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Playboy Interview: Seth Rogen
  • April 21, 2009 : 04:04
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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.

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.

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