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 at the time, was playing a teenage pothead who’d learned that 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 how one would feel when given that information.”
In just one short scene, you can see the genesis of Rogan’s comedy persona. He’s sexually awkward and self-conscious in a weirdly charming way, making jokes to mask his panic. When his girlfriend explains that her penis was surgically removed at birth, he just laughs and says, “I had my appendix out, so y’know, I’ve been there.” He’s simultaneously the coolest person in the room and a scared little kid who doesn’t know what the fuck 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 would get his wish, but it didn’t happen overnight. After several years of relative obscurity, with tiny roles in movies like Anchorman and Donnie Darko, Rogen got his first taste of mainstream success in Apatow’s comedy hit The 40-Year-Old Virgin. He played Steve Carell’s sex-fiend buddy and nearly stole the movie with improvised bits about Tijuana donkey sex shows and the various ways he knows Paul Rudd is gay (among them, Rudd’s enjoyment of spinach dip in a loaf of sour dough bread).
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, with scenes involving bong-smoking and graphic discussions of Internet porn, doggy-style sex and ball-shaving etiquette. 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’ve had the teenage Rogen rolling in the aisles. Born and raised in Vancouver, Canada, the son of Jewish social workers, Rogen was something of a comedy prodigy. He made his standup 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 took twelve years before the movie was finally made — thanks, in no small part, to Rogen’s celebrity clout. And it’s been uphill for the comic actor ever since. Last year, he starred in Pineapple Express, an action comedy about stoners, and 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’s also working on a script for The Green Hornet, due out in 2010, in which Rogen portrays 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 in Culver City, California, on the set of Funny People, his third movie with director and longtime collaborator Judd Apatow. Spitznagel reports:
“I expected Rogen to look like his portrait from the Knocked Up movie poster, with the pudgy cheeks and unkempt Jewfro. His unconventional looks have always been a big part of his appeal. He’s not just a regular guy who gets the girl. He’s a regular guy who gets to make sweet monkey love to women way out of his league, at least in his movies. As he observed in Knocked Up, just as he was about to climb into bed with Katherine Heigl, ‘You’re prettier than I am.’ It’s like he was rubbing his good fortune in our collective faces.
“But when I met Rogen, his hair was neatly shorn, his skin had a healthy glow, and despite his constant self-deprecation — Rogen liked to joke about his ‘soft, gelatin-like physique’ — he could almost be described as slender. During a break in filming, we walked over to catering for lunch, and you could see the longing in his face. The cooks tried to tempt him with a slab of sirloin, and he gazed at it like a eunuch at a strip club. He opted instead for chicken and vegetables, because that’s what the Green Hornet would eat.
“Over the course of several days, we sat in his trailer and talked. Sometimes we took a break to watch TV — a Teen Wolf sequel was the subject of much gleeful derision. Sometimes random friends and cohorts came knocking. His writing partner Evan Goldberg burst in at one point and accused Rogen of betrayal. ‘You’ve replaced me with another bearded guy,’ he shouted before storming out. Rogen laughed, like he laughs at everything, with that inimitable baritone rumble.
“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 a lecherous uncle who’s just told you the dirtiest joke he knows, it’s clear that Rogen hasn’t really changed much after all.”
PLAYBOY: In Observe and Report, you’re playing against type.
ROGEN: Am I?
PLAYBOY: Well sure. You’re usually the cuddly schlub, but in this movie, you’re playing a mall cop named Ronnie who is kinda a racist asshole.
ROGEN: (Laughs.) Yeah, he’s not the type of guy you’d 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 that audiences will likely despise?
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 and Pineapple Express and Knocked Up are all about. It’s these guys who don’t feel like 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? — is something that’s very relatable, I think.
PLAYBOY: He’s probably the least similar to you of any of your movie characters. Do you have anything in common with him?
ROGEN: We both have disrespect for the cops. Ronnie absolutely hates the police, and I feel sorta 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 be disparaging of the police.
PLAYBOY: That’s true. Even when you played a policeman in Superbad, he was a drunken moron.
ROGEN: And in Pineapple, 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’d get caught with weed and beer all the time. When I first came to LA, 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 four hundred 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. But 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 that 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 where you can see me breaking a guy’s nose.
PLAYBOY: You studied karate as a teenager and became a brown belt. Have you ever used any of your karate moves in a movie?
ROGEN: Not really.
PLAYBOY: Do you have any karate moves?
ROGEN: No, I don’t think I do. [Laughs.] I only took karate classes because all my friends were doing it. And it was at a Jewish community center, so it was hardly a dojo on a hilltop. Everything I learned, I’ve quickly forgotten. All I can hope is if I ever get into some violent situation, I’ll have a Jason Bourne-type resurgence of muscle memory that’ll get me out of it. I’ll just look at all the unconscious men around me and be like, “Wait, what the hell just happened? How did I do that?”
PLAYBOY: It’s hard not to notice that 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 (New Mexico), and it’s at a very high altitude. There’s some big action scenes and, well, the air is very thin. 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 was like two miles elevation. Every day, it felt like I was climbing Everest. So the stunts were really hard, much harder than they should’ve been. And it’s nothing compared with what we’re planning to do on Green Hornet.
PLAYBOY: Which is essentially a superhero movie.
ROGEN: I realized if I was gonna 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’d literally kill 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 in Knocked Up, but I fought it. I didn’t think it was a good idea. Judd (Apatow) was just like, “People are not ready for a hairy back in a sex scene. We’re just not there yet as a society.” Although in Observe and Report, I am shirtless and I do have back hair, and it’s glorious.
PLAYBOY: You only thing you haven’t done yet is full-frontal.
ROGEN: I know, I know. When Jason Segal 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: Why is that?
ROGEN: I don’t know. Observe and Report has some male nudity, and I think it proves that balls are funnier than dicks. Balls just look funnier.
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 like a very serious actor when it comes to nudity. I’m like Meryl Streep.
PLAYBOY: So you wouldn’t refuse to do a nude scene because it makes you uncomfortable?
ROGEN: Not at all. It just hasn’t come up. Whether it makes me uncomfortable wouldn’t be the discussion. The discussion would be, is it funny? That’s really the only thing that matters. If you’re in a movie, especially a comedy movie, you should kinda be willing to do anything.
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 needs to be shocking in some way. And it’s getting harder and harder to shock people. So, yeah, we gotta pull our fucking dicks out now.
PLAYBOY: We’ve heard rumors that the mystery penis in Walk Hard belonged to Judd Apatow.
ROGEN: What? No, no, that’s not him. That’s a funny rumor though, I gotta tell him about that. Judd’s penis is all hair. There’s no visible penis, it’s just a cloud of hair.
PLAYBOY: So he’s showed it to you?
ROGEN: He hasn’t, thank god. But he’s told me it has grey pubes and looks very distinguished. That’s what he said about it. He says it could teach a Harvard class in literature.
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 a male brain to process.
PLAYBOY: And 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: What about the saggy old lady boobs in Something About Mary?
ROGEN: They’re still boobs! If I was on a desert island, I could whack off to it.
PLAYBOY: Porn is a recurring motif in your work. Knocked Up, Superbad and Zack and Miri are littered with graphic conversations about porn. And now you and Goldberg are working on a porn-shop 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 jacked off into an ashtray and threw it at a girl and made her lick it off.
PLAYBOY: Wow. How did that not turn you off sex?
ROGEN: It did! It made me afraid of sex. I saw it when I was a teenager, long before I’d ever had sex for the first time. 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, how do I -? Do I bring an ashtray? Who has the ashtray?”
PLAYBOY: It seems like modern porn is getting increasingly weird and frightening.
ROGEN: Especially with the Internet, you can find the sickest shit you could 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 human 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/transgender pornography available. Clearly people are watching it or they 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. Judd Apatow is just giving the people what they want.
ROGEN: Exactly. They want more penises in their movies. Porno, comedy, it doesn’t matter.
PLAYBOY: In Apatow’s next movie, Funny People, you play an inept standup comic. After spending so much of your life trying to be funny, was it difficult to take a step backwards?
ROGEN: I wouldn’t say it was about not being funny. When you’re doing standup comedy — and I did it for a long time — the audience notices even the slightest sign of discomfort. It doesn’t matter if what you’re saying is funny or not funny, they won’t enjoy themselves if they can smell the fear on you. Standup comedy is all about confidence.
PLAYBOY: You started doing standup in your early teens, at an age when most people are pretty self-conscious anyway.
ROGEN: I didn’t have that. That didn’t come for me until later. When I was doing standup, 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 that all of my friends had gotten blowjobs, 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. And 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 a man. I was very nonthreatening, and I hadn’t wronged any of them in any way. So yeah, it was good. I highly recommend doing standup 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 they had whole conversations where they couldn’t hear each other. It was mostly just stupid, hackneyed stuff. A lot of misunderstood argument jokes and Jewish camp jokes.
PLAYBOY: You mean concentration camps?
ROGEN: That’s right.
PLAYBOY: Because nothing wins over an audience like jokes about mass genocide.
ROGEN: Exactly! I had this whole bit about the similarities between concentration camps and Jewish summer camps. There are many comparisons to be drawn.
PLAYBOY: Did you attend a Jewish summer camp as a kid?
ROGEN: I did, and to be fair, it was nothing like Auschwitz. 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 like 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 lose on an island. It was where you could run free for the first time and stay up all night and do whatever you wanted. We listened to some of the filthiest shit you can imagine.
PLAYBOY: Filthy how? Like sexually?
ROGEN: Mostly comedy and music. We listened to a lot of Wu-Tang Clan records 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, or the pube-shaving, or 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 crossing 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 that every guy my age loved when we were growing up. Whenever one of his movies came out, we felt like they 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 of 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’d look at me and go, “That guy should be in comedy.” When I got on Freaks and Geeks, all of my friends were like, “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 became so popular that a mohel hired you to write jokes for him. How did that happen?
ROGEN: I was doing standup comedy one night and a guy in a suit walked up to me and said, “I’m a mohel and I want to add some comedy into my services and I thought your jokes were funny. Can I pay you to write jokes for me?”
PLAYBOY: Why would a mohel need jokes?
ROGEN: I remember thinking the same thing. Why would you want anyone laughing during a circumcision? Isn’t it a surgical procedure? But he said people are really nervous during circumcisions and sometimes it helps to deflate the tension with humor.
PLAYBOY: How do you find the comedy in circumcision?
ROGEN: I just made lots of haircut references. “If it grows back funny, I’ll trim it up again for you.” Stuff like that. “Just a little off the top?”
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 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 comedy ambitions, or did they have hopes you might end up in politics?
ROGEN: They knew I didn’t give a shit about politics at all. 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 that I was kinda good at it and really enjoyed it. That was always their mantra. Just do what makes you happy.
PLAYBOY: Unlike your high school peers, you were hanging out at nightclubs, watching adult standup 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 LA, I was listening to people say the dirtiest thing you can say on a regular basis, and I saw them get huge laughs for saying it.
PLAYBOY: What was your first filthy joke?
ROGEN: Oh man, all of 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: Is that because your mom was in the audience?
ROGEN: [Laughs.] It’s hard to be filthy when your mom’s watching. I’d get too embarrassed.
PLAYBOY: It’s not just you. Most people can’t curse around their parents.
ROGEN: I still have a hard time doing it. Every time I swear around them, I think, “Ooops!”
PLAYBOY: Your movies today are filled with dirty humor. There must’ve been one filthy joke that started it all.
ROGEN: Well, I remember my first bad filthy joke. “Why do people get their ears pierced? I think it’s weird to pierce your ears because ears are a naturally attractive part of the body. I should get my asshole pierced, because that is just horrible-looking and it could use some sprucing up.”
PLAYBOY: That’s not so bad.
ROGEN: When I told it, nobody in the audience laughed. They just stared at me in horror. I think that’s one time where my age did me a disservice. An asshole piercing joke may come off a little better when it’s said by a gnarly-looking 27-year-old guy. But when a 15-year-old kid is on stage, talking about getting his asshole pierced, it’s just creepy and wrong.
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 as 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 school felt foreign to us. It wasn’t anything that we recognized.
PLAYBOY: Don’t teen comedies tend to emphasis slapstick antics over realism?
ROGEN: Yeah, usually. No disrespect to a movie like American Pie, but it’s very farcical and broad. A guy ejaculates in a beer and then another guy drinks it. That’s not what really happens in high school.
PLAYBOY: Not many teenagers are having sexual relations with baked goods.
ROGEN: It’s funny and it’s dirty, but it’s hard to relate to. When I was in high school, there weren’t any movies about guys sitting around, talking about how fucking horny they are and how pathetic and lame it is and all the weird shit they were doing to try and get laid. I remember being in a movie theater with a bunch of my friends, just having the sickest conversation about blowjobs. One of us had gotten a blowjob and we were talking about it and 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.” And that was really a lot of the inspiration.
PLAYBOY: Apatow gave 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 second grade, I was picking my nose in the back of class. And the janitor was in the room and he said, “Hey everyone, look! Seth’s picking his nose!” And 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 be a comedian.
PLAYBOY: Judd Apatow has blamed you for making his movies increasingly raunchy. In his words, you were always pushing him to be 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 40-Year-Old Virgin — and by “we” I mean Judd and Paul Rudd and 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’d already tried to pitch that movie, along with Pineapple Express, and 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 with Steve and Judd about it, 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 had it, in case we were shooting and 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 why Carell would be so protective. 40-Year-Old Virgin was his breakout role.
ROGEN: Yeah, of course, I understood that. But I was still very 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 lot of scenes with dudes talking about sex in a realistic, dirty way. If we didn’t do that, I told them, we’d be missing a huge opportunity.
PLAYBOY: They listened to you, and it paid off. The success of 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 and unemployed slacker really hook up with a woman as hot as Katherine Heigl, even if she was 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 happened after the end credits in Knocked Up? Did the happy couple stay together?
ROGEN: Probably not. I think they got divorced eventually. Not right away, of course. They’d wait till the kid was older, like eight or nine or maybe in his teens. They’d try to make it work for awhile.
PLAYBOY: Doesn’t that ruin the movie for you? What’s the point of these people having a baby together if their relationship is just doomed to fall apart eventually?
ROGEN: The goal of Knocked Up was that the baby is born under nice circumstances. The father is in the delivery room and he’s 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 that you never held a baby until shooting the delivery room scene for Knocked Up?
ROGEN: It is. That was literally my first time.
PLAYBOY: Was it a scary experience or something you’d 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 mouths, but I don’t believe them. My girlfriend and I have lots of discussions about how we don’t want kids.
PLAYBOY: Does it bother her that you’re a sex symbol?
ROGEN: I’m sure it does not occur to her at all. I don’t think she would ever describe me in those terms.
PLAYBOY: But it’s accurate. In Knocked Up, your character claimed that Eric Bana in Munich made it easier for Jewish guys to get laid. The same could be said for you.
ROGEN: I don’t know if I’m getting anybody laid, but I have seen more guys lately who kinda look like me. I see commercials every once in awhile and think, “That dude wouldn’t be on TV if it wasn’t for Knocked Up.” They probably traded in their glasses for a slightly thicker frame and let their hair grow out just a bit and let their stubble come in. I created a new look for rotund Jews. It’s the 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 80s, comedies were all about really cool guys, like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Ferris was awesome and smooth and he had his shit together. But these days, nobody wants to see a comedy about a guy who is incredibly cool and has a hot fucking girlfriend and 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 each other 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 maybe? You want to drink it fast to get the fucking things off your hands, but you don’t want to drink it too fast so you get sick. It’s a mental battle more than anything.
PLAYBOY: You’ve admitted that many of your movies are semi-autobiographical. 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: Alright, let’s do it.
PLAYBOY: Lost part of your ear in a gangland shootout (Pineapple Express).
ROGEN: That never happened.
PLAYBOY: A woman on 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: Saw a Cirque du Soleil show in Vegas while tripping on hallucinogenic mushrooms (Knocked Up).
ROGEN: That’s 60% true.
PLAYBOY: Please explain.
ROGEN: The drug might not have been mushrooms, but the rest was true.
PLAYBOY: Was Paul Rudd involved?
PLAYBOY: Were so obsessed with dicks as a kid that you used to compulsively draw them and hide the pictures in a lunchbox (Superbad).
ROGEN: No, that’s fiction. That was a pure moment of imagination, which I don’t have many of.
PLAYBOY: Accidentally performed 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. Where you shocked when you found out what that was?
ROGEN: I’m always amazed when somebody tells me about an obscure sexual fetish I’ve never heard of. (Zack and Miri director) Kevin Smith is like a filth database.
PLAYBOY: Went to Tijuana to see a donkey sex show, and felt bad for the donkey (Knocked Up).
ROGEN: I’ve never even been to Tijuana.
PLAYBOY: Admitted that you’d 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? 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: Befriended your pot dealer and joined 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 kinda 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’d 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 it that nobody is 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 very convincing job of playing stoned in Pineapple Express. Are you just an exceptionally talented actor, or was your prop department well stocked in dime-bags?
ROGEN: [Laughs.] No, I wasn’t stoned in that movie. It wouldn’t have helped even if I was, 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, (co-star 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, which 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 like you may’ve hit your peak too soon as a pot icon?
ROGEN: A little bit, yeah. The Stony Awards 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 here. 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 get 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 with it?
ROGEN: I have, actually. I put it off for awhile 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, and I thought, “Ah well, there goes my pristine Stony award.”
PLAYBOY: Just how super-obsessive 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’d 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, where 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 what we were going to do well in advance. 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 you weren’t smoking 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, then don’t fucking give us a hard time about one stupid fucking 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 (Total Request Live), which thank god is over so I never have to go on that fucking show again.
PLAYBOY: You didn’t care for it?
ROGEN: I did not. And it wasn’t even live. It’s 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 is going to look like in another five, ten, twenty 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 more 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 been making the movies we want. Every movie we’ve made has been the movie we want. 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 be like, “I never got a chance to make the big one!” That’s the exact movie I wanted to make.
PLAYBOY: Do you ever worry that 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’s gonna 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 that you talked Jonah 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 that I’m excited about, and I like the people I work with, and I’m having a good time.” It wouldn’t be worth it if I was making the best movie ever and I 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 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 anti-Christ of comedy. And all I’ve done 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: But they keep buying tickets to your movies. They can’t hate you that much.
ROGEN: Yeah. And they’re always very kind to me when I’m at ComiCon. It’s funny, they’re probably the exact same people who go online and talk shit about me, but to my face they’re extremely nice.
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 he got a funny look on his face, and he finally said to me, “Oh my god, man, you’re my hero. Look what I’m buying.” And it was a book on screenplay writing and an encyclopedia of marijuana. [Laughs.] And 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’d spend his paycheck on a fancy car or a Malibu mansion. Where do you spend your money?
ROGEN: I buy a lot of Japanese pop art toys on eBay. I have a massive collection in my house. And 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 why 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 wasn’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 that you look at and think, “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’d 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.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in the April 2009 issue of Playboy.)