April 19, 2019

Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen: Friends for the end of the world

Evan Goldberg is the writer and director — with Seth Rogen, his longtime writing partner — of the new film “This Is the End,” which just could be the first Jewish rapture comedy.

In it, Rogen and his real-life Jewish (and half-Jewish) pals James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel and Danny McBride, as well as Craig Robinson — all playing twisted versions of themselves — are eventually barricaded in Franco’s mansion as the Apocalypse descends, complete with New Testament imagery of seven-headed dragons and sinkholes to hell.

“There is a God? Who f—— saw that coming?” Rogen says at one point in the movie. 

Based on a 2007 short film that Goldberg produced called “Jay and Seth vs. the Apocalypse,” the film also gleefully roasts the narcissism of stars “who’ve forgotten they’re vulnerable to the same things as ‘normal’ people,” said Goldberg, 30. With Rogen, he has penned such filthy yet sweet bromances as “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express.”

“All the actors essentially s— all over their public personae,” Goldberg explained in a telephone conversation from Sydney, Australia, where he was promoting the comedy. Franco, for example, portrays himself as a pretentious artist who is coy about whether he is gay; and Rogen, who is caught between his old Canadian friend Jay and his new Hollywood posse, comes off as a good guy who can also be “a duplicitous taint,” Goldberg said. 

Yet the biggest gag in the movie, at least for Members of the Tribe, is the vision of a bunch of Jews who are aghast to discover that the Christians were right after all; the sight of Jay holding up a cross patched together from two spatulas is beyond hilarious.

“Seth and I think it’s hysterical that a lot of Christians think we’re going to burn in hell forever,” Goldberg said. “To us, that’s one of the big jokes of the film.” 

Goldberg still remembers his Woody Allen-like response to seeing Christian imagery as a kid: “One day I went to a Vancouver Christian boys’ college and they had, like, massive crucifixes, and it scared the living s— out of me,” he said. “I also read this book where a woman described having nightmares about her Jewish friends having their skin flayed off in hell, because that’s what they tell you is going to happen to us.”

Then there was the conversation Goldberg and Rogen had with a good Christian friend in high school who essentially said, “I’m super bummed, but you’re going to hell.’

It eventually added up to some of the inspiration for “This Is the End.”

“Dozens of little things like that slowly led to Seth and I going, ‘We could make a joke out of this,’ ” Goldberg said. “And on the flip side, if you’re one of the people who believes this stuff, you can’t really get mad at us because we’re just showing you what you want to see.”

Not exactly, however: [spoiler alert] In the film’s version of the Apocalypse, nice Jewish boys can go to heaven. Is Goldberg, who describes himself as an agnostic, worried about offending believers? “No more than they’re concerned about insulting me by saying I’m going to hell,” he said.

Goldberg and Rogen have been friends since they met in a bar mitzvah “tallis and tefillin” class in Vancouver when they were 12.

“Specifically, we were at Julia Morinis’ bat mitzvah where we tried to dance with some girls and they wouldn’t,” Goldberg recalled. “So when me, Seth and our friend Sammy Fogell realized we weren’t going to get kissed that night, we went off and tried to steal some beers and ended up solidifying our friendship.

“What bonded us,” he added, “is that no girls would get with us.” That’s also what inspired Goldberg and Rogen, at 13, to write their first script, “Superbad,” which was eventually made into a 2007 film starring Hill and Michael Cera as the libidinous young Seth and Evan.

Goldberg, who attended McGill University, got his big break when he became Rogen’s writing partner on Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Da Ali G Show” about a decade ago. The duo went on to become one of the hottest comedy writing and producing teams in Hollywood. 

In 2011, however, their ill-received action comedy “The Green Hornet,” starring Rogen, proved a “nightmarish experience” that taught the writers to never again make an expensive film where studios could prevent them from “doing what we do best: funny dirty movies with heart,” Goldberg said.

“This Is the End,” was made with the modest-by-Hollywood-standards budget of just over $30 million.

“The message in our movies is always the same, which is don’t be an ass—-, and be good to your friends,” Goldberg said, “because more than anything, that’s the secret to a good world.”