Written by Dylan Callaghan
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are essentially a slightly more grown-up, real-life version of the lovably nerdy duo at the center of their debut film, Superbad. They're funny, crude and adapted to survive the jungle of high school popularity despite lacking some of that food chain's dominant traits. Instead they use a likable blend of humor, self-deprecation and guile.
The Canadian-born duo began writing Superbad at age 13, shortly after meeting in -- you can make this stuff up, but they didn't -- bar mitzvah class. They have been working at it ever since, all the way through Rogen's first writing gig under Judd Apatow on the TV show Undeclared to their first shared job on Da Ali G Show. As is often the case with lovable nerds, geeky waters run deep. Beneath the desperate horniness and affinity for scatological humor, these two, now 25, are wiser than they let on. Starting with this script, the pair have pursued Hollywood success with real ambition and studied diligently to master the art of funny. They now speak in that inimitable, who's-gonna-say-the-funniest-joke-first rhythm of comedy writers' room vets and have a nearly vaudevillian reverence for a great gag.
In a chat with the Writers Guild of America, West Web site, the two swung between speaking like chortlingly awkward class clowns and earnest scripters with a real passion for their craft. They discussed the unusually long writing of Superbad, the profound influence of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbs, and why, when all's said and done, stuff's funnier with people.
Can you each give me a one-line pitch to entice people to go see this film?
Evan Goldberg: Best fucking movie ever.
Photo: © 2007 Columbia Pictures
Left to right: Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jonah Hill, and Michael Cera in Superbad.
Seth Rogen: It's an oddly honest and sweet-but-filthy story about high school.
I would go by the MPAA rating -- that should motivate enough people.
To what extent is Superbad a high school confessional/ autobiography?
Seth Rogen: It's not autobiography, but it's definitely inspired by our lives. I was a loudmouthed dick in high school, and Evan was slightly less of a loudmouthed dick. We both really wanted to get laid, which was not happening. So there are a lot of little things that are similar.
Evan Goldberg: Definitely. When friends and family see it, they almost all say, “That's a good Seth, and that's a good Evan.”
You guys worked together on Da Ali G Show. How much of your writing routine on this film was based on that experience?
Evan Goldberg: One thing about that show that is undeniable is that it was great for just hard-hitting jokes.
Seth Rogen: Yeah, we were just basically put in a room and asked to come up with 200 hilarious questions to ask someone.
Evan Goldberg: It was like a comedy assembly line. The first seven days we were on fire, and then we were like,”We have to keep doing this stuff?”
Seth Rogen: I remember thinking, “If I'm asked to write one more Bruno joke, I don't know what I'm going to do.” I've literally written every gay Austrian joke I can possibly think of. But sometimes the funniest stuff comes after that point.
How about the actual structure needed for a feature? How have you come by that?
Evan Goldberg: When we first wrote Superbad, we didn't even have an outline.
Seth Rogen: We just wrote it.
Evan Goldberg: That's why it took 12 fucking years. That was another thing Judd Apatow helped us out with was structure. Specifically, he showed us a feature on the program Word where you could go into outline mode...
Seth Rogen: When I started writing for Undeclared is when Judd really started to lay out for me his version of how you write a story, which is starting from an emotional thing that you've experienced, not even worrying if it's funny, and building the whole story on that. We almost had to rewrite the movie backwards. We liked all this stuff happening, but it was missing what would hopefully make it not just a funny movie but a good movie.
A coherent story?
Seth Rogen: Yeah, so we slowly came up with the fact that [the main characters] were going to different schools, focusing on the anxieties between them. We tried a lot of other things before that worked, but Judd showed me that for the first time on Undeclared. Evan moved down for a summer, and we would just go to Judd's house and talk about writing all day long.
What funny writing inspires you guys -- from film, TV, books, whatever?
Evan Goldberg: Growing up we were both influenced primarily by Calvin and Hobbs.
Seth Rogen: Yeah, that was probably the first funny thing I ever read when I was like eight.
Evan Goldberg: It was just the in-your-face sarcasm. I'd never experienced anything like that.
Seth Rogen: I went back and read it recently, and it's like he's the most cynical kid in the entire universe. Rereading it again I realized, “Wow, this is where I drew my entire sense of humor.” And then The Simpsons was as influential as anything could get humor-wise. It's been around almost our entire lives.
Evan Goldberg: When you're our age, it just kinda showed up and was perfect for how old we were, and then it got smarter as we went along.
Are there any golden rules you've learned about approaching the process of writing funny stuff?
Evan Goldberg: I've got one: bounce shit off everyone.
Seth Rogen: That's definitely a good idea.
Evan Goldberg: Just don't get cocky and think you got it right, because you probably didn't. Go to your friends, and they'll tell you why.
Is that one of the reasons you two work together, because of the idea that you need a team to do comedy?
Evan Goldberg: Well, we have a relationship.
Seth Rogen: Yeah, it's 'cuz we love each other.
I mean aside from the sexual gratification...
Seth Rogen: It really just makes it fun. It makes it feel like it isn't work. My girlfriend's a writer, and she doesn't have a writing partner, and she's like, “Fuck, I wish I got to just sit around with my friend all day and write.” Writing's fun one way or another, but it's definitely better if you're not alone.
Obviously, it's more fun, but on a practical level...
Seth Rogen: What's funny about us is that it's not like Evan is the story guy and I'm the comedy guy. We really don't have different skills than one another -- we may not actually even write better together. It's just more enjoyable.
With someone there you know instantaneously if something is funny or not.
Seth Rogen: That's definitely true. We really are just trying to make each other laugh. If we both laugh our asses off, then we put it in.
Evan Goldberg: It's simple: is anything really that funny when you're alone? When I watch The Simpsons with people, I laugh my ass off the whole time. When I watch it alone, I laugh out loud maybe four times.
Seth Rogen: Well, then maybe it's actually bad that we write together because we think shit's funny that's not.
So at the end of the day, stuff's funnier with people.
Seth Rogen: Exactly. That's our message to the world: Things are funnier with people. Our message is simple and divine.