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Seth Rogen On The Comedy Advice He Got At 12 That He Still Thinks About

Seth Rogen and his producing partner Evan Goldberg recently founded a company that sells marijuana.
Samir Hussein
WireImage/Getty Images
Seth Rogen and his producing partner Evan Goldberg recently founded a company that sells marijuana.

Growing up, Seth Rogen wasn't much of a student, but he did like telling jokes. When he was 12, his mother signed him up for a local comedy class. He was the youngest person in the class by far, but that didn't stop him from performing stand-up in their show, which took place at a lesbian bar.

"It always will be a part of my story that the first time I told jokes was in front of about a hundred lesbians," Rogen says. "Most of my jokes were grandparent-based. ... I assumed the lesbians had grandparents just like I did."

Rogen's set was inspired by his comedy teacher, who taught the class that comedy is pain, and that comics should write material based on the conflicts in their lives. Though he's moved on from grandparent jokes, his teacher's advice remains with him.

"Entertainment and comedy comes from conflict," Rogen says. "In general, looking towards that feeling rather than [toward] 'What do you love? What makes you happy? What's going great?' is, for sure, something that I still think about a lot."

Rogen's film credits include Knocked Up, Superbad, Pineapple Express, Steve Jobs and Long Shot. In his new memoir, Yearbook, Rogen shares funny stories of his early years and his more recent life.

Interview Highlights

/ Crown Publishing Group
Crown Publishing Group

On struggling with school as a kid

I would say I had a casual relationship with attending high school in general.

I did very bad in school, always. My teachers did not like me. I always was getting kicked out of class in elementary school. I would just get kicked out of class all the time — which is a funny thing when you think about it. That's how they would just deal with me: It was just like, go stand in the hall alone. I understand why it was maybe the best thing to do with me at that moment. And then in high school, I really just stopped caring about school. And very quickly I was like, this is not going to be my path to success in life. I would say I had a casual relationship with attending high school in general. [Dropping out] felt more like the very expected conclusion of what had been a long downward spiral. It was not surprising that anyone ... no one really tried to convince me to stay or even get a GED. 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 academic things.

On having mild Tourette syndrome and finding relief onstage

What was always interesting is that it would totally go away when I was onstage. I would have a cough. Sometimes I got twitchy, like I would always clear my throat or I'd shake my head or I would flare my nostrils. Those were things I would do a lot. And whenever I went onstage, it completely went away. It never happened when I was onstage, which was always fascinating to me and always kind of showed me that it was not a physical, in the traditional sense, thing that I had. ... In some way, my brain was doing it because my brain could stop doing it. And also 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 ease a lot of those symptoms.

On working with his writing, directing and producing partner Evan Goldberg and being criticized for having characters in their films be bad influences

We make R-rated movies, so by nature they're not something that a lot of young kids can go see on their own without their parents taking them. But I think that being said, 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 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 if your protagonists are doing it, the nuance that maybe they've learned a lesson at some point of 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!" And so that's something we've grown more aware of over the years, I would say.

On getting into a car accident (and nearly dying) while on his first date with his future wife

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, and we really still liked each other. We both dealt with it well, neither of us freaked out. We genuinely cared about the other person's well-being. ... I think it was really something that made us get to know each other much faster than normal dating. It's like ... when you see in an action movie these two people [wh0] 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.

Sam Briger and Seth Kelley produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Petra Mayer adapted it for the web.

Copyright 2021 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

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