I have long admired Seth Rogen and I still do.
No amount of selective quotation from his hour-long interview with Marc Maron will change my mind. In fact, it has reinforced my appreciation for him.
Rogen (whose surname must be mispelled as often as mine is) first came into my life as part of Judd Apatow’s acting ensemble, the ‘Jew Tang Clan’. In such films as The 40-Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad and Sausage Party, he excelled at playing schlemiels, overgrown adolescent boy/man characters, full of smart verbal wisecracks, sexual jokes and gross-out humour.
In The 40-Year-Old Virgin, for example, he plays Cal the not particularly bright blue-collar worker in an electronics store. He breaks the paradigm of Jews onscreen both intellectually and physically. His body size is average, large, somewhat overweight, neither weedy and thin nor muscle-bound and hyper-masculine. He has no outwardly obvious ethnic characteristics (job, looks or name). On the contrary, he is fairly tall, hairy, and his arms are covered with tattoos (a very atypical characteristic).
His slacker characters typically assumed the role of one of those outspoken, pushy Jews always ready with a smart line. Take this nugget from Funny People in 2009. When asked about his name Ira Wright (‘That’s not your real name. You’re hiding some Judaism’), Ira (played by Rogen) replies, ‘I don’t think I can hide that. My face is circumcised.’
This is brilliant stuff.
Rogen gives the rest of us shlubby, middle-aged, dadbod, Jew-froed Jews the hope that we too can make it.
Offscreen, Rogen continues his role as the badken, that Yiddish term for a professional fun-maker, jester, entertainer, verbose Jewish jokester and showman. And he excelled at it in his interview with Maron.
The conversation, in the style of a Talmudic pilpul, ranged widely, far beyond Israel, giving us much food for thought. It gets more and more Jewy in tone as they go on. Clearly, they’re egging each other on, upping the ante, most of which is lost in the po-faced reporting about it.
Rogen and Maron had some brilliant observations about American Jewish masculinity, in particular. On the subject of food, they find a novel explanation for why oysters aren’t kosher. Because Jews would find them too challenging to open. That’s why our people don’t shuck.
Against the grain of the stereotypical representation of Jews as middle class, Rogen explains how he came from a line of tough, blue collar Jews: plumbers, electricians, and the like. They were the ‘stocky peasant proletariat Jew’ as opposed to ‘the composer Jew’ or ‘the math Jew’. Of his working class grandfather, he says, ‘he would hate my guts and beat the living shit out of me’ because ‘he thought I was soft’.
Rogen and Maron express admiration for the ‘the James Caan Jew’ as the scariest Jewish person alive. Rogen mistakenly believes Gene Hackman is Jewish and is audibly disappointed to learn he’s not as he had him down as a hard-assed Jew.
Rogen distinguishes between those soft Jews like himself and those sinewy, leathery, lean muscular Jews.
As any fan on Wet Hot American Summer will know, he points out how Jewish summer camps exist to ensure the next generation of Jews through endogamous reproduction by ‘planting seeds’. This is hilarious stuff.
Nowhere does Rogen deny his Jewishness or Judaism. For a start, his name is Seth Aaron Rogen. Even his name is circumcised. It’s like his parents named him Jew, Jewy, Jew!
I could go on. In that dialogue there was gem after gem. But the interview, which lasted well over an hour, has been reduced to a few lines and soundbites about Israel which says more about those listeners who obsess over them than it does the utterers.
Long live Seth Rogen.
[Cover image: Stephen McCarthy/Collision via Sportsfile – Collision Conf from Toronto, Canada, https://www.flickr.com/photos/collisionconf/47106936404/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=79239930.]