On this week’s episode of HYPEBEAST Radio, we scored a rare sit-down with writer, actor, comedian, producer, director, Canadian and occasional national security threat, Seth Rogen. When we met, Rogen was hot on the heels of the release of his newest comedy special, Hilarity For Charity. This latest project is close to Rogen’s heart: he and his wife Lauren Miller started the charitable organization when Miller’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s six years ago. “It was something that no one we knew was talking about and no one in the culture really seemed to be talking about all that much—it didn’t seem like it was getting a lot of attention at all.” Six years later and Rogen says they have “seen the needle move a little bit;” meanwhile, A-listers like Tiffany Haddish, Sacha Baron Cohen, Sarah Silverman, Post Malone and others have all seized the opportunity to do a little good.
Rogen realizes that one of the difficulties in convincing people may have been his image: “My sensibility is not one that one would generally associate with a charity event in any way, shape or form. I think that was something else that we wanted to do… make it play against type as much as possible.” And it delivers in this respect: Hilarity For Charity does not pull any punches. This is a special with a lot of dick jokes—but in this episode, Rogen explains how he managed to keep the Muppets involved, despite the special’s edgier material. “They are in full-on Muppet territory,” he says, before clarifying, “Nor would I want to corrupt the Muppets with my dick jokes!”
We also talked about the time that artist, problematic hat-wearer and Rogen’s occasional workout partner, Kanye West, previewed The Life of Pablo in the back of a limo parked outside The Mercer Hotel. After confronting West for canceling several shows in Vancouver, West offered Rogen an exclusive sneak peek at the eternally incomplete album, before West “basically just rapped for two hours in our faces. We got a personal, two-hour Kanye West concert.”
Click play on the podcast above to hear the interview in full and scroll down for some select quotes from the sit-down.
What was the genesis of Hilarity for Charity?
We’ve been doing it for six years, these events. Basically, my mother-in-law has Alzheimer’s. And we started dealing with it, me and my wife, when we were in our mid-20’s, basically, which was something we never thought we’d be dealing with at that age. And it was something that no one we knew was talking about and no one in the culture really seemed to be talking about all that much. It didn’t seem like something that was getting a lot of attention at all.
It’s also a very depressing disease: there’s no cure, there’s no treatment at all. So we felt like we had no recourse or nothing to do, so we were like, “We’ll throw a comedy show! And we’ll give the money to Alzheimer’s charities!” Slowly, it grew. The first one we did was almost 10 years ago — Aziz Ansari performed and Hannibal Burress, Bruno Mars was the headliner. It was a pretty great show! Then it kinda grew and grew over the years and slowly became a legitimate charity organization. We partnered with Netflix this year to bring it to just as big an audience as possible. It seemed to go pretty well and I hope we get to keep doing stuff like that.
Spreading the word has been important and a challenge, and I feel like we’ve even seen the needle move a little bit, culturally, in the time that we’ve been out there advocating for it.
You mentioned you got a lot of people to do this year’s event. We were talking earlier: Post Malone, Tiffany Haddish, The Muppets—
The Muppets are in it, yeah! John Mulaney, Kumail Nanjiani, Sacha Baron Cohen, Michael Che, Sarah Silverman, Michelle Wolf — who is super, super funny. Yeah, it’s crazy who’s willing to come support Alzheimer’s!
It’s an ensemble cast.
It’s hard also, because my sensibility is not one that one would generally associate with a charity event in any way, shape or form. I think that was something else that we wanted to do: make a charity event for people who the last thing in the world they ever thought they would wanna do was watch a charity event, and to make it play against type as much as possible and just feel like a big, crazy comedy show. And then we hopefully lull you into an emotional place by springing some reality on you at one point and then we kinda bring you back out of it. But I wanted it to have all of those elements, basically.
It cuts through the stuffiness of the traditional charity fundraiser atmosphere: this is a special with a lot of dick jokes.
There is. I smoke a vape-pen through my pee-hole at one point, which I can’t do, but it wouldn’t surprise me if I heard kids were doing that though. [laughs] In the show, I make a convincing case that I can do it.
Because of all of that material, is anybody a hard sell? Like, are the Muppets like, “Nah, we can’t do dick jokes?”
The Muppets did not do dick jokes! Yeah, the Muppets themselves—the Muppets‘ bits, there’s a couple of them—themselves are in no way involved. They are in full-on Muppet territory. Nor would I want to corrupt the Muppets with my dick jokes!
Within your oeuvre, you’ve worked with a lot of the same people over and over, from Freaks & Geeks onward.
For twenty years, yeah, I’ve been working with the same people!
Are you all as close friends in real life still, or is that one of those situations where they’re always together onscreen, but it’s hard to get everyone in the same room now?
No, I’m very good friends with a lot of those people in real life! I was just in Joshua Tree with Martin Starr, who was on Freaks & Geeks and is on Silicon Valley now. Franco’s one of my best friends. Segel moved to Ojai, so he’s not in LA as much, but I still see him when he’s around. Jon Daly, I run into. Busy Philipps, I talk to her quite a bit at parties and stuff like that. We’ve a lot of friends in common, still. Jonah, I see—
Are you aware of Jonah Hill’s cultish following on social media for streetwear and stuff like that?
Jonah’s like—he’s like from Los Angeles, and he’s skated and been a part of skate culture since the ’90s, which is when I’d say a lot of this kinda stuff started. I’ve always thought he was a good dresser, I’m glad to hear other people appreciate it! [laughs]
There’s another podcast in the streetwear world and they do the Jonah Hill Fit Watch.
That’s so funny! He’s always out there—he reps some solid brands, yeah! He represents.
What’s the best pro and worst con of working with people you’re friends with in real life?
The best part is that—y’know, I have a lot of friends who are actors who I don’t work with! I don’t just work with people ’cause I like them. I work with them because they seem like they will be additive to the things that I’m working on, and that’s ultimately the most important thing. If I didn’t like these people, I would still work with them because I think they’re really talented and they work really well. We work well together. I think it’s good, because they have good ethic, they’re enthusiastic, they’re passionate, they try very hard, they’re collaborative.
What’s a bummer is everyone gets weird with work, sometimes. Myself, included. When you’re friends with the person, it honestly makes it harder to deal with. When there’s no personal connection to someone and you’re having a work issue, it’s often much easier to deal with without those emotions connected. And without knowing that there’s potential ramifications that spill out of the work and spill into your personal lives. I’d say those are the pros and the cons. Also: making movies takes long days, you’re often in some weird city, so in those moments being with people you like a lot and know well is really nice. Having any job where you get to be around people you like is nice, y’know, but it’s mostly the fact that I think they make the work itself better. If anything, it’s a little uncomfortable to work with your friends.
Speaking of people we don’t know really well, someone I don’t know well at all and I don’t think anyone knows who the hell he really is: The Disaster Artist—do you have any Tommy Wiseau stories? What was it like working with him?
Man, it was interesting. It’s not disappointing. He’s not one of those guys who you meet and you think, “Oh, he was more normal than I thought he was gonna be.” You meet him, and he’s one hundred percent bizarre. I was really nervous about him, honestly! My main role on that movie was as a producer, so I was mostly just terrified that he would derail the process, just logistically hold us up.
Here’s one thing that happened that’s funny: contractually, he had to be in the movie. We had to shoot a scene with him in the movie—we didn’t have to keep it in the movie, contractually, we just had to film a scene with him in it. And that scene had to be with James Franco, who’s playing him in the movie. We kept telling him that if he would agree to do the scene with someone else, it has a much better chance of being in the movie because you and him in the same scene is inherently weird, because you’re you! And you can only be you, and even if you’re trying to play someone who is not you, you’re still you! And he was like, “No, I wanna be with James.” So we filmed the scene with him and James and it was like one of those things where, as we’re filming it, we’re like, “This won’t be in the movie, but we gotta do it!”
We film it, we cut the movie together, and we realize that we didn’t legally clear the score [from the movie The Room], the orchestral score. After the movie was all done, we had to go back to Tommy [because he owns all the rights to everything The Room], like, “We need to license the score from you.” And his first question is: “How my scene in the movie turn out?” He must’ve known—he must’ve realized that contractually he forgot to made sure that we had to keep the scene in the movie. So that was his first question: “How my scene in movie?” We told him it turned out okay, but it’s not technically in the movie anymore, and he said “if you want my music,you have to put scene in the movie, somewhere.” Which we did! But—again, he contractually didn’t specify where it had to be—so literally, completely at the end of the credits, we Marveled him! Like, not even, Marvel will run a few main titles and then the scene, but with us you have gotta sit through 15 minutes of shit to see this scene, which is funny. In a weird way, I’m kinda grateful it happened, because Tommy, god bless him, he got his stamp on the movie, somehow. He infiltrated it.
Did he get weird with Franco?
Uh, not really. If anything, it seemed kinda cathartic for him, in a weird way. It seemed like it was the end of his arc, kind of. He felt like it was a part of the arc. I remember being at the premiere, and looking at him. There’s a lot of famous people there, it’s at the Chinese Theater in Westwood. It’s a big Hollywood movie premiere! And I remember looking at him and he almost was acting as though not only was this all gonna happen one day, he was a little annoyed it didn’t happen a few years earlier. There was no sense of “I can’t believe this,” it was more like “It’s about time,” which should be Tommy’s attitude. He’s a madman. That is the attitude fitting of a madman.
Speaking of madmen—perfect transition to my Kanye West question: you’re one of the first human beings who heard Yeezus, right?
The album that I had heard was entirely different.
What was the story with that?
The story was I was at The Mercer Hotel with my wife, where I used to stay sometimes. He would record there and stay there, and I think lived around the corner from there. It was pretty soon after we had done the “Bound 2” video—so it was after Yeezus! It would’ve been The Life of Pablo. I was in Vancouver, making a movie, and he kept canceling shows in Vancouver—he canceled three of them. And I had tickets to every one; he kept rescheduling and canceling it. So I saw him in the lobby of the hotel and it was literally just me and my wife walking in, and he was there with a guy. I’d met him a bunch of times over the years—we used to work out with the same trainer, so we’d work out together sometimes.
What was it like working out with Kanye West?
It was funny. He didn’t like it as much as I did! [laughs] He was not in it to win it. He was trudging through it like everyone else. But yeah, we started talking and I was like, “Yo, I keep trying to see you in concert and you keep canceling the show and it’s a bummer.” He was like, “Oh, I’ll play you my new stuff right now, if you want.” And he had one of those big Mercedes limo-vans out front of The Mercer, so he brought us into it. And he had his laptop that he always carries around and he plugged it into the sound-system. He was like, “I haven’t recorded any of the lyrics yet, so I’ll just do it live for you and play the beats for you, basically.” And he had 16 tracks of beats and he’d play it and say stuff like, “Okay, [imitating Kanye] da-duh-daaaa, and then I come in like bada-bada-baaaa“ and he basically just rapped for two hours in our faces. We got a personal, two-hour Kanye West concert.
Do you guys still work out?
I haven’t run into him in a while, but I did see his show in LA with the floating stage and it was fucking incredible. I love it.
So Kanye should definitely text you and reignite that friendship.
Hit me up! I love Kanye. I’m a huge fan of Kanye’s and I always have been.
You’re a big rap fan. A pronounced Wu-Tang fan…
Like all white Jewish people, uh-huh. [laughs] There is a gene!
What’s it like working with rappers? Has that been funny for you?
It’s interesting. Musicians in general are psychotic, I find. They have a much worse grasp of reality than other people in the entertainment industry, from my experience with them. I think it’s because they’re a hundred percent insulated. They’re almost never doing something that they don’t wanna be doing, or something that’s normal surrounded by normal people. The most famous actor, like Tom Cruise, acts in a scene with just some guy sometimes, y’know? In every Tom Cruise movie, there’s a scene where for 12 hours, he’s just acting in a scene with some day player whom he’s never met, who isn’t famous, who is just a guy! On a movie set, there are electricians and carpenters and painters and sometimes, they’re a much more important part of the scene than you are as the actor! The guy moving the camera is more important than you are, often. The guy who’s queuing up the explosions is more important than you are, often. The guy shining the light through the window is more important than you are, sometimes. So as an actor—and actors are also insane, for the most part, and have a very terrible sense of where they lie in the world, and heavily equate the way they are treated with their own success, which is very unhealthy behavior. But even the most famous actors have to interact with regular people from time to time. Musicians never have to do that. They never have to interact with regular people — they are always surrounded, they all roll with crazy entourages that completely insulate them from any normal interaction with any normal person. Their job doesn’t really require them interacting with normal people—
I feel like, interacting with fans, those aren’t normal people in that moment either.
No, people are just jizzing all over you, that’s not normal! That’s not normal at all. But I don’t find rappers to be any crazier than any other musicians. We’ve worked with other pop-stars and some of them are incredibly nice and awesome! We’ve had Miley Cyrus in a few of our things. And Snoop is one of the most normal guys and isn’t surrounded by a thousand people, and seems to have, as he’s gotten older, scaled back a lot of that stuff. Now he’s just happy sitting in a trailer and smoking weed with one person.
Who’s the craziest musician?
I dunno, I went to the Grammys once. It was super interesting—because I’ve been to the Oscars a bunch of times, I’ve been to a lot of these awards shows, and the Grammys was so different from every other awards show, because of all of the security. I remember standing there holding a drink, and I got shoved by Beyoncé’s security guard that night, Lil Wayne’s security guard almost killed me just ’cause I was trying to go up and say hi to him. I was like, “Hey, Lil—” and then BOOM. That night, I remember, Eminem was there and he invited me into his dressing room, and I had a beer and they said, “Oh, you can’t even bring that in here.” Like, Eminem can’t even look at beer? Oh no! [laughs] That’s crazy! The level of infrastructure set up around each person was staggering. It was truly remarkable. Each of these people has a whole company’s worth of infrastructure that surrounds them at all times. But then again, I live in Malibu, and I see Miley Cyrus at the coffee-shop, just alone. And it almost seems like she’s come out of it on the other side, a little. I think when people first have access to all that stuff—and then some of them are just so famous that they need it! Like, Beyoncé can’t walk around! She needs a hundred people surrounding her. I think other musicians maybe see that and think that they want that, but they don’t need that. But they want it. It’s really interesting—musicians are a strange breed. And actors are blown away by musicians. If ten of the most famous actors are in a room and a musician they all like comes in, they all turn into blubbering fanboys.
Who’s the most normal?
Miley Cyrus is incredibly normal. Snoop Dogg is incredibly normal. A lot of the Wu-Tang guys, Method Man is very low-key. Again, I gauge it for me as who has a thousand people around them and who has maybe one or two people with them. Maybe there are a few people who need those thousand people with them, but there’s like two or three of those people on the planet and nobody else really needs a thousand people around them. Even Kanye doesn’t walk around with a thousand people around him! He drives himself to work. He, to me, is kinda normal. He’s on the less insulated side of things, interacting. I see him at the coffee shop I go to sometimes, getting coffee. It’s not like he has a thousand people around him doing it.
One of our guests on here worked for Kanye, and in one of the interviews we asked him: “Do you guys ever hang out? Is it just a business relationship?” And he explained that they were at some office, and Kanye turned to him and said, “Y’know, man, sometimes I forget that you moved across the country to work here.” He had this moment as a boss. And he was like, “Wanna go to see a movie? All I’ve been doing lately is working out and watching movies with my wife.” That’s the most normal—that’s like a friend asking for a bro-date.
Yeah, I think he’s oddly normal. It’s interesting. Musicians are fascinating to me. And I like working with them, I like putting them in our stuff and I like having them on our sets. It’s cool. They bring a completely different energy. Travis Scott interviewed me a few years ago, and I was in the studio with him a little bit. That’s where you hang out with musicians—in the studio—which is funny. [Laughs] It’d be like if you only hung out with rappers on movie sets. They invite you to watch them work, socially, which is interesting, kind of. But yeah, I remember just thinking that it was so loud. The weed I can deal with, it’s just loud!