By Fred Topel
Funnyman Seth Rogen is the newest Jewish star to take Hollywood by storm. Last year’s double feature of Knocked Up—his starring vehicle—and Superbad—his first screenplay—made him the biggest name in comedy. In August he starred in Pineapple Express, another film he co-wrote with fellow bar mitzvah Evan Goldberg. This fall he stars in Kevin Smith’s Zack and Miri Make a Porno, while also shooting 2009’s Funny People, director Judd Apatow’s next film. In his spare time, he’s still writing more scripts, like 2010’s The Green Hornet. Seth takes an on-set breather to tell us about the influence of his Jewish upbringing on his comedy, the inspiration for his many scripts and how his life now is pretty much “awesome.”
Are you going to keep playing Jewish characters in your movies?
Well, having no real skills, I always try to play characters close to myself. As much as I’d like to not play a Jew, this was the hand I was dealt.
Are there any opportunities for Jewish humor in Pineapple Express?
In Pineapple, we made [James] Franco’s character Jewish, while mine isn’t, so we tried to flip it on its head a little bit. I read the Internet. There are a lot of comments that fly around like, “Can Seth Rogen make one movie without a Jew joke?” That’s my goal for this one.
How did James do as the Jewish character?
He was good. He’s actually half Jewish, so he knows a lot of the [lingo]. He knows the jargon. He says “bubbe” convincingly. It worked well.
You grew up having a bar mitzvah and going to Jewish schools. Did you always see that as an inspiration for your comedy?
Yeah, definitely. It seemed funny.
What type of character do you play in Judd Apatow’s Funny People?
I play a young, struggling, stand-up comedian who’s not that funny.
Is it hard to not be funny?
No. I don’t know. We’re supposed to be writing two types of stand-up jokes. It’s funny because we’re supposed to be writing good ones and not-so-good ones. I’ve got a [bunch] of not-so-good ones.
Does Adam Sandler play a mentor to you in the film?
There may be a mentor-type dynamic there, which we’re all very familiar with. Judd really mentored me a lot. Now I’m helping usher in this new group of guys. I wouldn’t say mentoring them, but whoever gets his foot in the door first opens it for the rest of the group. I’d say that aspect of the story we all heavily relate to.
How often are you writing with your partner, Evan Goldberg?
Pretty much when I’m not acting, which is often. Between movies, that’s my default mood—sitting in my underwear, writing. That’s where I want to be if no one expects me to be anywhere else.
You wrote Drillbit Taylor, which featured former JVibe cover guy Josh Peck. Will you try writing more teen-friendly films again?
Maybe. I wouldn’t rule it out, but when trying to write something that’s really relatable—about people going through things that everybody goes through—in my head it’s easier to do that in an R-rated movie because people [curse] in real life. [But] The Green Hornet is PG-13. It’s an action movie. You can do anything violence-wise, [which] doesn’t affect [the rating].
What’s The Green Hornet about?
It’s your quintessential story about a hero and his sidekick. We always thought that was a funny dynamic and relationship. No movies really did that except Batman and Robin. For years, Evan and I had actually been toying with this notion of a movie that really explores the hero-sidekick relationship. What’s a hero without a sidekick? What’s a sidekick without a hero? It’s actually a dynamic that applies to many real-life situations.
Did you wait until after your bar mitzvah to start writing?
Yeah, [Evan and I] were 13 or 14 when we initially started writing Superbad. We’d dare not take [on] such a challenge without being full men. We bill ourselves as the Jewish Matt [Damon] and Ben [Affleck].
How R-rated were you when you were doing stand-up in Vancouver as a 13-year-old?
I wasn’t! I was clean. Mostly because my mother came to a lot of my shows. I was just embarrassed! My life wasn’t that R-rated back then, I guess. I tried to be truthful to what was going on with my life, friends and experiences. Then it was more about my grandparents, playing video games and my bar mitzvah. I hadn’t delved into the filthy world I now occupy.
Are you going back to stand-up?
Oy vey! I think I’m supposed to. I was actually just talking to Adam Sandler about that. I saw him over the weekend. We were both just like, “What are we going to write jokes about now? Our lives are awesome!” That sucks any and all humor out. All my jokes are about not being able to get [a girl] and having no money. Now I have a girlfriend and a good job. I literally don’t know what to write about. I’ve got all these Hills jokes. [It’s] just like, is this funny? Jokes about Spencer? Can I do that? Does anyone [care]? It’s removed me from my insecure base, which is where all my jokes came from.
What’s your life like now?
It’s been very good lately. It’s busy. I was just going through my schedule for the next few months. It’s weird. The next year-and-a-half of my life is basically planned out. So it’s a little strange being a guy who normally doesn’t know what he’s doing tomorrow to have that work, but it’s a good feeling.
How did the success of Knocked Up and Superbad change things for you?
I mean, career-wise it’s made everything go much more smoothly, but [in] my actual day-today life, maybe four people ask to take pictures with me every day. That occupies maybe two-and-a-half minutes. So I don’t consider that life-changing, really. It hasn’t affected my Halo score.
Fred Topel is an entertainment journalist in Los Angeles. His bar mitzvah was in December of 1990.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2008 issue of JVibe, the magazine for Jewish teens. Reprinted by permission.