn’t make Pineapple Express to get somewhere else. Those were it. If Pineapple Express is the last movie I ever make, I won’t say, “I never got a chance to make the big one!” That’s the exact movie I wanted to make.
PLAYBOY: Do you ever worry you might be lured by a huge paycheck to make some bloated blockbuster like Cat in the Hat or The Grinch and all your comedy credibility will disappear?
ROGEN: Oh yeah, all the time. Jonah Hill and I were having that exact conversation the other day, about how easy it would be to sell out without even realizing it. It’s not just about the money. Sometimes you do a movie and you think it’ll be great, but then you see it and it turns out to be terrible.
PLAYBOY: How can you protect yourself from making a dud?
ROGEN: You can’t. My only barometer is to ask myself, Is this something I’d want to go see as an audience member? Otherwise, you have to accept that the rest of it is out of your control.
PLAYBOY: Is it true you talked Hill out of doing a Transformers sequel?
ROGEN: I wouldn’t say I talked him out of it. I was a voice against it. It’s not just about the final product for me anymore. It’s also about the experience. This isn’t just a career anymore. It’s my life. My life isn’t being in these movies, it’s making these movies. You have to make sure that aspect of it is as enjoyable as possible. I want to go to work and think, I’m making a movie I’m excited about, I like the people I work with, and I’m having a good time. It wouldn’t be worth it if I were making the best movie ever and had to come to work and think, I hate these fucking people!
PLAYBOY: Do you care what your fans think about you?
ROGEN: You mean, do I read the Internet? My girlfriend reads the comments section on my IMDb profile all the time, and sometimes she tells me, “You have to look at what this jerk said about you.” People fucking hate me on the Internet. The tide has definitely turned.
PLAYBOY: Why do you think that is?
ROGEN: It’s completely arbitrary. When Superbad and The 40-Year-Old Virgin came out, I was the raddest guy on Ain’t It Cool News. But now, for no reason, I am the fucking worst, most despicable Antichrist of comedy. All I did was make two more movies that were both pretty good, in my opinion. It’s become almost obligatory to say how much you fucking hate me. It’s like, “He’s doing all the stuff that makes us laugh, and I hate that about him.”
PLAYBOY: What was your favorite experience meeting a fan?
ROGEN: I was at a bookstore last week, and this 20-year-old guy was standing next to me in line. He noticed me and got a funny look on his face, then he finally said, “Oh my God, man, you’re my hero. Look what I’m buying.” He had a book on screenplay writing and an encyclopedia of marijuana. [laughs] I was like, “Yeah, I guess I really am your hero.”
PLAYBOY: How do you spoil yourself? You don’t seem like the kind of guy who would spend his paycheck on a fancy car or a Malibu mansion.
ROGEN: I buy a lot of Japanese pop-art toys on eBay. I have a massive collection in my house. I’ve always been obsessed with comic books. Both Evan and I have read tons of them. If any of our movies suck, it’s because we were reading comic books instead of writing.
PLAYBOY: It’s probably no surprise that you and Goldberg wrote an episode for The Simpsons about the Comic Book Guy.
ROGEN: That’s the coolest thing we’ve done. Of everything we’ve accomplished, which is not much on the grand scale of things, writing for The Simpsons is the apex.
PLAYBOY: Do you identify with the Comic Book Guy?
ROGEN: As a very anal collector of things, I can definitely relate.
PLAYBOY: If your movie career hadn’t worked out quite so well, could you imagine yourself with his life, running a little comic-book store in Vancouver?
ROGEN: Yeah! I sometimes think about that. What would I be doing if I weren’t an actor? Working in a video store or a comic-book store is the only thing I could possibly enjoy as much. I’d be one of those guys you look at and say, “What the fuck is wrong with him? Why is he working at this fucking store? Why doesn’t he get out and do something with his life?” I would definitely be that guy. Maybe I’d do a combo: a video-game-and-comic-book store. Yeah, that would be cool. That’s definitely what I should do if I crap out in movies. You know, that sounds so good it’s almost worth quitting for.