Seth Rogen On The Comedy Advice He Got At 12 That He Still Thinks About
Rogen's first comedy teacher taught him to write material based on conflict, so he focused his first stand-up routine on his grandparents. His new book of personal essays is Yearbook.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, Seth Rogen, has written a new book called "Yearbook" that was described in The Washington Post Review as, quote, "a candid collection of sidesplitting essays," unquote. He writes about how he started to do stand-up when he was 12 - 12 - and why it was at a lesbian bar; his adolescent insecurities about girls and not having a girlfriend; his mild case of Tourette's syndrome - his father's Tourette's is more pronounced; how his father became the sperm donor for a lesbian couple, making Seth Rogen the half-brother of their two children; his use of weed, mushrooms and LSD; how he started acting and making movies; and the threats made by North Korea because of his film comedy, "The Interview," in which Kim Jong Un is assassinated.
Rogen has produced and-or directed, written or starred in many films, including "Knocked Up," "Superbad," "Pineapple Express," "This Is The End," "The Interview," "The Disaster Artist," "Steve Jobs," "Sausage Party," "Long Shot" and "An American Pickle." Along with his writing, directing and producing partner, Evan Goldberg, he founded the production company Point Grey Pictures. They also recently founded a company that sells marijuana. It opened in 2019 in Canada, where Rogen and Goldberg are from, and in March, they opened a branch in California.
Seth Rogen, welcome back to FRESH AIR, and congratulations on your new book. It's a pleasure to have you back on the show.
SETH ROGEN: Thank you so much. It's a pleasure to be here.
GROSS: I love the advice you were given by your first comedy teacher - and you were about 12 then - which is that nobody wants to hear what you like. Fun isn't funny. Comedy is pain. It's struggle. So don't ask yourself, what's funny to me? Ask yourself, what bothers me? What frustrates me? What do I wish I could change? That's a pretty sophisticated thought for a 12-year-old to digest. Is that advice you still try to follow?
ROGEN: To some degree. I think failure is more entertaining than success in general. I think a bunch of people screaming at each other, arguing about something, stressed out, is more funny to watch and more entertaining to watch than a bunch of people getting along (laughter) and having cohesion on something. And so I think the - yeah, the idea that entertainment and comedy comes from conflict, and conflict comes from pain often, and - yeah, I think, in general, looking towards that feeling rather than what do you love, what makes you happy, what's going great is for sure something that I still think about a lot. Yeah.
GROSS: So with the advice you were given in mind, what was your comedy like when you were 12, performing in front of an audience?
ROGEN: It was about the things that I didn't like, and at that time, my grandparents were probably the major source of stress in my life (laughter). And yeah, I just really didn't get along with them very well. I would go to their house on Fridays and hang out with them while my family was at synagogue, and they would yell at each other and scream at each other, and yeah, that's where my head went as far as what should my first jokes be (laughter).
GROSS: You were going to this comedy class because when your parents realized you love comedy, your mother went and signed you up for this class. You were, I think, the youngest person in the class.
ROGEN: Oh, yes, by far.
GROSS: Somehow this class had an arrangement with a lesbian bar so that the people in the class would perform there. How was that arrangement made?
ROGEN: I'm not sure. I think it was probably just (laughter) a good - a cheap space to have a showcase for a bunch of comedians. They knew maybe it would be busy on whatever night the showcase was. It's funny - in retrospect, I have no idea. But it was actually, in Vancouver, like, a pretty famous lesbian bar. So, like, it was a good crowd, you know? But yeah, it was - it's always - always will be a part of my story that the first time I told jokes was in front of around a hundred lesbians. Yeah (laughter).
GROSS: So as a 12-year-old boy, did you ask yourself, what's going to go over in front of a lesbian audience?
ROGEN: What's going to go over? I actually - I assumed the same things. I assumed the lesbians had grandparents just like I did, and most of my jokes were grandparent-based, so I felt confident (laughter).
GROSS: Tell us one of your grandparent jokes.
ROGEN: I had a few. I had one - my grandmother (laughter) - she kind of, like - I guess her hair was thinning as she got older, and she kind of picked her hair out into kind of like an Afro kind of - like, a real poufy look, which looked normal in general, but then whenever she was backlit, you could see through the hair and straight to her scalp. And you essentially could see what she would look like - she looked bald - if she was completely bald. And I would say, and she looked like Gandhi in a floral jumpsuit, which was very true (laughter), a very accurate description. So that was a joke about my grandmother that I would tell.
I would tell jokes about them arguing and not being able to hear each other. Pass me a pillow. What? I'm an armadillo? I had a lot of jokes like that. Yeah, in general, really roasting my grandparents (laughter).
GROSS: Had your voice changed yet when you were first doing comedy?
ROGEN: I kind of had, like, a raspy - a high but raspy voice. It wasn't, like, as embarrassing as - I think there is videotape of it somewhere. I mean, I think it's probably on YouTube or something like that.
GROSS: I saw a couple of things on YouTube, and one of them - I'm not sure if you were 12. One of them, I think, you were more like 17, and your hair (laughter) - your hair was so - I almost thought it was a hat at first (laughter).
ROGEN: Was it a big - did I have a big green crazy mess of hair, or did I have hair, like, very gelled on my head that was short (laughter)?
GROSS: It looked like you were wearing rollers, which you weren't.
ROGEN: Oh, yeah, that - yes, that, I was - I know the exact era you're speaking of (laughter).
GROSS: What was going on (laughter)?
ROGEN: Mousse was a big thing back then, I think. When I did - it took me a long time to navigate this curly hair of mine. And yeah, I used to use - I had mousse in my hair, I think, that created tight ringlets that - Justin Timberlake had a similar look for a while. It was, like, a tight, moussed ringlet look that was not flattering in any way, shape or form.
GROSS: So one of the real surprises - for me, at least - in reading your book, was that your father has OCD and Tourette's, and you have a very mild case of Tourette's. Was that actually diagnosed?
ROGEN: I mean, a doctor was like, yeah, you know, you likely have it, due to your father and due to the symptoms you - it was - I would say it was like, you know, informally diagnosed. But doctors - I have talked to doctors about it, yes (laughter). And yeah, and it is genetic. It's heavily genetic. And my dad was diagnosed, and so yeah, doctors were like, oh, do you twitch a lot? Yes. Do you have a hard time sitting still? Yes. So you - it was passed on to you, basically.
GROSS: Can I ask you what your father's symptoms have been and what it was like for you to observe him when you were a child?
ROGEN: I mean, it's something that I never - I think most people wouldn't notice. Like, honestly, it's something that I think, unless you are in tune with it - my dad just doesn't sit still. He still, even to this day, like, doesn't sit still. He just kind of is always moving and swaying and, you know, just kind of just can't be immobile for one moment, you know?
And then the OCD stuff was always - for him, I think, though, the OCD - like, I was always, like, a twitchy kid. I would flare my nostrils. I would shake my head a lot. I would wiggle my hands and my thumbs. My dad was less like that, but more - like, again, he does this thing with his socks that I reference in the book where he would number his socks to the pairs 'cause it drove him crazy when one sock was slightly more worn-out than the other sock. And whenever we go to restaurants, he's very specific about napkins and his forks and knives. He's always wiping up every little stain on the table, every little drip of water. So yeah, that was something I always noticed from a very young age. I don't think you have the language. I think when you're younger, you're just like, man, dad is weird.
ROGEN: And then as you get older, you're like, oh, no, he has OCD and Tourette syndrome (laughter).
GROSS: But it's probably like, dad is weird, and dad can be embarrassing 'cause when somebody starts doing something unusual in a restaurant and you're a kid and it's your parent doing the thing that's weird, you know, you just feel seen in a way you don't want to be seen.
ROGEN: Oh, yes. My parents were always - that was like I was - I was desensitized to being embarrassed by my parents at a very young age, (laughter) I think. It's something that just happened. I was like, I was soaked in it, you know, and saturated in it from the time I can remember. My dad used to try to embarrass us. He would drop us off at school, dressed crazy in silly costumes, silly outfits, like, specifically 'cause he knew it embarrassed us. He would actively try to do things that humiliated us (laughter).
GROSS: Why would he do that?
ROGEN: Because he thought it was funny, and 'cause he thought it was silly that we were embarrassed by it. To this day, he does it. He still does things that are outwardly embarrassing. And when I point them out, he acts like I'm this, like, puritanical...
ROGEN: ...Like - he likes to eat with his hands. Still, to this day, at restaurants, he'll order a salad, and he wants to eat it with his hands, which is - it's fine when we're at home alone. But it's just like, I'm like, when you're in restaurants, it's like, you don't want to look over and just see a guy, like, eating a Caesar salad with his bare hands. It's just like, not - you know? (Laughter). And so I would always be like, Dad, just use a fork when we're out in public at least, please. Just when we're at a nice restaurant, use a fork. And he's always like, ugh, fine. Like, oh, my God. Like, I didn't realize I was out to dinner with, like, the queen of England. I got to use a fork for my salad. Jeez. Like, he's - he could not be more put out by it. It's - to this day, yeah (laughter).
GROSS: You said he treats you as if you're puritanical sometimes. I have to...
GROSS: Never heard the word puritanical and Seth Rogen used in the same sentence before. This is a first (laughter).
ROGEN: No, it's funny. He was giving - he was doing - and I - because he doesn't say it to me often. There was an interview in The New York Times recently, and he gave a quote to it. And it was funny 'cause it was something he had never said to me. But in the article, he's like, I didn't think Seth would be such, like, a workaholic nerd. Like, he's like Alex - he's like Alex P. Keaton from "Family Ties." Like - and I was like, that's how my dad sees me? (Laughter) That's like...
GROSS: (Laughter) Well, your father - your father's a socialist, right?
ROGEN: Exactly. So to him, I'm just like this, like, uptight, like (laughter)...
GROSS: Bow tie-wearing (laughter)...
ROGEN: ... subscribe - yeah, bow tie-wearing - it's like, it's so funny (laughter).
GROSS: So what was it like in school for you? 'Cause you write that you also had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. So between that and the twitchiness of a very mild case of Tourette's, that's - that's a lot of activity.
ROGEN: Yeah, I was - I did very bad in school always. And like, my teachers did not like me. I always got kicked out of class all the - like, in elementary school, I would just get kicked out of class all the time. Like, which is a funny thing when you think about it. Like, yeah, that's how they would just deal with me (laughter), would just be like, go stand in the hall alone (laughter), which was - I understand why. It was maybe the best thing to do with me at that moment. But yeah - and then in high school, I really just stopped caring about school, and very quickly was like, this is not going to be my path to success in life (laughter) and would go - I would say I had a casual relationship with attending high school in general (laughter).
GROSS: And you ended up dropping out of high school 'cause you got...
GROSS: ...The part on "Freaks And Geeks." So I guess dropping out of high school was, for you, no great loss since you were hardly in it in the first place.
ROGEN: No, it felt more like the conclusion of - the very expected conclusion...
ROGEN: ...Of what had been, like, a long downward spiral, yeah. Yeah, it was not surprising to anyone, I don't think. And nor did anyone, even my parents - no one really tried to convince me to, like, stay or even get, like, a GED. People - no one in my life was like, this is going to ruin your life if you drop out of high school. It was very clear by then that I was highly motivated to do other things, just not, you know, academic things.
GROSS: Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Seth Rogen. He has a new memoir called "Yearbook." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.
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THE BAR-KAYS: (Singing) Yeah, yeah. Hey, hey, ow, yeah.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Seth Rogen. He has a new memoir called "Yearbook." So how did both the ADHD and the mild Tourette's affect, if at all, your ability to perform on stage?
ROGEN: You know, it didn't. And what was always interesting is that it would totally go away when I was on stage. I would have, like, a nerve - like, I'm not a - I would have, like, a cough sometimes, like a twitchy, like, (clearing throat). Like, I would always, like, clear my throat kind of, (clearing throat) like - or I'd shake my head or I would flare my nostrils. Those were things I would do a lot. And whenever I went on stage, it completely went away. Like, it just - it never happened when I was on stage, which was always fascinating to me and always kind of showed me that it was not, like, a physical, in the traditional sense, thing that I had. You know what I mean? That - it was in some way my brain was doing it 'cause my brain could stop doing it.
And also, I would - when I smoked weed, it made it much better. Like, it really kind of relaxed me and put everything at ease a little bit and for sure eased a lot of those symptoms.
GROSS: Yeah. I mean, you write in the book that you smoke weed to be normal, that you're not quite cut out for this world, and weed is what you think you need to make things work. So it helps with the symptoms that you have.
ROGEN: Yeah, for sure. It's something that - yeah - that just very much kind of - it always was something that just very much agreed with me. You know? It - I describe it as like putting on glasses that have the right prescription. You know, it's something that kind of as soon as I did it was like, yeah, this, like - I don't view - this doesn't feel like - I mean, the first times I did it, it felt like it (laughter) was - you know, intoxicating in some way or really kind of taking me out of my element. But as I did it more, it more - I think, again, like glasses, like the first time you put on glasses, everything looks crazy, even if they are your prescription. You know what I mean? And then eventually you're like, oh, no, this is how things are supposed to look. That's kind of how it was for me.
GROSS: I want to talk with you about your experiences with weed and with drugs. But first, I want to acknowledge that you weren't representative of all adolescents, that not all adolescents or even adults can be high and still function. I mean, you've managed to be incredibly productive while being high most of the time on weed, but not everybody is like that. And a lot of parents - I just want to acknowledge this before we go any further.
ROGEN: Yeah (laughter).
GROSS: But a lot of parents are really concerned about their children getting high at a young age, when their brains are still developing. A lot of neurologists are concerned about that and are continuing to research, like, what are the effects of marijuana on the brain of a developing adolescent. And...
ROGEN: For sure.
GROSS: Yeah. So can we just acknowledge that before we move on?
ROGEN: I don't know how many 13-year-old, you know, FRESH AIR heads there are. But if you are one, yes, do not smoke weed until you're older. And now it's federally legal in Canada, and the legal age, I think, is 18 or 19 or something, you know? So I think that, you know, I would follow the legality of wherever you are (laughter). But, yeah, I started young. I started doing a lot of things young, you know? But, yeah, I think - yeah, I would agree to that. I subscribe to that as well. My sister's a social worker. She deals with teens in crisis. And, yes, she has very much warned me many times about (laughter), you know, suggesting that all 13-year-old kids should smoke weed.
GROSS: So how has that affected, like, what you'll put into movies? - because you're continuing to make movies for teens, among the other movies that you're making.
ROGEN: Yeah. I mean, I don't think our - I mean, it's not something that we ever - I would say, you know, we make R-rated movies. So by nature, they're not something that, you know, a lot of young kids can go see on their own without their parents taking them. But, you know, I think that being said, like, yeah, I mean, it's something that we are more aware of than we used to be, especially now that my friends have kids.
There are things that - I think when we were younger, honestly, looking at movies and things like that, our movies - I think we would - you know, we would justify certain things by saying like, well, we're not condoning this behavior. Like, sure, the protagonist is doing it, but they are learning a lesson that they shouldn't do it in the end. But I think over the years, I've seen more that, like, if your protagonists are doing it, the nuance that maybe they've learned a lesson at some point in the movie that they shouldn't be doing that thing is lost on a lot of people. And most people just take, like, oh, that's a cool thing to do (laughter). And so that's something we've grown more aware of over the years, I would say (laughter).
GROSS: Do you think, too, that early on, you were writing from the perspective of having recently been adolescents?
GROSS: And now, like, you've been an adult for a long time.
ROGEN: Yes, definitely. I think that was also - you know, it's one of those things that, the older I get, that - realizing that I started so young has shaped a lot of my thinking in a way that I need to evolve from. Like, I have the mentality of a young person in the industry, I think, because - or I did. I don't as much anymore because I've done a lot of work in thinking about it, you know? But I think for a long time, I had - even though I was no longer a young person, I couldn't shake the feeling that had been instilled in me kind of that I was younger than everyone and that I was kind of a kid still. You know what I mean?
And now as I've gotten older, I very much - I know that is not the case. And I think I'm happy I know that that's not the case. I think my work has gotten better as a result of it. But I think for - I look back, and for a long time, I had a hard time shedding that mentality of being, like, the 23-year-old in the room, you know?
GROSS: Well, you were always, like, the youngest person, I mean, starting from when you were 12 doing standup. And you were rewarded for being the youngest person. So I could see - between that and the success that you had with your early films, I could see why it would be hard to give that up and why it was important that you did.
ROGEN: Yes (laughter). All those things are true.
GROSS: Let me introduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Seth Rogen. He has a new memoir called "Yearbook." We'll be right back. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Seth Rogen. He's produced and-or directed, written or starred in many films including "Knocked Up," "Superbad," "Pineapple Express," "This Is The End," "The Interview," "The Disaster Artist," "Steve Jobs," "Sausage Party," "Long Shot" and "An American Pickle." His new collection of comic autobiographical essays is called "Yearbook."
There's a chapter in your new book about porn. And the first time you saw porn, it was really - it sounds like it was really hardcore and really kinky and that you were totally unprepared for it.
ROGEN: Yes (laughter).
GROSS: Did you think that was what typical sex was like?
ROGEN: I did, and it terrified me...
ROGEN: ...And probably was one of the reasons I did not have sex till I was out of high school (laughter) and older than a lot of my friends were when they had sex. Yeah, it was horrifying. It was called "The Fisherman's Wife" (ph), and it - (laughter) that phrase will be tattooed in my brain forever. Yeah, and I would say it was, like, on the more extreme end of the spectrum. And it really made me terrified for what a potential sexual encounter might comprise of.
GROSS: Did it make you question why people bothered to do this thing in the first place?
ROGEN: Yeah, the whole thing just seemed complicated. There was a lot of props involved. They were in - they were standing. They were in uncomfortable positions, hanging from things. I was just like, this seems like a lot.
GROSS: So did it affect your expectations of what sex should really be like once you did start having it?
ROGEN: I think by the time I actually, you know, had a girlfriend and was having sex, I was much older and - thank God - had, you know, mostly been - you know, had an understanding of what the deal was. But it for sure scared me for a long time. And I wonder - yeah, I mean, like, we grew up with a lot of porno, you know, when we were kind of going through puberty. And it's almost like internet speeds, like, were correlated with our, like, development as we were hitting puberty, you know? But I - like, we didn't have phones that we could just go look at porn on all day. Like, I truly shudder to think of what I would be like as a 14-year-old with the technology that kids have access to today (laughter).
GROSS: You write in your book that in your films and the films you make, when you - when there's a nude scene and you need an actor to be nude, you hire somebody who's been in porn because, like, it's not going to make them uncomfortable. They know how to do it.
GROSS: And because of that, you worked with Stormy Daniels. What was your reaction when the Stormy Daniels, you know, Donald Trump scandal broke, and it turned out not only did he have an affair with her, but, you know, apparently, allegedly, he kind of paid her off to keep it quiet?
ROGEN: (Laughter) What's so crazy is that when we had worked with her in 2005 or '06, she mentioned that she had slept with Donald Trump.
GROSS: Oh, you're a witness (laughter). Or not...
ROGEN: Yeah. She brought it up that - you know, and it's not - I think there are - I don't know if there's a lot, but I've met several porn stars who also work as escorts, essentially. You know, they're sex workers. And so, yeah, she was talking about that and talking about how Donald Trump was one of the people that was a client of hers. And at the time, honestly, like, the fact - (laughter) you know, like, the - hearing that Donald Trump, you know, hired sex workers was on the list of, like, the least surprising things one could tell you - I would say, very, very high...
ROGEN: ...Slash - on the list of, like, not entirely interesting things someone would tell you, pretty high. You know what I mean? Like, it was interesting to hear, but you're not like, what? Like, you're like, oh, yeah, oh, that's 100% who I would expect to be doing that, you know? And so, yeah, and she mentioned - there was one thing that I always thought - that I remember. She talked about - we were like, what's up with his hair? And she said that he told her that he had a dream that if he ever cut his hair off, he would lose all of his, like, power, like Samson kind of, which always stuck with me as being bizarre.
But she was great and lovely. And she came to several of our movie premieres, and she - you know, she's someone that I - like, yeah, I would run into periodically over the years. And yeah - and so years later, when all that happened, I was like, oh, yeah, yeah, that's all true (laughter).
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Seth Rogen. He has a new memoir called "Yearbook."
So I want to change subjects here and talk about something that really surprised me in your book. You devote some time to talking about how, when you were young - and you can tell me how old you were when this happened - that your father was asked by two friends who were lesbians, a lesbian couple, to be a sperm donor so that they could have children. And so you have two half-brothers through this lesbian couple. And how old were you?
ROGEN: I think I was 13 or 14 when I found out about them. And it was because the younger of the two was being born. So, again, I'm terrible with years, but, yeah, I think I'm around 16 years older than one of them and 13 years older than the other brother. Max (ph) and Ira (ph) are their names. They're lovely. And yeah, so I found out about my half-brothers, yeah, when I was, yeah, an early - a young teenager. But I knew their parents, and I believe I had met them, too. Like, they were family friends, essentially. They weren't people we were, like, incredibly close with, but they were people I had seen, you know?
GROSS: Who told you, and how did they tell you?
ROGEN: My parents told us. I remember - I think we were in my sister's room, which is weird, but that's vaguely where I remember them telling us, that we had two half-brothers. And it was not that weird. Honestly, it was, like, not - I remember not being incredibly fazed by it. I remember thinking, like, oh, cool, that's a very cool thing for you to have done and for them to have asked you to do. And yeah, I was happy about it.
GROSS: That's great. Would you describe your mother as a feminist?
ROGEN: Yes, very much so. I'd describe my father as a feminist, too (laughter).
GROSS: What did you learn about, like, gender equality, growing up with a feminist mother doing comedy at a lesbian bar? I mean, you must have gotten, you know, a pretty good education in gender equality and LGBTQ equality.
ROGEN: Yeah. I think I did, yeah, as - you know, as well as I could absorb, you know? Yeah, my parents were friends with a lot of, you know, gay people and lesbians. And yeah, my parents had good friends that lived in a lesbian co-op, actually, that we would go hang out at. I remember there was a big - like, the woman symbol was, like, in, like, a giant mosaic on the tile floor of the courtyard of the housing complex (laughter). So it was like a housing community built for lesbians. And I would hang out there a lot as a kid. And yeah, my dad was always - really tried to instill in me to respect women as much as possible and - you know? Yeah. And I grew up going to a lot of marches and protests. And yeah, I think my parents were very and are progressive people and very much, you know, tried to pass that down on to me.
GROSS: What impact did that have on you when you were going through your adolescence and teenage years and puberty and, you know, getting more and more sexually interested (laughter), you know...
ROGEN: Yeah (laughter).
GROSS: ...Sexually obsessed or whatever, you know?
ROGEN: (Laughter) Yeah. I think it made me err on the side of respect and caution, you know? And yeah, I think in general, my - it made me really not try to push myself on people, you know, and not try to assume that anyone wanted to engage in any physical act with me (laughter) out of respect. There's a line in "40-Year-Old Virgin" that I think of, that I do kind of relate to where Steve Carell's character is like, I respect women. I respect them so much, I completely stay away from them.
ROGEN: And that honestly kind of was - is what I was like (laughter).
GROSS: Was the kind of masculinity you were taught by your family different from what you were learning from other boys who were your peers?
ROGEN: It's different from what I was seeing, but I think luckily, like, the friendships that became my close friendships were not guys like that, you know, for the most part. I obviously had terrible friends from time to time, but - you know, very bad ones. But in general, when - you know, like, the people - Sammy and Evan specifically were the two people I spent the most time with. Like, we were - yeah, like, we were very - we were like nerds, you know what I mean? Like, we would play video games and smoke weed and go to the - we watched movie. We were obsessed with movies. Like, it - we were not - it was not, like, a sexually charged environment to the degree that, like, that's what "Superbad" was all about when we started writing it. It was just like how terrified we were to even, like, speak to girls, really, you know?
GROSS: But, you know, the Jonah Hill character in "Superbad" - one of the girls is throwing a party. They need alcohol. He volunteers to get it even though he's under age and enlists the Michael Cera character to help him buy it. And the premise of that is he says, you know how girls say, I was too drunk last night, I shouldn't have had sex with that guy? We could be that mistake. You know, like, if we just get the girls drunk enough, we could be that mistake and have sex with them. I don't think you were holding him up as exemplary, but (laughter)...
ROGEN: No, but they don't do it. I mean, they - the less they - you know, I think - you know, again, speaking to what I was saying earlier, where it's like your characters learn lessons ultimately. So, you know, what they say - and this is something I have again grown more sensitive to, is, like, as a writer in my head, a line like that is like, yes, that is what he thinks at the beginning of the movie. And throughout the journey of the film, he learns that that is a terrible mentality and that that is not at all what he should be doing and that he thinks that because he's terrified and because he thinks he's not worthy of a relationship. And he thinks the only reason a woman would ever hook up with him was if it was a lapse in judgment, you know? And ultimately, when confronted with a drunk woman who is ready to hook up, they don't do it, the characters, you know?
So, like, it is the kind of thing where - and again, it's something I've grown to learn, which is like, yes, if you have your - like, just because as a writer I can defend a line like that in context, out of context, yeah, that's a terrible thing to hear someone say, you know (laughter)? And the lead character in my film is saying it. So, like, I understand how that is something that - a lot in my life and career is something that - it's something - it's interesting because it's something that people put on comedies, honestly, that I do find they don't put on other genres.
Like, there are - like, you know, John Wick murders a lot of people. I don't - you know, I don't often hear people being like, is it bad that your protagonist is condoning, like, the murder of hundreds of people (laughter) as an act of revenge, you know? And so I think, like - and the lesson he learns is that revenge is bad, and it's a bad cycle, you know? I do think with comedies, sometimes people project that this is us saying these things, not that we are smart enough to understand that these are characters that are saying bad things and learning lessons, ultimately, you know? But, yeah, it's an interesting evolving conversation, though.
GROSS: Let me reintroduce you here. If you're just joining us, my guest is Seth Rogen. And his new book is a collection of comic autobiographical essays called "Yearbook." Let's take another break here, and then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE CURE SONG, "IN BETWEEN DAYS")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Seth Rogen. He has a new comic memoir which is called "Yearbook."
You know, I know you've been asked about this, but I want to ask you. Several women have come forward about James Franco alleging sexual misconduct on his part and saying that he used his acting school to provide him with a pool of young women that he could take advantage of. And you've been asked about that because you've done several films with him and you started your career with him on "Freaks And Geeks." And, you know, you've said recently that you haven't worked with him in a while, it's affected your friendship and that - I think you said you're unlikely to work with him in the near future at least.
But I'm wondering if the #MeToo movement and women coming forward and speaking about what has happened to them in various industries, including public radio, has had an effect on what you see as your responsibility, say, on the set when you're producing or directing a movie - like, what you need to be aware of and sensitive to.
ROGEN: Very much. And I think it goes to making sure that we ourselves are incredibly sensitive. Having intimacy coordinators is now commonplace, which is incredibly good. I think it's important to make sure that no one is in a position to work with someone that they feel - or that is engaged in any of these types of activities, you know? And that is 100% our responsibility as producers, and I am committed to never making anyone work with anyone that they feel uncomfortable with. So yeah.
GROSS: Of course, you have to create an atmosphere on set where people feel comfortable coming to you or to the intimacy coordinator or whoever and saying out loud that someone's making them uncomfortable.
ROGEN: Of course. Yes.
GROSS: Are there any things that you feel like you overlooked in the past and thought, like, oh, no big thing, that you wouldn't think that about now?
ROGEN: I think the way in general that sex scenes were approached on film sets was unhealthy from what I saw at times in that they were not incredibly specifically choreographed or blocked all the time. There was, at times, a sense of, like, you know, just kind of, like, figure it out, you know? And it's not something I saw a lot. It's something I - or engaged in a lot. But it was something I would just see a little bit. And now that I'm working on this show where we have an intimacy coordinator and there are rules now where, like, a sex scene has to be blocked 48 hours before the scene, everyone has to know exactly what's happening, like, it's so much better, I think, you know?
So I don't look back and think, like - truthfully, I never witnessed anything that was incredibly messed up. But I saw things that I thought, the fact that this is a little loose in how it is being approached and it's something that is potentially so sensitive - that I was never very comfortable with, you know? And I always tried to create a situation where, if I was ever engaged in a scene like that, we were, like, as specific as humanly possible. You know what I mean? But I did always have in the back of my head this thought of, like, you know, like, what is happening on other sets? That is something that - like, you know, and you would hear stories in Hollywood about, like, sex scenes that got out of hand, you know? And that's never something I ever wanted to participate in or have to witness or have to be present for in any way, shape or form.
GROSS: Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Seth Rogen. He has a new comic memoir, which is called "Yearbook." And thank you for talking with us about that. I know it's probably a sensitive subject for you.
GROSS: So yeah.
GROSS: So we'll be right back after we take a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF DIGABLE PLANETS SONG, "REBIRTH OF SLICK (COOL LIKE DAT)")
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. If you're just joining us, my guest is Seth Rogen. He has a new book of comic autobiographical essays, or as I like to think of it, a memoir...
ROGEN: A memoir - also a good word (laughter).
GROSS: ...Which is called "Yearbook." There's some really funny stuff in your book, and I want you to tell a story that really made me laugh out loud. And you were auditioning for "8 Mile," the movie about, like...
GROSS: ...Rap battles starring Eminem. And your good friend Jason Segel, who you met on "Freaks And Geeks" - he was auditioning for it, too. Tell the story.
ROGEN: So we were auditioning for a character in "8 Mile" - I believe his name is Cheddar Bob - who is, like, a friend of Eminem's character, who's Rabbit. And often, when you go in to audition for a film, there's someone who reads with you. You know, this casting director didn't want to hire someone to do it with her and did not want to do it herself because Eminem was the other person in the scene. And I think she just didn't - felt uncomfortable reading Eminem's lines, basically. And so what the actors were told to do is - it was incumbent on them to (laughter) - it was their responsibility to bring in a person to read with the other side of the scene.
I'm good friends with Jason Segel, so I called Jason. And I was like, can you read this with me? And he was like, oh, that's funny because I also have an audition for Cheddar Bob. And I was going to call you and ask if you could read the Eminem role for me. And I was like, well, that's perfect. So we actually had a sleepover at my house that night. We prepared the scenes, and as we were preparing it alone, it was - we were actually doing very well. And it seemed like - we both were like, I think we actually are doing pretty good at this.
And then we went in. We went in to audition. We went into the room. And as soon as we were, like, in the room and started - I went first. As soon as I was like, yo; what's up; it's me, Cheddar Bob, we both just started laughing hysterically. Like, we could not do it. We were just like, this was such a bad idea. Like, auditioning is so embarrassing, but having your friend there in front of you - and we were both in that moment just like, what were we thinking? Why did we do this?
We barely got through it on my side. And then Jason got up, and the exact same thing - yo; what's up? It's me, Cheddar Bob. And we just - I actually think we didn't finish. Eventually we were just like, we should go. We are not going to get this role. It's not going to happen.
GROSS: Did you like the movie when it came out?
ROGEN: I loved "8 Mile." It was great. I can't remember who they cast for that role in the end, but he did a better job than we would have (laughter).
GROSS: So I want to ask you a little bit about the ADHD. When it was first diagnosed, you were put on a diet to try to help with that, and you had to basically eliminate all the foods children like to eat and mostly...
GROSS: So what were you not allowed to eat?
ROGEN: I couldn't eat dairy. I couldn't eat sugar. And I couldn't eat...
GROSS: Wheat, yeah.
ROGEN: Wheat, yeah...
GROSS: So there goes the pizza.
ROGEN: ...Which is all the good stuff, yeah (laughter).
GROSS: There goes the hamburgers on a bun - all of that, yeah.
GROSS: Ice cream.
ROGEN: Yeah, my parents - they would take me to McDonald's and get chicken nuggets, and then they would rip the fried skin off and just give me, like, the weird little, like, McNugget fetus inside (laughter).
GROSS: Do you have food restrictions now?
ROGEN: Definitely. I try to intermittently fast, which is essentially, like, not eating between like 8 p.m. and noon or 1, around that, which is honestly not that hard and very good for you. And I try not to have sugar. You know, I - again, like, you know, a few times a week, I eat whatever I want. But in general, I try not to have sugar. I try not to have a lot of wheat. I try not to have - sugar is the worst thing for you. That - like, hands down. That - as I've learned more about health and brain health and as our charity has, you know, been able to access more and more, you know, brilliant professionals, that is, like, the resounding theme, is like, sugar is essentially the worst thing you could be putting in your body on a regular basis (laughter).
GROSS: I remember - I think it was the last time we spoke, probably after your film "This Is The End." There was a gluten-free joke in it, which somebody who was gluten-free was mocked. Do you want to take that back?
ROGEN: No, exactly. And now it's so funny because - well, what's also funny - yeah, so in "This Is The End," there's this whole runner where I'm gluten-free, and I'm being mocked for it, and I don't even know what gluten is in the movie. But what's funny is, as we were making "This Is The End," my partner Evan has terrible TMJ in his jaw, and the whole time we were making the film, he was in terrible pain and couldn't figure out why. And he was taking painkillers. He had these electrodes that would shock his jaw hooked up to his face sometimes.
Meanwhile, we're making all these jokes about gluten, how stupid you are if you don't eat gluten. Then he found out that all of his TMJ was caused from eating gluten, and as soon as he stopped eating it, his jaw pain went away, and his entire life got better. And he was like - literally happened parallel to us, like, making a film mocking those who do not eat gluten. So, yes, I apologize for that.
GROSS: OK. You tell the story in your book of the first date that you had with the woman who is now your wife and has been for - how many years?
ROGEN: We've been together for 16 years and married for - this would be our 10-year anniversary, I think, is coming up this October, yeah (laughter).
GROSS: Happy anniversary. And so on that first date, you were in a car accident, and you both survived.
GROSS: The car was totaled. You were - you could have been killed. Apparently, like - what? - a car slammed into you going 70 miles an hour?
ROGEN: Yeah, we were on the freeway, on the way from playing mini golf to go get an ice-cream sundae, and we got nailed by another car on a freeway. Yeah, that - and we spun out. We did a full 180 and slammed into the retaining wall of the freeway.
GROSS: Whoa. So, I mean, like, it's your first date. You hardly know each other. Where do you go after - I mean, you had this near-death experience...
GROSS: ...Both of you, on the first date. Like...
GROSS: ...How does that affect a relationship that doesn't exist yet?
ROGEN: I think it probably tells you a lot about the other person very fast. I think you could really get a sense for what someone is like after you've both almost died, you know? And we really still liked each other, and neither - we both dealt with it well. Neither of us freaked out, you know? We were - I genuinely cared about the other person's well-being, it seemed, you know? You know, the date did not go on much longer that night, but I called her that night or texted her maybe to make sure everything was OK.
But, yeah, I think it was really something that made us get to know each other much faster than a normal dating (laughter) - it's like an action movie, you know? It's like what you seen in an action movie. Like, these two people have never met, and then they go through explosions and car chases, and by the end of it, they're in love. It was, like, a very kind of lame version of that (laughter).
GROSS: In the action movie, they would be quipping to each other while they were nearly dying.
ROGEN: Exactly (laughter).
GROSS: Were you quipping?
ROGEN: I was not quipping. I remember I was - maybe I was. I remember I had a huge bruise on my butt, actually. Weirdly, like, the only part of me that was sort of hurt was my butt, and that was something I did bring up, yeah.
GROSS: Well, Seth Rogen, it's been great to talk with you again. Thanks so much for coming back on our show.
ROGEN: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
GROSS: Seth Rogen's new memoir is called "Yearbook."
Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, our guest will be John Boyega. He played Finn in the "Star Wars" sequel trilogy. This year, he won a Golden Globe for his performance in the anthology series "Small Axe," as a Black British police officer who joined the force in the 1980s to try to change the system. Boyega has been outspoken about systemic racism and racism around "Star Wars." I hope you'll join us.
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GROSS: Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Therese Madden, Ann Marie Baldonado, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley, Kayla Lattimore and Joel Wolfram. I'm Terry Gross.
(SOUNDBITE OF MICHEL CAMILO'S "THE SIDEWINDER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.