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Tracing the meteoric rise of Seth Rogen

Seth Rogen is one of the most prominent comedy actors of our time. He’s the de facto head of the group of funnymen that once featured his former partner-in-crime, the now-disgraced James Franco, as well as legends such as Danny McBride, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and others. While the major Hollywood awards tend to sidetrack the realm of comedy, the rise of Seth Rogen has assured his legacy in the annals of cinematic history.

Many of the most iconic comedy movies and series of the past 20 years have featured Seth Rogen, and these days, the weed-loving Canadian is one of the biggest names within the industry. At just 39, Rogen has done it all in a career majority of us only dream of. It begs the question, then, how did he get here?

Well, Rogen was born in Vancouver, Canada in 1982, and as a child, he’d always been interested in comedy. Years later, reflecting on his career to date, Rogen told the Toronto Star in 2008: “As soon as I realised you could be funny as a job, that was the job I wanted”.

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He enrolled in a comedy workshop taught by Mark Pooley aged just 12, and afterwards, he’d quickly honed his skill, playing at bar mitzvahs and small parties, and then when he was old enough, he switched to bars. 

Notably, Rogen wrote the first draft of the now-iconic film Superbad, aged 13 alongside childhood friend Evan Goldberg, whom he met at bar mitzvah classes. The screenplay was based on their teenage experiences, and as they went through high school, Rogen and Goldberg spent time polishing the script. At the time, they were worried that 1999’s smash-hit American Pie had beaten them to the idea, but later decided that it “‘managed to totally avoid all honest interaction between characters, which is what we’re going for”.

At 16, Rogen came second in The Vancouver Amateur Comedy Contest. Around this time, his personal life began to look a little bleak, as his father lost his job and his mother resigned from hers, forcing the family to relocate to a significantly smaller apartment. However, the talented teenager was soon to get his break, and afterwards, he’d go from strength to strength. 

Around this time, Rogen landed a role on Judd Apatow’s TV show Freaks and Geeks after attending a local casting call. As a result, he dropped out of high school and relocated with his family to Los Angeles. Now that he was working for Apatow, Rogen paid the bills and was the primary wage earner in the family, still aged only 16. He starred as the cynical Ken Miller in the show, and even though it was cancelled after one season, Freaks and Geeks has since become a cult classic, further adding to Rogen’s credentials.

Rogen impressed with his role as Miller, and his improvisational skills particularly struck a chord with Apatow, who cast him as the lead in his other show, Undeclared. However, the network didn’t believe Rogen was leading man material, so he instead served as a staff writer for the production that, again, only aired for one season and was cancelled in 2002. Regardless, this would give him the experience as a writer that he needed to rise to become a superstar in the future.

Following the cancellation of Undeclared, Rogen struggled to get auditions, but he was unphased, as he’d always thought he’d be better off as a writer anyway. Honing his skills, Rogen became part of Apatow’s “frat pack”, which featured the likes of Paul Rudd and Steve Carell. Without Apatow’s help, it is likely Rogen wouldn’t be where he is today, and under his tutelage, he polished the ability that we all know and love him for today.

Their relationship, one of great humour and vast creativity, wasn’t without its sticking points. It was noted by some that it was quite awkward for a grown man to be spending a lot of time with a teenager, to which Apatow explained: “I’m such a comedy fan that, even though he’s 16, I know I’m hanging out with one of the guys who’s going to be one of the great comics.”

Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg on set. (Credit: Alamy)

Acutely aware of Rogen and Goldberg’s potential, Apatow would do his best to train and coax the best out of them. During this period, he’d ask the pair to turn an idea of his into a movie in ten days and devise 100 one-page ideas for movies. In 2009, Rogen told The Telegraph: “Obviously, I can’t stress how important Judd’s been to my career.”

In the early 2000s, Rogen would play roles in films ranging from 2001’s Donnie Darko to 2004’s Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Having been slowly establishing a persona in the business, it would be 2004 that proved a pivotal year for him, as he was hired as a writer for Sacha Baron Cohen’s last season of Da Ali G Show. The project was a resounding success, and he and the show’s other writers received a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for their efforts. 

The following year, Rogen became a familiar face as he starred as one of the co-workers in Judd Apatow’s hit feature film The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Then, in 2007, he finally got his big break as the leading man in Apatow’s Knocked Up, starring alongside Katherine Heigl as a slacker who knocks up a media personality after a drunken one-night stand. 

The movie – and 2007 as a whole – would prove to be the turning point in Rogen’s career, a time when he segued from sideman to star as Superbad was also released to universal acclaim. Co-produced by Apatow, it became an instant classic whilst also launching the careers of Michael Cera and Jonah Hill. 

The rest, as they say, is history. Over the rest of the 2000s, Rogen was ubiquitous, appearing in everything from Step Brothers to The Spiderwick Chronicles, as well as co-writing Drillbit Taylor with Apatow and starring in Zack and Miri Make a Porno. 2008 also saw the Rogen/Franco partnership crystalised as Pineapple Express was released to critical acclaim and the delight of stoners everywhere.

The 2010s would see Rogen go from strength to strength, and both his acting and writing would hit new heights. In 2013, he and Goldberg made their directorial debut with This Is the End, which starred Rogen, Franco, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride as fictional yet twisted versions of themselves trying to survive the apocalypse. 

It’s been nearly ten years since the release of This Is the End, and Rogen’s showed no sign of slowing down the meteoric rise of his breathtaking career. While he may laugh off major praise, Seth Rogen remains one of the modern greats, and even though he’s had his fair share of misfires, who hasn’t? Comedy – and Rogen himself – might not get the same praise as others in the movie business, but there’s no doubting his significant impact.

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