For an actor mostly known for sophomoric comedies, Seth Rogen has morphed into one of the most mature voices in Hollywood. Appearing on Good Morning Britain this week to promote his memoir Yearbook, Rogen was asked about jokes in his past movies that make people "uncomfortable" today, and he had no problem admitting some were in poor taste. "There are certain jokes that for sure have not aged well, but I think that’s the nature of comedy," he said. "Jokes are not things that necessarily are built to last."
Rogen also said he doesn't understand all the cancel culture panic. "To me, when I see comedians complaining about this kind of thing, I don’t understand what they’re complaining about. If you’ve made a joke that’s aged terribly, accept it. And if you don’t think it’s aged terribly, then say that," he reasoned.
"Saying terrible things is bad, so if you’ve said something terrible, then it’s something you should confront in some way, shape, or form," Rogen continued. "I don’t think that’s cancel culture. That’s you saying something terrible if that’s what you’ve done." The actor's logic was reminiscent of how LeVar Burton patiently schooled Megan McCain recently, telling her cancel culture is a "misnomer" and should be renamed "consequence culture" instead.
Comedians specifically have complained about "cancel culture," with fears that it can jeopardize the art form. Dave Chappelle was criticized for telling jokes that were labeled as transphobic on his 2019 special Sticks and Stones, Kevin Hart lost a gig with the Academy Awards for refusing to apologize for homophobic tweets, and Bill Maher has complained multiple times about the issue as well. With the tradition of comedians using racy, often inappropriate jokes to give their commentary, it's refreshing to see Seth Rogen take a different approach — even if his work doesn't have the same level of commentary as others.
Rogen has long been pretty transparent about his work not aging well. In 2016, while promoting Bad Neighbors 2, he admitted to The Guardian that there are "some jokes in Superbad that are bordering on blatantly homophobic." In 2019, Rogen told GQ that his producing partner, Evan Goldberg, had recently noted: "By the time my kids are grown, all of our work will be deemed unwatchable… I have no doubt about it. I think entire parts of culture will just be deemed regressive and no one will fucking watch it anymore, and there’s a good chance our movies will fit into that category." Sure enough, viewers in 2021 tend to agree with the assessment that got Katherine Heigl sidelined in 2008: yes, Knocked Up is "a little bit sexist."
Then there's the fact it's impossible to extricate Rogen's work from his creative partnership with James Franco. They got their start together on Freaks and Geeks and went on to co-star in eight movies. In light of sexual misconduct allegations against Franco, who recently settled a lawsuit accusing him of exploiting two former students, Rogen told The Sunday Times he had no plans to work with his old collaborator "right now" but was a little cagey about their personal relationship. He did say he regretted making a "terrible joke" about Franco pursuing young women on Saturday Night Live in 2014.
It's refreshing that Rogen is secure enough to examine past missteps and take responsibility for his words, but that's only because the bar for men in Hollywood is still so low. The knee-jerk reaction for a lot of male comedians is to get defensive, because they fear getting cancelled by "woke" voices online. Just a month ago, Charlyne Yi called Rogen an enabler and pressured him to do more. She said she tried to break her contract on 2019's The Disaster Artist, directed by Franco, when she learned about the sexual assault allegations against him. But the film's producers, including Rogen, tried bribing her to stay with a bigger role.
Still, there's a lot to love about how Rogen has evolved as a person, artist and advocate as he's matured. He launched a high-end cannabis line. He shares his pottery on social media. He trolls Ted Cruz. Hopefully, he's a role model for other men in Hollywood to take responsibility for their words and adapt to the times.