TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. This holiday week is listeners' choice week on FRESH AIR, featuring favorite interviews from 2013 we're sure you would have chosen had we asked. I certainly enjoyed this interview with Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. They're writing and directing partners and have been friends since adolescence. They co-wrote the screenplay for the 2007 hit "Superbad," which they started writing when they were 13.
They also co-wrote "Pineapple Express" and "The Green Hornet," which each starred Rogen. Rogen also starred in "Knocked Up" and "50/50" and was in the cast of the TV comedy "Freaks and Geeks." I spoke with Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg in June, after the release of their end-of-the-world comedy "This Is the End," which they co-wrote and co-directed.
Rogen starred with several of his friends, including James Franco, Jonah Hill and Craig Robinson, all playing themselves. At the beginning of the film, Rogen and his friends have been at a party at James Franco's house when the ground shakes, and the earth opens up. They assume it's a terrible earthquake, but it turns out to be the Rapture, the end of days, the apocalypse.
Several of their friends fall into the pits of hell. The few friends who survive take shelter in James Franco's home. "This Is the End" is filled with references to end-of-the-world films, disaster films and zombie movies. One standard scene in end-of-the-world films is the survivors taking stock of their remaining provisions, arguing over how to divide them fairly.
In "This Is the End," the provisions they have left are 12 bottles of water, 56 beers, two vodkas, four whiskeys, six bottles of wine, tequila, Nutella, cheese, steaks, and a Milky Way, which is where this clip picks up.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THIS IS THE END")
SETH ROGEN: (as himself) How are we going to deal with this?
JONAH HILL: (as himself) Um, can I have that Milky Way?
JAMES FRANCO: (as himself) No, you can't have the Milky Way. That's my Milky Way. I went out this morning, specifically bought this Milky Way to eat after my party.
HILL: That's weird.
FRANCO: It's not weird. It's my special food. I like it. Back me up on that, Seth.
ROGEN: I don't think you should get the whole Milky Way. I want some of the Milky Way.
CRAIG ROBINSON: (as himself) I'll be pretty bummed if I don't at least a bite of the Milky Way.
FRANCO: Oh, now Craig wants a bite of the Milky Way.
ROBINSON: Yeah, I want a bite of the Milky Way.
ROGEN: Everyone gets a fifth of everything.
FRANCO: I want one-fifth of your T-shirt. I want the bottom part, the belly.
ROGEN: I'm not sporting a crop-top in your house.
FRANCO: I'll cut that off and make a headband.
ROGEN: You couldn't handle my midriff.
HILL: Guys, the only issue is I kind of need the Milky Way. No, for real, I have low blood sugar, and if my endorphins drop too low, I'm going to be a nightmare to be around.
FRANCO: Your LBS starts acting up, you can have a finger scoop of Nutella, OK?
ROGEN: One finger scoop of Nutella.
GROSS: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, welcome to FRESH AIR. So you've decided in your new movie that the world would end with the Rapture, as loosely based on the Book of Revelation from the New Testament. So in your version, like the good people are raptured to heaven, and the bad people kind of drop into deep pits into hell or are forced to face catastrophes on Earth similar to - similar to what happens in zombie movies.
ROGEN: Yeah, yeah, we're kind of holed up in a house, yeah.
GROSS: Right, that you board up like in the zombie films, and...
ROGEN: Exactly, yeah.
GROSS: So why did you decide to choose that as your end of the world, to choose the Rapture and the Book of Revelation as the jumping-off point?
EVAN GOLDBERG: Well, as two young Jewish gentlemen...
GOLDBERG: We always thought it was really funny that...
ROGEN: Evan, I try to hide that I'm Jewish. Please, don't bring that up on NPR.
GOLDBERG: We always found it funny that people genuinely think we're going to hell.
ROGEN: Yeah, we had a friend in high school, actually, who was, like, really into the Christian stuff, and like he was a good friend of ours, and he went to, like, Christian, like, day camp and stuff and got, like, kind of more into these, like, Christian kind of youth groups.
GOLDBERG: Yeah, and he never treated us poorly; he was never unkind to us.
ROGEN: No, he was super-cool to us, but one day it came up conversationally, kind of we were talking about heaven and hell and all that stuff, and then we were like: Do you think we're going to hell? He was like: Yeah, I do, unfortunately.
GOLDBERG: Yeah, he was like: I'm super bummed about it, but you're going to hell.
ROGEN: Yeah, he's like, it sucks, but you guys are probably going to go to hell. And it was kind of just always like a funny concept to us that, like, I mean, not every Christian believes it, obviously, that literally, I think. But a lot of people, I'd say like a vast majority of people in this country at least, are taught that, like, you know, if you're good, you go to heaven, and if you're bad, you don't, you know?
ROGEN: And as...
GROSS: And if you're Jewish, you need to convert.
ROGEN: And if you're Jewish, you're definitely going to hell.
GOLDBERG: And even then.
ROGEN: Exactly, if you convert, you've still got a rough road ahead. So it was to us - I mean that was actually one of the most entertaining concepts of it, and that is really why we gravitated towards it because it's such like a popular thought, you know, so many people have that notion.
GROSS: So in the movie, at first people think, well, you and Jay Baruchel, who you're with, think it's an earthquake, and the deep pits are being formed by the earthquake, although there's all kinds of other inexplicable phenomenon happening. But the earth is opening up and swallowing people.
And watching that scene, I was reminded that Seth, when you and I recorded our first interview back in 2008, you were at NPR West, in L.A., as you are right now, and I was in Philadelphia, in our studio as I am now. And there was an earthquake in the middle of the interview.
GROSS: And we never broadcast the part where you realized that the earth is shaking, but...
GROSS: But we still have that as an outtake, and I want you to hear it, and I want our listeners to hear it.
ROGEN: Oh, that, I always wondered what happened.
GOLDBERG: Yeah, I was just going to say, you better play it for us right now.
GROSS: We're going to. So you and I had been talking about how a lot of, like, young comic actors got their start on "Saturday Night Live" and then ended up in movies, but you are not one of them, you never did the "Saturday Night Live" thing. So we'll pick up right there.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ROGEN: It's true, you know, that never - whoa, there's an earthquake happening right now in L.A.
ROGEN: Yeah, I think so.
GROSS: Is the studio shaking?
GROSS: Do you need to evacuate?
ROGEN: No, I don't think so.
GROSS: Well, if you do, just say the word.
ROGEN: Either that or I'm completely losing my mind.
GROSS: It's not that the interview is shaking you up.
ROGEN: Yeah, exactly.
GROSS: Yeah, hang on one sec.
ROGEN: I could be completely wrong. Maybe my chair's just messed up.
GROSS: Is it still shaking?
ROGEN: No, not at all.
GROSS: OK, OK, so can I ask you...
ROGEN: Yeah, keep going.
GROSS: So we resumed...
ROGEN: That's crazy.
GROSS: Isn't that crazy? So we resumed the interview, and then...
ROGEN: I remember thinking I assume someone would have come in and got me if there was an earthquake.
GOLDBERG: I like how you did nothing you're supposed to during an earthquake.
ROGEN: I just sat there.
GOLDBERG: I was hoping it was going to be like, oh God, we're all going to die, oh no.
ROGEN: I dealt with it in a pretty mellow way, it seems like.
GROSS: Very mellow, very mellow.
GOLDBERG: That's how you might die one day: Is this an earthquake? No, crush.
ROGEN: I think there's an earthquake happening: boom, the ceiling collapses on me.
GROSS: Wait, but we're not done yet, we're not done yet. So you and I, we continued doing the interview, and then at the end of the interview one of our producers walks into the studio and talks to me, and I'm going to pick up with my reaction.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
GROSS: Oh my God, wow. Seth?
GROSS: You just survived a 5.8 magnitude earthquake. Our producer just said they heard it on CNN.
ROGEN: I told you.
I'm so glad that there was an earthquake and I'm not (bleep) losing my mind. Honestly for the last 10 minutes, I'm like I just, I lost my (bleep). There was no earthquake.
GROSS: Wow. Well - well, gee, I hope you're nowhere near the epicenter of that. I guess you would have felt it a little more strongly.
ROGEN: I hope my toy collection at home is OK.
ROGEN: I've got to call my girlfriend.
GROSS: Yeah, well let me let you go. Thank you so much.
ROGEN: Thank you.
GROSS: OK, be well. OK.
ROGEN: OK, bye-bye.
ROGEN: My toys were OK, for the record.
GROSS: Thank goodness, thank goodness.
ROGEN: But a tree fell over outside my house, actually.
GOLDBERG: And none of your toys fell?
GOLDBERG: Do you stick them to the shelf?
ROGEN: No, no, it was shocking. But it fell the next day, the tree, is what was weird. Like that day it was fine. I remember because it was during "The Pineapple Express" premiere, all our friends were here for "Pineapple Express."
GROSS: Exactly, exactly.
ROGEN: And yeah, that was crazy. I remember I was a little hungover, I think, because the premiere was the night before, and I probably didn't want to say so, but I'm like: Am I just, like, really messed up?
ROGEN: Is that what I'm experiencing right now? But thank God. I remember being so relieved when I heard there was an earthquake.
GROSS: So one of the scenes is a satire of "The Exorcist" or one of the exorcism sequels, one of "The Exorcist" sequels. So Jonah Hill is possessed by the devil in this scene, and he's in bed, you know, tied down but possessed by the devil. And then Jay Baruchel walks in with a cross made out of kitchen utensils, a spatula and something else because they don't have crosses in James Franco's home, where they're holed up.
ROGEN: No, he's not - he's half-Jewish.
GOLDBERG: He's half-Jewish.
GROSS: Yes, so here's an excerpt of that scene - again, Jonah Hill is tied onto the bed possessed by the devil, and Jay Baruchel is approaching him with a cross made out of kitchen utensils.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THIS IS THE END")
JAY BARUCHEL: (as himself) Jonah Hill? Jonah? Jonah Hill?
HILL: (as Demon) Jonah Hill is no more.
ROGEN: That's not good. That's not good.
HILL: Jay, you fool.
BARUCHEL: I say unto thee: The power of Christ compels you.
HILL: Oh, does it? Does it compel me?
BARUCHEL: The power of Christ compels you.
HILL: Does it, Jay?
BARUCHEL: The power of Christ compels you.
HILL: Is the power of Christ compelling me? Is that what's happening?
BARUCHEL: The power of Christ compels you.
HILL: Guess what? It's not that compelling.
GOLDBERG: That's a good radio choice.
ROGEN: Yeah, it plays well over the radio.
GROSS: I like the way, you know, it's like the demon's making, like, really cheap jokes.
ROGEN: Exactly. It's still Jonah.
GROSS: So when you were watching all the exorcism movies and deciding like what do we want out of it, what were you thinking?
ROGEN: At first, actually, we had it be - we kind of had it be more traditionally like what - like from "The Exorcist," Jonah was kind of spewing this, like, biblical you'll go to hell and do all this stuff, I literally can't repeat the stuff they say in "The Exorcist." But actually, well, then what happened is we wrote what we thought was, like, crazy stuff for Jonah to be saying, and then we watched the original "Exorcist."
And what she says in that movie is like the craziest stuff you could ever possibly say. And it's coming out of like a 10-year-old girl. So it was like so much edgier than what we had written that we realized with Jonah, actually, kind of in the moment, he was like, we have to go the other way. We're not going to top - like what they say in the actual "Exorcist" is so dirty and disgusting that, like, that joke won't be funny.
What's funny is I'm just talking exactly how a jerk would be talking to Jay in that situation, basically, and because you'll effect my voice, it's almost like the more normal I'm talking, the kind of funnier it'll be. And...
GOLDBERG: And it sets up, well, the first two - you know, like Jonah Hill is no more. You think that the normal stuff is going to come your way, that he's going to say the biblical torture stuff. And then it just goes a hard turn in the other direction.
ROGEN: Later on, like when it starts working, he's like, seriously, stop. Like seriously, seriously, stop. Like that was just cracking us up because it's like, it's exactly what just a regular guy would say in that situation.
GROSS: Seth Rogen, your character - you play yourself in the movie and in the opening of the movie...
GROSS: ...you're at an airport and there's a fan following you around with a video camera and the fan says to you: You always play the same part in movies. When are you going to start actually acting?
GROSS: And then he says, come on, give us the Seth Rogen laugh.
GROSS: Do you get those things a lot from fans?
ROGEN: I do. I get those things, both those things...
GOLDBERG: You've had that? People have actually said give me the laugh? Do the laugh?
ROGEN: Oh, my god. Are you kidding me?
GOLDBERG: And do you do it?
ROGEN: I honestly just do naturally because I think it's funny that people are actually asking me to do that. So...
GOLDBERG: So it's satisfying for the fans.
ROGEN: It does satisfy them because I just think it's so funny for someone to walk up: Laugh for me. Do the laugh. Often what happens, actually, is people say to me, I didn't know it was you or not, and then I heard you laugh. And then obviously I could tell it was you. And they go: you actually laugh like that. I actually get that a lot too.
GOLDBERG: What I always find funny is...
ROGEN: You laugh like that in real life. Like it's some brilliant character that I've created with this ridiculous donkey laugh.
GOLDBERG: The funny thing to me is that his father has a laugh that is, like, 10 times funnier than his, which I'm going to try to impersonate for you right now.
ROGEN: I was - it's going to be incredibly loud.
ROGEN: Yeah. That's exactly what my dad's laugh sounds like. We both have ridiculous laughs. But, yeah. People ask me. And it's just - people actually don't ask me, like, why you play the same character all the time. That's ...
GOLDBERG: They know why.
ROGEN: They know why. But it's more something I read - you just read in press a lot and stuff like that. Like, it's just something that - that's just more of a thought, you know, a sentiment that's out there in the world.
GOLDBERG: You've got to play a president to get out of this.
GROSS: My guests are Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. They wrote and directed this year's end-of-the-world comedy "This is the End," which stars Rogen. We'll hear more of the interview after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: Let's get back to our interview with Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. They co-wrote "Superbad" and co-wrote and co-directed the end-of-the-world comedy "This is the End," which starred Rogen.
You both met when you were young, like 13.
GOLDBERG: Bar mitzvah class.
GROSS: Bar mitzvah class.
ROGEN: Bar mitzvah class. We were 12 years old, I think.
GROSS: Uh-huh. What were bar mitzvah classes like?
GOLDBERG: Well, Seth went to a Jewish day school and I went to a public school, but I had to go to after-school Hebrew school, and so we would cross paths every day...
GOLDBERG: ...because my synagogue, where I went to the after-school, was beside him.
ROGEN: He got dropped off at the parking lot I got picked up in.
GOLDBERG: So we always had like 30-second interactions...
GOLDBERG: ...but then both our schools merge in grade seven, so you can learn your Haftorah portion for your bar mitzvah.
ROGEN: Yeah. Tallits and Tefillin it was called, T and T.
GOLDBERG: And the real reason you went is because they gave you chocolate milk and delicious bagels.
ROGEN: They did give you chocolate milk and bagels. It was fantastic.
GOLDBERG: And Seth was the very loud guy from the day school. And I was the very loud guy from the after-school.
ROGEN: But really what it is - and I was thinking about this - because we were in the bar mitzvah class, you have to invite all the people in your bar mitzvah class to your bar mitzvah. So suddenly, me and Evan went to like dozens of bar mitzvahs together all the time. Basically, like every weekend of grade seven, me and Evan were at a bar or bat mitzvah together, and that's I think when we really started becoming friends.
GOLDBERG: And the other big thing is Sammy Fogle, who the character McLovin is farsely(ph) based upon...
GROSS: In "Superbad."
GOLDBERG: From "Superbad"...
GOLDBERG: Yeah. He was...
ROGEN: Was our third friend.
GOLDBERG: Yeah. He was our third friend, and he was my good friend and he was Seth's good friend, and we didn't really know each other as well, so he kind of merged us together.
ROGEN: He was like the common - and we all knew we were going to the same high school together, so...
GOLDBERG: And we all knew we were going to be nerds there.
ROGEN: Yeah, we all knew we'd probably be losers, so we should stick together.
GROSS: So describe your bar mitzvahs.
ROGEN: My bar mitzvah - both of our bar mitzvah parties were at the same place. It was in...
GOLDBERG: Yours was - I don't remember yours.
ROGEN: Richmond Country Club.
GOLDBERG: All I remember about mine is my mother, the cantor at the synagogue retired. The cantor, if you don't know, like kind of sings the - he's the best singer.
ROGEN: (Singing) Ya da dee...
GOLDBERG: So he retired, so mine was musically themed because my...
GROSS: He's the singer at the religious ceremonies in...
ROGEN: Yeah. He sings the prayers.
GOLDBERG: Yeah. And my mother bought the decorations from his retirement party, so I also had a musically themed bar mitzvah, even though I'm not musical.
ROGEN: That's really funny. I remember my mom got like a square-dancing teacher or something to come to my bar mitzvah...
ROGEN: ...which was very lame.
GOLDBERG: I was the - my trendsetting moment was my bar mitzvah had the first like temporary tattoo guy.
ROGEN: Oh, yeah, I remember that, actually.
GOLDBERG: It was big stuff back in that time and day.
ROGEN: That was big stuff.
GROSS: So in "Superbad," which is based on your friendship in high school, and the characters are named Evan and Seth.
GROSS: Evan is played by Michael Cera and Seth by Jonah Hill. When you were actually in high school, were you as obsessed with sex as the character Evan and the character Seth in the movie?
GOLDBERG: I think I speak for every young boy on Earth when I say yes.
ROGEN: Yeah, definitely, and it really seemed like it was maybe never going to happen. Like that was really like the overwhelming thought that we talked about.
GOLDBERG: Yeah. The general consensus amongst the dudes was, if this doesn't happen by like 18, I'm going to kill myself.
ROGEN: Yeah. And it just...
GOLDBERG: And thank goodness we all got there at 18.
ROGEN: I might have been 19. I don't even know. But still, in that vicinity.
GOLDBERG: But you're just, you're ready to rock when you're 14 and it's not happening.
ROGEN: Yeah. And some people you know, you hear, oh, that guy had this happen and this guy and this girl did this to that guy, and you're just like, oh my god. It's just like yeah, it was all we thought about. It was crazy.
GROSS: Were you insecure about your looks, like your characters in the film?
GOLDBERG: I would say I don't think...
ROGEN: We were pretty goofy looking. We had every right to be insecure.
GOLDBERG: Yeah. Insecure is the wrong word. We were realistic.
ROGEN: We were aware of our looks.
GOLDBERG: There were some like really handsome dudes and there were track dudes.
GOLDBERG: And then there was us.
ROGEN: Not to say we could not have gotten more girls than we did and I suppose...
GOLDBERG: Oh, we definitely could have.
ROGEN: We definitely could've, looking back, but we just didn't. But like yeah, we were insecure. But we were not great-looking guys. I had dreadlocks for some of high school. I had colored hair.
GOLDBERG: I mean there's not like calendars of hot Jews.
ROGEN: It's almost like I made a list of like what can I do...
GOLDBERG: Yeah, James Franco the exception.
GOLDBERG: Usually the Jew gene brings you down a notch.
ROGEN: Not a lot of hot Jews. Is Ewan McGregor Jewish? I don't think so.
GOLDBERG: Of course...
GROSS: This is a fairly personal question, or a very personal question. How worried were you the first time that it wouldn't...
ROGEN: I was pretty worried. I think the first time I was so nervous that I definitely, it was not like the most graceful experience.
GOLDBERG: No, mine was like the - mine was like, like I felt the miracle of Hanukkah was happening to me.
GOLDBERG: Like someone up there was looking down saying, you know what, Evan deserves this.
ROGEN: Here you go, pal.
GOLDBERG: Let's give him a good first go.
GROSS: There's a scene in "Superbad" where the Evan character is at a party, and the girl who he has a crush on - who has a crush on him too - is at the party, and she gets really drunk. And when she's drunk, her personality kind of changes, you know, she becomes, she becomes the girl she thinks she should be in order to be pleasing and seductive because she's seen a lot of movies, and she knows, according to the movies, this is how it's supposed to be.
So, you know, they go up to a bedroom, and then she starts like dancing and stripping...
GROSS: ...because that's what you see in the movies. And the Evan character is looking kind of baffled and thinking, why is she doing this? That's like not like her. What's going on? I like that scene, and I think it's an interesting scene for you guys to have written for a teenage girl. And I'm interested in hearing how you wrote that scene.
GOLDBERG: Well, it's largely based on some, on two disastrous hookup sessions I had that...
ROGEN: I think it's based on the general idea that, like, you think alcohol is going to make things better and it generally doesn't. That's like the...
GOLDBERG: Yeah. Yeah.
ROGEN: That's like the general seed of the idea, I think. They spend their whole, the whole movie trying to get alcohol and it's what essentially ruins the experience for them, you know?
GOLDBERG: Because that was our thought as kids - like we get a girl drunk, we're drunk appropriately, everything's cool, and that's when it happens.
ROGEN: So I think that's where like the kernel of the idea came from...
GOLDBERG: But I would also say, like, you just looked into it deeper than I think we ever did. And I think the actress, Martha MacIsaac, who played that role, kind of got it at a level we didn't.
ROGEN: Yeah because like we were, I mean we were around that age when we wrote that, so I think it was a little less, in a way, self-aware than it seems. I don't think at the time we wrote it, honestly, we could've contextualized it the way that you just did.
GOLDBERG: No. We just were thinking like hey, let's write it like those disastrous scenarios we went through.
ROGEN: Yeah. And we thought like well, this whole movie, this guy, it's such a sexualized movie, it's this sexualized world clearly that we're existing in, and it would be funny if what happens when this girl gets drunk is she kind of over-sexualizes herself, and it ultimately is the last thing that this guy would want. And the reason he likes her is she's not like that, you know?
GOLDBERG: And it was fun to just flip it. Normally you'd think the guy would be the girl character that we had and the girl would be the guy. But to see Michael Cera say, you know, this isn't how I pictured it.
ROGEN: Exactly. We always just thought that was funny also...
GOLDBERG: Because girls picture it, and guys are like I'll take anything.
GOLDBERG: I'm not picturing anything. I'm picturing everything or anything, just let it happen.
GROSS: So we have just enough time for you each to say what your favorite movie of all time is.
ROGEN: Oh, that's a tough one.
GOLDBERG: Whew. I'm leaning towards "Spaceballs" right now. I'm going "Spaceballs."
GROSS: "Spaceballs" is the Mel Brooks movie?
GOLDBERG: I love that movie.
ROGEN: It's a generational thing.
GOLDBERG: And we generally find anyone under the age of, like, 35 is like "Spaceballs"?
GOLDBERG: Anyone under 35, everyone agrees. Over 35 everyone says what?
ROGEN: Yeah, exactly.
GROSS: And Seth, your favorite?
ROGEN: I think maybe "Ghostbusters" is probably one of my favorite movies.
GOLDBERG: But I think we can both agree "Big Lebowski" encroaches on both of those.
ROGEN: Yeah. "The Big Lebowski" might be the all-time favorite, though.
GROSS: That's great.
GOLDBERG: And "Schindler's List."
ROGEN: Well, we are Jews.
GROSS: I want to thank you both so much for talking with us. It's really been fun. Thank you.
ROGEN: Thank you for having us.
GOLDBERG: Thanks a lot. It was fun.
GROSS: Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, recorded in June, when their movie "This Is the End" was released. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
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