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Seth Rogen on Finding the Joke and Fatherly Wisdom 

Who's your daddy?

Tuesday, Jun 5 2007
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“Oh shit, I can’t believe that just happened!”

From a park bench in La Cañada where this interview is taking place, near the set of a “weed/action comedy” he’s co-written and is co-starring in called The Pineapple Express, Seth Rogen has caught sight of a three-wheeled stroller with a strapped-in toddler as it flips over on a short but steep grassy incline. Suddenly there’s crying, a father quick to comfort his shaken-up son and, from Rogen, instantaneous laughter. Hollywood’s newly anointed comedy star is no chortling wallflower either. When his great deep musical growl of a voice revs up, it can suggest both kingly merriment and the stuff of storybook nightmares.

“That’s terrible,” he says, covering his mouth and shaking his head in shame (but still chuckling). “That’s why I would be a bad father.” Rogen makes sure to let on, though, why this accidental kiddie tumble was particularly amusing: the dad. “He laughed for a split second before he went to pick the kid up.”

click to enlarge Father knows best? Rogen takes center stage
  • Father knows best? Rogen takes center stage

A big-but-not-seam-splitting presence in bushy hair and black-rimmed specs, Rogen, who turned 25 in April, has a bearish affability in person that seems ideally suited to humor both gonzo and vulnerable. “Good comedy doesn’t have to be a comedy idea,” says Rogen, who uses the two white-hot-buzz movies he’s got out this summer — the Judd Apatow–directed relationship flick Knocked Up and Superbad, a beer/bongs/babes high-school freakout Rogen co-wrote — as examples. “If someone describes a movie about how a couple gets pregnant from a one-night stand and they’re forced to see if they’re mature enough to raise a baby, that’s not necessarily a hilarious idea,” he says of the dilemma faced by his Knocked Up character, a toke-addled aspiring Web-porn entrepreneur. “And if you said Superbad was a movie about two best friends going to different schools and having trouble coming to terms with that, it doesn’t scream comedy. But more than anything, that’s what Judd’s taught me about writing. Find the emotional story, and all the humor will come later.”

If Apatow schooled Rogen, whom he’s known since their days on the NBC series Freaks and Geeks, in the ways of underlying drama, then Rogen has just as assuredly been Apatow’s filth-humor muse on Knocked Up and their previous film, The 40-Year-Old Virgin. The new movie spares nothing in the way of profane roommates-without-responsibilities gags, but Rogen isn’t worried about such fretted-over Hollywood notions as character likability. There are trade-offs, anyway. A smiling Harold Ramis plays your dad? That buys 30 asshole moments. “My characters come from a good place,” he says. “I can make a million dick jokes. As long as I don’t bail on the pregnant chick, my guy’s a good guy.”

Of course, the va-va-voom factor of Rogen’s Knocked Up co-star, Katherine Heigl, will raise quizzical eyebrows among moviegoers all too accustomed to the I’m-with-hottie imbalance of male-centered comedies. But Rogen recalls the moment he knew Heigl was the right bombshell mother-to-be. “The audition scene was us arguing in a car and she kicks me out, and she fuckin’ just unloaded on me,” he says, a tinge of awe entering his voice. “It was hilarious! And I remember thinking, I can be a lot funnier with her. Put me next to a 90-pound, 5-foot-3 actress and I’m fucking Giant Jew Screaming. It just seems horrifying all of a sudden. But [with Heigl] I can scream at her, call her a fuckin’ idiot, and it doesn’t seem nearly as mean, because she’s strong, tall, loud, not afraid to say shit, and can take care of herself. I really feel like they’re not letting her do 1 percent of what she’s able to do on Grey’s Anatomy.”

Wait. Seth Rogen watches Grey’s Anatomy? The guy who ad-libbed Virgin’s towel-snapping “You know how I know you’re gay?” bit into movie-comedy immortality? “It’s because of my girlfriend,” he qualifies. “I feel like there needs to be the equivalent of that seating area by the dressing rooms in department stores. A little football game running in the corner of the screen.”

As for what was required to distract a hey-it’s-just-me kind of actor from the nervousness of pretend-fucking a cover-girl babe like Heigl, Rogen is grateful that those scenes — which include a position-fumbling exercise in pregnant-sex etiquette — left room for him to be funny. “You’re wearing little flesh-colored underwear and you’re effectively dry-humping someone, and it’s very weird,” he says. “It’s the exact opposite of real sex, because I was trying not to get an erection instead of trying to maintain one.”

If sex kicks off the plot of Knocked Up, for the horndog teen geeks of Superbad (which could just as easily be called The 17-Year-Old Virgins), it’s a mystery goal that inspires crazy schemes and profane discourses that are paradoxically — and hilariously — worldly and clueless. The film’s detour-heavy shenanigans cover a wild night in which two joined-at-the-hip high school seniors (Michael Cera and Jonah Hill) make herculean efforts to provide the alcohol for a house party where they hope their long nightmare of nookielessness will finally end. “It’s funny, the Internet and my sexual development really could not have timed out more precisely,” says Rogen of the puberty struggles that informed Superbad. “It’s terrible for a kid: The second you want as much porn as you can take in is literally the day that’s able to happen. It was crazy.”

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