May 31, 2007
Don't 'knock' Seth Rogen, the new
overweight Canadian Jewish boy leading man
Seth Rogen feigned surprise when a CBS host joked that he did not see the
actor in a Hollywood manual about leading men.
"You didn't see 'overweight Canadian Jewish boy' in there?" the actor
Critics say Rogen is spot-on as the leading man of Judd Apatow's "Knocked
Up," a slacker-zhlub with a "Jewfro" who impregnates a gorgeous, ambitious
journalist (Katherine Heigl from "Grey's Anatomy") during a drunken
one-night stand. Thereafter, the slacker struggles to become a mensch --
amid plenty of filthy jokes and kvetching. When Heigl informs him that they
did, indeed, have sex that drunken night (he had been too intoxicated to
remember), his response is a despondent "oy."
Like Apatow's 2005 hit, "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Knocked Up" is a
raunchfest with a heart - in large part due to Rogen's "crudeness mixed with
sweetness," Time said. Rogen's Jewish persona doesn't hurt either: "There is
a classic clash in film comedy between Jewish guys and non-Jewish women
trying to figure each other out," Apatow said at a press event. "Whether
it's 'When Harry Met Sally' or 'Annie Hall,' it's always funny to see the
Jews trying to make women happy, and failing."
Rogen insists he's playing a protagonist who is much like himself, which has
been his preference as an actor. His "Knocked Up" character, Ben Stone, is
also a Jew from Vancouver who loves to imbibe and to watch the naked scenes
from sex-romps such as "Porky's." (He and his Jewish roommates share an
"Animal House"-style pad where the stoner conversations range from chicks to
Jewish movies). But while Rogen professes to be a slacker -- and projects a
laid-back demeanor -- his achievements suggest he is anything but.
After entertaining classmates at his Jewish day school and camps for Habonim
Dror, the Labor Zionist youth movement, Rogen took a stand-up comedy
workshop at age 12, he told the Journal in 2001. He made his professional
debut at 13 with jokes about his bar mitzvah, his grandparents and the
Israeli Habonim counselors who allegedly made him march around while toting
At 16, after his second TV audition ever, he landed a role on Apatow's
sitcom, "Freaks and Geeks." To shoot the show, Rogen moved with his family
to Los Angeles, where his father, Mark, became the assistant director for
the local branch of the Workmen's Circle, a Yiddish cultural organization.
Seth learned about the Mamaloshen in order to emcee fundraisers for the
Three years later, Apatow reportedly hoped to cast Rogen as the star of his
Fox college sitcom, "Undeclared," but network executives allegedly nixed
that idea because, they said, the actor didn't look like a leading man.
Instead, Apatow gave Rogen a small role in the series as well as a seat in
the writer's room; Rogen was stunned because he knew zilch about sitcom
writing. The closest he had ever come to college life was a 1998 Habonim
trip to Israel, which was "kind of like living in a dorm," he said.
Rogen likened that sitcom experience to taking a college class with an
extremely tough professor.
"Judd is a good friend, but he's extremely, brutally honest," Rogen said at
the time. "He'll say, 'this sucks, it's not funny, rewrite it.'"
All that rewriting paid off when Rogen subsequently won Emmy nominations,
writing stints on programs such as "Da Ali G Show" and roles in Apatow
movies such as "The 40-Year-Old Virgin."
"Virgin" made a star out of another Apatow protege, Steve Carell -- and
"Knocked Up" could well do the same for Rogen, critics say. The 25-year-old
is filming his next starring vehicle, the stoner thriller-comedy "The
Pineapple Express." And in August, Sony will release "Superbad," the
semi-autobiographical teen flick Rogen penned at 14 with his current writing
partner, Evan Goldberg (the two boys had met -- where else? -- at a bar
Rogen has another couple movies in the works.
"If things go well for him at the box office, Los Angeles restaurants may
have to deal with an infestation of waiters who are dumpy Canadians with
Jewfros," Time said.
Knocked Up opens today in Los Angeles.