The Last Word: Seth Rogen on the Key to a Great Joke and What He Regrets About ‘The Interview’
Ever since he was a 13-year-old kid in Vancouver performing at open mics, Seth Rogen has made a career out of comedy. But a couple years ago he decided to branch out into a new arena by adapting the comic book series Preacher into a television series for AMC. “It was a good experiment for me and my partner Evan Goldberg,” he says. “We were like, ‘Can we direct something that’s not a comedy?’ But we realized we wanted to create the kind of things we liked as a kid when we were obsessed with Peter Jackson, Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese and all those guys.”
The show was a big hit and the third season kicks off on Sunday. To celebrate, Rogen phoned up Rolling Stone to talk about everything from his love of Ghostbusters to his fitness routine, Jeff Sessions’ war on drugs and his regrets over The Interview.
You’re from Vancouver. What’s the most Vancouver thing about you?
There’s a lot. I smoke weed. That’s a Vancouver thing. I wear Polo fleeces. That’s a Vancouver thing. And I eat a lot of Asian food, and that’s another Vancouver thing, so I think they’re almost the predominant aspects of my personality.
What movie do you find the most rewatchable?
Probably Ghostbusters. It’s like a perfect movie to me. I’ve watched it so many times that each time now I say something like, “This time I’m going to watch it and only look at Harold Ramis. And now this time I’m going to watch it and only look at Dan Aykroyd.” I think everyone in it is hilarious.
Looking back, is there one movie you wish you could do a bit differently?
When I look at The Interview, there’s some things that I think we could have fleshed out a little bit more. I think maybe the tone of the movie gets a little inconsistent sometimes.
It’s widely believed that North Korea hacked Sony in response to the movie. Do you have lasting scars from that experience?
Not really. And honestly, the further I get from it, the less I think North Korea actually did it and the less about me I actually think it all was. I really think the movie was used as a facade to launch some attack on the executive leadership at Sony, and that was not being carried out by North Korea. I think it was being carried out by disgruntled Sony employees more than anything.
At the peak of that whole fiasco did you worry your career might be over?
Yeah. It was hard to process, a lot of it. It was weird hearing Barack Obama talk about it, which he did at length during a press conference. And his the attitude made us feel a lot better. Having the support of the president was incredibly helpful and therapeutic. I remember he had a press conference in the middle of all of it and we didn’t know what he was going to say. We didn’t know what someone was going to ask about it, and the first fucking question and second and third questions were all about us and the movie. And he supported us and said he liked us and [that] in his opinion, we should be able to do whatever we want and didn’t imply that he thought we had horrible mistakes. It really made us feel a lot better, I gotta say.
In hindsight, do you think maybe it should have taken place in a fictional country to avoid all those problems?
No. That would have made the movie much worse [laughs].
What music moves you the most?
My mother had a record collection, and the music on those records is seared into my brain. It was a lot of old folk music, Holly Near, and stuff like the Stylistics and the Dramatics: all the “-ics.”
Describe your fitness routine.
I started having pains, like, a year and a half ago, and I went to an osteopath and he was like, “Oh, the problem is your neck is too weak to support your head.” And I was like, “Uh-oh, that’s not good.” And he was like, “So, yeah, you have to start exercising or your body will be in constant pain.” So now I have an elliptical machine. I lift weights, and I have a Bosu ball. I sometimes try to remember what the trainer said to do and then just do it myself.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
I did stand-up when I was, like, 13 to 18 and I would tell these surreal kind of jokes, like Stephen Wright. This other comedian named Darryl Lenox was super nice to me, much nicer than I would be to a fucking 14-year-old comedian right now. He told me that I was writing the wrong kind of jokes. He was like, “You’re 14. You’re trying to, like, hook up with girls for the first time. You’re trying to get your driver’s license. You’re stealing alcohol. You’re probably doing drugs for the first time. Write jokes about that. No one else can talk about that, so talk about the stuff that only you can talk about as much as possible.” And it was great advice and it’s what I try to do still whenever I try to write stuff that I feel like I could only write, for better or worse.
Do you look back at any of your old movies and think, “Wow, I could never get away with doing that joke these days.”
Oh, yeah. I think in Superbad we were probably were justifying it by, like, “It’s the character. This is how they would talk.” But I think now I have a much better understanding of how we are glamorizing certain behavior even if we were subtly commenting on those who are doing that behavior and saying they aren’t correct. I was younger and now I have a much better understanding of like, “Yeah, that still is glamorizing it.” That’s the case unless you are specifically not glamorizing it or specifically shunning it almost.
I think back to The 40 Year Old Virgin and the long “That’s how I know you’re gay” exchange with Paul Rudd.
Oh, 100 percent. At the time we probably were like, “Oh, these guys are idiots so they can say this stuff,” but if we were listening closer, we probably would’ve been told or made aware of the fact that, “Oh, no. This is all very damaging.”
You auditioned for the role of Dwight on The Office. How different do you think your life would be had you gotten it?
I would arguably be much richer than I am right now. I assume they made a ton of money on that show. I never had that network-TV syndication money. I’ve honestly never thought about this, but it would have just been a different life. Maybe that would be how Josh Gad would’ve gotten famous a few years earlier.
What’s the best part of success and the worst part of success?
The best part is that I get a job I like. And that allows me to express myself and to be around people I like, which is something that … the older I get, I realize most people hate their fucking jobs [laughs]. And the worst part … I keep reading that stress kills you early, so I’ll probably die at a young age [laughs].
There’s never a day where it drives you insane that strangers keep asking for selfies?
I mean, there are times that can be a little annoying, but I honestly am very at peace with that element of it. It used to bother me a lot more than it does now. If that’s the tradeoff for me to get to do what I enjoy doing, like, almost all day every single day, then that’s a very fair trade of to me. And it’s not bad. Most people are very nice. Like, a good 90 percent of the people that come up to me are, like, completely appropriate.
Tell me about the other 10 percent.
Some people asking me to call their brother and stuff like that. As soon as I’m FaceTiming someone’s cousin, it starts to feel like a bit much. Also, sometimes people say to me, “Will you come into this store with me and sit down with me and my friends?” [Laughs] Again, it’s fine to ask, but I might say no.
Jeff Sessions has basically implied that heroin and marijuana are equally dangerous. What would you say to him if given the chance?
I don’t know. You can’t convince a crazy person not to be crazy. I think there’s been some movement in the wrong direction when it comes to the federal legalization over the last year, especially in comparison to Canada which has basically federally legalized recreational marijuana. But some people still live in a place where they believe all the propaganda that was put out there to control people who were smoking weed, who at that time were largely minority people. It’s all fake. Sessions probably believes his own bullshit. If he doesn’t believe it, he’s just fucking saying it because he’s like a crusty old white dude that wants to uphold the war on drugs, probably because he’s racist.
John Boehner spent years trying to put drug users in prison as Speaker of the House, and now he’s lobbying on behalf of legal marijuana.
All that shows is that motherfucker likes moneysand that’s it. He doesn’t give a shit about anything else other than fucking money and someone showed that guy a piece of paper that said, “Hey, if you stop trying to put people in jail for weed and instead support it, you will make this much money” and he went, “Fuck it.”
Do you think at a certain point in the near future the Trump era will just seem funny and not so terribly tragic?
I don’t know. People make Mussolini jokes and shit. Everything is funny eventually. Tragedy plus time equals comedy, so it’ll take some time. But I think eventually everything is funny. If you do it right.
You were off Twitter for about five months. What was that like?
It felt great. I guess I stopped giving a fuck about what was happening there. One day I was just like, “I don’t care. I don’t like it. I don’t want it.” And it was lovely and I went to Instagram, which is a nicer place than Twitter. It’s just people sharing their lovely vacations and stuff like that. It was great. And then I went back on it just right now to start promoting my charity event and it’s – yeah, it’s a dark, dark, dark hole.
It’s interesting not being on it and talking to people who are on it a lot because they genuinely think that all this stuff that they’re reading about is happening and not just stuff they’re reading about. And when you’re not reading about it all the time it’s not actually real. Like, it’s not happening. It’s just something that might happen or something people are talking about maybe could happen or people are hypothesizing that something might happen. But what is interesting about not being on Twitter is you only find out about something if it happens. You don’t have the part where people are hypothesizing for days whether or not the raid on this guy is going to be the thing that brings it all down and everyone hanging on every second. Like, if it happens, we’ll hear about it. If it doesn’t, I won’t and that’s that. It’s a much healthier way to ingest the news is to see the result of it instead of the arguments leading in that are just filling up time while everyone is waiting for the result.
To end on a very different note, do you think the media was fair to James Franco in the aftermath of the MeToo allegations against him?
I honestly don’t know because I wasn’t ingesting that much media at that time. I know he’s back at work, so that’s, I think, good for him and a sign that things seem to be OK for him. But the truth is, I honestly don’t know what was happening at the time I was checking out a little bit. I don’t have a full perspective on what their take was.