Seth Rogan stars opposite Adam Sandler in writer/director Judd Apatow’s dark view of the world of comedy as a successful comic movie star grapplers with mortality and loneliness, while mentoring an up-and-coming stand up comedian, in Funny People.
In this interview, Rogan talks about the fears he had returning to stand up comedy for the film and the problems he is facing on his much discussed Green Hornet.
Question: Did you ever think you would be the victim of skinny jokes?
Rogen: Exactly. It’s nice. I wanna be the victim of every type of comedy. It’s lovely. I think we should all make fun of everyone’s physical attributes in every way.
Question: How much freedom were you given to riff and go off book?
Rogen: There’s always a lot of freedom. We’ve all gotten, I think, just a lot better at it. I think the process has somewhat refined itself throughout the years. I think we all know a little more of what actually makes it into the movie and what is just kind of a masturbatory exercise in vocal wordplay. We riff, but it’s a lot of conversations between the takes. In the improv we’ll come up with a bunch of stuff that we’ll then kind of revisit, that’s we’ll revisit and’ll be written down.
I will say, yeah, there was probably less just aimless improvising than we would normally do. That was done beforehand.
Question: So what extent is the relationship on screen like your own professional competitiveness or just something you’ve experienced.
Rogen: If you look at me and Jason and Jonah’s characters, I don’t think any of us are anything like those characters. The dynamic in real life between the three of us could not be any more different than the dynamic in the movie between the three of us, but that being said, I have, at times, had friends who were literally up for the same roles as me or vying for the exact same jobs and some subtle, underhanded play might come into the equation, be it one guy will get a script with a part that’s good for another guy and maybe he’ll tell him and maybe he won’t and these are just kinda the things that happen throughout the years when you and all your friends have the same job, basically. So yeah, we put a lot of that into the movie and that was a lot of the stuff that came up in the conversations leading up to it.
Question: How can you be competitive without losing friendship?
Rogen: We really aren’t competitive with one another. At all. We’re not. I can’t even watch sports, because I could really not give a shit who wins. That’s how uncompetitive I am. I look at people who watch sports and I think, “Imagine caring who won.” I can’t even fathom what that would be like.
Question: Did you have to promise writing jokes and then writing jokes badly for the bad parts of the film?
Rogen: I’d say each of us probably had around an hour of stand-up comedy material, which is a gigantic amount. Honestly, some comedians go their entire careers and don’t develop an entire hour of standup comedy material. And we all came up with it over the course of five or six months or something like that. And we would perform. We’d bring in audiences. We built some comedy clubs on stage. We filmed in some actual comedy clubs. We would bring in crowds. We would get them from comedy club mailing lists, they were people who would hypothetically be in a comedy club, and we would tell them to behave exactly as they would if they were at a comedy club. We would hire an MC, we would bring on other comics. We’d get opening acts. We would have Brian Posehn perform and Maria Bamford. We had tons of people who aren’t in the movie, people who were way better than us, just to make the audience feel like they were in a club and we filmed every second of it and then we would go up. And some of the jokes did good and some of the jokes did bad and we almost sorted through all of it later and plugged it in where we needed. Like we knew the first time I went up at that Comedy Magic club, I had to do bad. And we knew when I went up at the Orpheum, I had to do pretty good. But other than that, there were very few geographically specific times that we had to do good or bad and we could kind of play with it.
Question: The “friending” thing is really good. Was that more seth or more your character?
Rogen: That’s definitely more my character, but that joke was written by Brendan O’Brien, one of the co-producers of the movie. I’ll give him full credit on that one.
Question: Did doing all of that remind you of why you were attracted to comedy in the first place?
Rogen: It reminded me of why I wanted to be a comedian and why I stopped doing standup comedy. Both of those things. I don’t know, Jonah, now that we’ve stopped doing it for a few minutes, do you have any desire to do it again at all?
Question: How surprised were you by how personal a script this was for Judd and getting characters who were more than just a comic part?
Rogen: I thought it was great, you know? I was happy that Judd wanted me to play that type of guy, not the type of guy I would normally play. He was very clear that he really didn’t want me to do anything the stuff that I normally do in movies. I’m not that dirty in it. I’m not that kind of aggressive. I’m pretty quiet through most of the movie. I really don’t even say much in lots of the scenes that I’m in. And I had a really good time doing it. It was different for me and it was nice to be the kind of passive reactor in the scene.
Question: Was that the first time you met Sandler?
Rogen: Yeah. That was the first time I met him was during “Undeclared” and that was great. The fact that he even did that was awesome. Me and Nick Stoller wrote that episode and to us, that was, at the time, I was in my late teens and he was in his early 20s and it was the thrill of a lifetime to have Adam Sandler agree to appear in something you wrote, as a write who’s trying to get started, that’s like winning the lottery. So, I would actually think about that a lot, in acting in the scenes, I would think about how I felt the first time and one time when I was like 17 or 18, I went out to dinner with Judd and Jim Carrey and Garry Shandling and then we all went to go see “Gladiator” together, so I guess it was in the year 2000, and I think about that a lot. I don’t think I said one word the the entire night. I just had this goofy look on my face. And that’s really what I just tried to put myself in that position.
Question: Have you gotten into that mentor position yourself?
Rogen: You know, there’s people… Yeah. We have friends who, yeah, we’re producing our friend Will’s movie, that he wrote. I would never consider myself a mentor, because I would never imply anyone should live their life in any way close to how I live mine. I think as a writer, I can help epople develop their ideas and get them to a place where they should be, but I would never consider that mentoring. That’s producing, to me.
Question: Do you feel like you’ve had specific mentors over the years?
Rogen: Yeah, definitely Judd. When I was an actor on “Freaks & Geeks,” he invited me into the writers room, which no one would do. They try to keep the actors as far away from the writers room as possible on most TV shows, but that’s how he did it. He knew people should learn as much as possible and we really make an effort to… You know, like right now we’re making a big movie and not many of our friends have made a movie of this scale, so we’re inviting everyone imaginable to come and just see what it’s like and give us their ideas and throw in their input and just have them learn from what we’re doing and to get all of their ideas in the process.
Question: And how’s that going?
Rogen: It’s going great.
Question: Every time I see you, you have a new update on “Green Hornet”…
Rogen: I’ve decided we’re never gonna make the movie. We’re just going to promote it for the next 10 years.
Question: Talk about Stephen Chow leaving the film?
Rogen: In my head, we lost Stephen Chow in April, so it’s something I’ve had a lot of time to wrap my head around. That’s not a change. It might appear to be one to the world in the way that this type of information is doled out, but to me, we haven’t had a Kato since April and we’re looking. So it really doesn’t change that much as of late. We’re kind of in the same boat that we were in beforehand.
Question: Why is this proving so difficult?
Rogen: It’s really hard to make a big movie. It’s exponentially more difficult to make a $100 million movie than it is to make a $20 million movie, especially in this economy. That actually does effect things. DVD sales are down, which scares the studios. And we’re not trying to make what they would probably consider to be a 100 percent safe version of a movie like this. You know? We like to push the envelope in some directions. We like to do things that we find interesting and original and you bring Michel Gondry into the equation and that opens up a whole new bag of worms. So, I think just for us to make a movie that we feel confident in and for them to have a movie that they feel confident in, that’s taking a long time..
Question: Will you be able to make it down to comic-con to get the buzz going?
Rogen: There may be a little something at Comic-Con.
Question: What in particular?
Rogen: I never know what I can say and what I can’t say.