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Seth Rogan is most likely to succeed with ‘Yearbook’

 "Comedy is pain. It's struggle."   

SethRogen image
Tara Ziemba/FilmMagic/Getty Images.

Seth Rogen's  Yearbook , his first book, is every bit as unconventional as his own leading-man status. In the back cover blurb, his mother, Sandy, writes, "It's not really a memoir…I guess it's more of a bunch of funny true stories? Does that make sense?"

Yearbook  is less "and then I was cast in  Knocked Up " and more a freewheeling collection of essays that, taken together, would seem to replicate the experience of hanging with Rogen and asking him to share stories over a joint.  

The Jewish content is potent. The book opens with an affectionate profile of his grandparents, Bubby and Zeidy. They were a part of his first stand-up act at the age of 12(!) at a lesbian bar, no less: "People ask me what the hardest part about being Jewish is," begins one of Rogen's jokes. "The persecution? The repeated attempts at systematic annihilation? Nope. The hardest part about being Jewish is…the grandparents." 

Rogen writes about the kippah ("Am I saying a major tenet of Judaism was formed to protect the vanity of balding Jewish men? Yeah. Yeah, I am.") and bar mitzvahs (where he met fellow misfits Evan Goldberg, Rogen's future writing and producing partner, and Sammy Fogell, who inspired the character of McLovin in Superbad). He relates a cringeworthy encounter with comedian Eddie Griffin, who gets blatantly antisemitic when they share an elevator. 

One of the most memorable essays concerns Jewish summer camp and a dramatic incident that ultimately may have provided Rogen with a funny anecdote, but in reality left a counselor involved traumatized to this day. 

Rogen recalls that one of the first lessons he learned at a stand-up comedy workshop he attended before getting up onstage (again, at the age of 12!): "Comedy is pain. It's struggle." 

Thus, Rogen devotes two essays to most infamous film projects,  The Green Hornet , which did decent box office, but was savaged by critics and became a punchline in Rogen's career, and The Interview, which caused an international incident with North Korea. 

Three essays answer the question, "Will Seth Rogen ever get to work with George Lucas, Tom Cruise, or Nicolas Cage?" Spoiler alert: Probably not. He is fearlessly funny in describing the quirks and idiosyncrasies of these Hollywood icons, as when Lucas casually asks Rogen and Goldberg, "You know the world is going to end this year, right?"  

Another lesson Rogen learned at that workshop: "Ask yourself, 'What bothers me? What frustrates me? What do I wish I could change?'" Rogen devotes a chapter to his dealings with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and his personal and private campaign to get Twitter to stop verifying accounts that express and spread antisemitic propaganda. It does not go well. "Twitter is merely a mirror of society," Dorsey rationalizes. Rogen responds, "Twitter is an expression and representation of its creator. So, Twitter is a mirror of you." 

Rogen's voice is as distinctive on the page as it is onscreen. He is a conversational storyteller-he writes like he talks, and that means a prodigious amount of cussing. Rogen loves profanity the way he loves his weed; there may be more f-bombs here than in Martin Scorsese's Casino.  

But  Yearbook  achieves Rogen's goal that his stories are "just funny at worst, and life-changingly amazing at best." 

Either way, it would make a great movie. 

Donald Liebenson is a Chicago writer who writes for VanityFair.com , LA Times , Chicago Tribune , and other outlets.  



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