COMEDY FOR A CAUSE

Seth Rogen on How the Sony Hack Predicted the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election

The comedy star and his wife Lauren discuss their new ‘Hilarity for Charity’ Netflix special, why they held onto the Stormy Daniels-Trump affair news, and much more.

Chris Pizzello/AP

One night at a lavish Hollywood party, Seth Rogen and a group of “much more famous” actors had gathered in the foyer to smoke weed, as one does, when—suddenly—the pungent clouds parted to reveal a mythical, kindly-faced creature approaching: Steven Spielberg.

As the legendary filmmaker descended the stairs and headed towards them, Rogen remembers thinking, “Oh no, he’s coming…Oh shit, he’s coming down the stairs…Oh shit, he’s here.”

When Spielberg arrived, the coterie of A-list pot-smokers was nervous as hell. “It was kind of like our Dad caught us smoking weed. It definitely had that vibe,” recalls a chuckling Rogen, before adding, “Not to say Steven Spielberg’s a narc.” And though Rogen’s very publicly claimed that Spielberg “never looked at me as a serious actor again,” he confesses that the director’s professional aversion “probably has more to do with my talent level than anything else.”

The stoned Spielberg run-in is, along with John Mulaney’s wife’s crush on Timothée Chalamet, one of the funnier reveals from Seth Rogen’s Hilarity for Charity, a new comedy special currently streaming on Netflix.

All proceeds from the star-studded night of comedy, featuring the comedy stylings of Michelle Wolf, Jeff Goldblum, Sarah Silverman, Sacha Baron Cohen, Tiffany Haddish, Post Malone and many more, will benefit Rogen and his wife Lauren Miller Rogen’s titular charity that aims to spread Alzheimer’s awareness and activism to millennials, and, according to its site, the monies raised “are directed to help families struggling with Alzheimer’s care, increase support groups nationwide, and fund cutting edge research.” Thus far, the charity has provided over 200,000 hours of assisted care to those caring for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.

The truth is, I don’t think North Korea hacked Sony. They don’t give a shit, and everything is a façade there.
Seth Rogen

“My Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2007, and that was just a horrifying blow to all of us,” says Miller Rogen, as her husband gently rubs and squeezes her hand. “We didn’t tell anyone for a while, because she didn’t want anyone to talk about it, but that’s not how I roll—I’m a sharer and have to express my feelings.”

The first Hilarity for Charity event, held in 2012, was a smashing success, featuring the likes of Bruno Mars, Tenacious D, Paul Rudd, Judd Apatow and more.

“I had felt very alone and felt like nobody understood, but through doing that event people started reaching out; they knew what I was going through, and what my family was going through, and I felt less alone,” shares Miller Rogen.

On April 1st, Netflix ran a series of April Fool’s ads announcing that they’d “acquired” Seth Rogen. But the comedy great assures me that it was just a gag, and that the Hilarity for Charity special aside, he doesn’t have any other outstanding projects with the streamer.

“It was a joke. They have an algorithm guy who’s obsessed with April Fool’s Day,” he says. “It’s incredibly strange. And he calls himself ‘The Algorithm Guy.’ I’m not kidding. He goes, ‘Hey, I’m The Algorithm Guy.” (In the special, The Algorithm Guy is played by Jeff Goldblum.)

Hilarity for Charity landed on Netflix thanks to Robbie Praw, whom Rogen describes as a fellow “nice Canadian Jewish guy.” Praw used to run the Just for Laughs festival in Montreal, where Hilarity for Charity put on an event, and has since moved over to Netflix as Director of Original Standup Comedy Programming. And finishing the special in time for its April 6 premiere date was no small task, seeing as it taped on March 24 at the Hollywood Palladium, with Rogen and Co. using movie cameras to film all the sketches live. “It was intense,” recalls Rogen. “I had essentially five days to lock. I got home Sunday at like 1 or 2 in the morning after the event, and was in the editing room the next day at 10 a.m. until we locked it Friday night.”

As for the skits themselves, Rogen took time out of his incredibly busy acting, writing, producing and directing schedule to help many of the performers write their bits, including the Muppets, Kumail Nanjiani, Nick Kroll and Sacha Baron Cohen. With Cohen, it was the first time he’d sat in a room and wrote with him since serving in the writers’ room of Da Ali G Show as a 22-year-old. Just a few months after his time on Ali G, and right after filming wrapped on The 40-Year-Old Virgin, he met Miller, and the two have been together ever since.

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Another nugget Rogen lets slip in the special is that he passed on Mark Wahlberg’s role in Ted. While he insists that is true, it’s far from his “biggest regret.” A bigger one may be the way he handled his audition for Band of Brothers, the 10-part HBO miniseries produced by Tom Hanks and, yes, Steven Spielberg. Rogen landed the audition through Victor Hsu, who’d served as a line producer on the Rogen-starring Freaks and Geeks, and it did not go well.

“I regret not wearing fatigues to the Band of Brothers audition,” he says, laughing hysterically. “I remember it being one of those moments where I was like, oh, I’m not going to be a successful actor. I walked into the room of everyone auditioning and everyone was in military fatigues and I was in cargo shorts and a Stussy shirt. I remember thinking, Ah, fuck, not gettin’ this one!

Rogen has no shortage of upcoming projects—including a small part in Like Father, a film written and directed by his wife Miller Rogen that will be released on Netflix later this year. In the movie a woman, played by Kristen Bell, gets left at the altar, and her father, played by Kelsey Grammer, who abandoned her when she was five, shows up at the wedding. One thing leads to another and they end up on a honeymoon cruise together. “Comedy and emotions ensue,” says Miller Rogen.

They were shooting in Miami and awaiting the cruise ship’s arrival when Hurricane Irma hit. “Thank god we were saved by Princess Anna from Frozen,” says Miller Rogen. “She has serious Disney clout,” adds her husband.

Indeed, the film’s star, Kristen Bell, used her Disney connections to score them a last-minute hotel suite at Walt Disney World, where they waited out the storm for six days.

In addition to Like Father, there are a pair of film projects featuring Rogen as a journalist: Newsflash, where he stars as Walter Cronkite (“seems like it might happen”), and “the movie formerly known as Flarsky,” a Jonathan Levine-directed film starring Rogen as a political journalist turned speechwriter who tries to hook up with his ex-babysitter turned government operative, played by Charlize Theron. To prepare for the role, he spoke with the Pod Save America fellas about the art of political speechwriting.

“I came away with more appreciation for places that seem to stick by some sense of code—especially as you learn to understand that they’re owned by these giant conglomerates with their own special interests,” Rogen says of his journalist roles.

The comedian made headlines of his own recently when he revealed on Ellen that Stormy Daniels, who’d appeared opposite Rogen in both The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, had told him during the filming of the latter about her alleged affair with Donald Trump. Miller Rogen confirms that her husband had told her about it too.

“It wasn’t really my place to talk about it. I didn’t know how she felt about the whole thing,” Rogen says of not revealing the Stormy news sooner. “Now that she’s talking about it, it’s something that I’m pretty resistant to talk about it because she can represent herself and speak to it way better than I can.”

One major news story involving a Rogen film that he has plenty to say about is the chaos surrounding The Interview, a 2014 Kim Jong Un satire that is said to have inspired the Sony hack. While the U.S. government claims the act of cyberterrorism was carried out by North Korea, most cybersecurity experts (and Rogen) don’t buy it.

“The truth is, I don’t think North Korea hacked Sony. They don’t give a shit, and everything is a façade there. The notion that they have the capacity to do it is a façade,” he says. “The more time I get from it, the more it doesn’t seem like what the consensus was at the time is what actually happened.”

He does take issue with the way the media covered the internal Sony documents that were disseminated online in the wake of the hack, including company emails and financial documents. While there were some positive revelations, including yours truly breaking the news that Jennifer Lawrence was paid less than her male costars on American Hustle, many on the Hollywood side have argued that by reporting on the contents of the stolen documents, the media was doing the cyberterrorists’ bidding—and that the entire episode, perhaps, served as a precursor to the way hacking was covered during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

“If I was someone who was going to hack someone, what I would have learned from that is the media is going to take the side of the hackers, not the victims,” says Rogen. “They seem to take the stolen information and disseminate it as much as humanly possible, rather than protect the people who are victims of a crime. You’ve got to think: Are you doing the exact thing that the criminals hope you do, or are you doing the thing that would behoove the victims of this crime? And the answer was that the media one-hundred percent did the thing that the criminals wanted them to do, and nothing that behooved the victims of the crime in any way, shape or form.”

Recently, Rogen took a three-month hiatus from Twitter to avoid the constant stream of news emanating from the chaotic Trump administration, including Stormy Daniels, the FBI raid of Michael Cohen’s office, and the “pee tape” developments. It’s a lifestyle change that he’s hoping will continue through 2018 and beyond. 

“I just couldn’t take it anymore,” he says of the Twitter news barrage. “I knew that if something happened, I’d hear about it. Not being on it, the only difference is I’m not constantly feeling like something is about to happen. It feels like a much healthier relationship with the news, and with current events.”

When we last spoke during SXSW 2017, Rogen said it would be fitting if this whole mess ended with America watching the so-called pee tape: “If one day we’re sitting at home watching a tape of Donald Trump jerking off while women piss on each other, if that’s where all this ends, then that’s just fantastic.”

But now, he’s not so sure if it will ever end prematurely. “It’s interesting: I haven’t been on Twitter or social media much lately, and there are these Trump waves that come and go, but because of that, I only get [the news] when something actually happens. But it’s always another log in the fire that tends to turn to ash. When you’re not looking at it all the time, and until something actually puts it out, it’s just roaring along.”