Seth Rogen was in his early 20s and sitting on the toilet when his good friend Will Reiser called to say hed been diagnosed with cancer. (I never shouldve picked up the phone while I was taking a shit, Rogen says.) At the time these two were co-workers on Sacha Baron Cohens already-legendary Da Ali G Show, but since then Reisers treatment and recovery became the basis for 50/50, a semi-autobiographical collaboration between the two longtime pals and one of this falls funniest, most unexpectedly moving comedies.
PW: First of all, I dont think a lot of us were aware that Da Ali G Show even employed writers.
Will Reiser: Well, I think we had two completely different experiences there Seth was a writer.
Seth Rogen: And Will booked the guests. So he had to lie to James Lipton, and I just had to think up questions making fun of him.
WR: I would find who we could interview. So I had to become these peoples best friends, and basically get as much background information out of them as I could. Then I would give all that to Seth and Evan [Goldberg, Rogens longtime writing partner] and theyd come up with jokes.
SR: Me and Evan would sit in a room and think of 10,000 questions you would ask, if you were a gay Austrian journalist. We worked crazy hours. It wasto this daythe hardest job Ive ever had. And Will was sick during that time. We didnt know it was cancer but you could tell there was something physically wrong with him. Obviously we thought it was the job. Sacha Baron Cohen worried: Were working this guy too hard; hes deteriorating before our eyes! I think Sacha was a little relieved when he found out Will had cancer; hed thought it was his fault.
PW: Seth, this is the second movie youve made in the past few years in which you take care of somebody with cancer, but this particular characters upward trajectory is pretty much the opposite of Funny People
SR: When the guy comes out worse? I never thought of it quite like that, but its kind of true! Will, your original title for the movie was How I Learned Nothing From Cancer . Which was bullshit, because youre so much less annoying now than you were before you had cancer. At the time you wrote the first draft, you didnt have the perspective to see that you are much different than the way you were before.
WR: Im much more attractive.
SR: Hes much less neurotic. Look, we were good friends before, so its not like he was ever a fucking terrible person to be around but at least now he doesnt get into destructive relationships and bitch about them to me all the time. This is nice.
WR: Its probably true. When I found out I had cancer, that was the last thing I thought I had. I looked at my symptoms on WebMD.com and thought I was diabetic and hypoglycemic. But I was more worried about girls and work and other things in my life. I was an incredibly neurotic person.
SR: I think he caught cancer because he worried so much.
PW: Any lessons learned by revisiting your younger selves on screen?
SR: Its not always good to cover up what youre feeling by making horrible dick jokes.
WR: Its OK to talk about your feelings sometimes.
SR: Which we didnt do. But we were young, and I think if it were to happen now I would probably be more upfront about the actual emotional element. But maybe not?
WR: Given where we were at that time, I just dont think we were capable of dealing with it in that way.
SR: It would have been weird. It would not have felt genuine.
WR: If we had just hugged all the time?
SR: It wouldnt have helped. Were comedy writers. So we dealt with it by making jokes. We never talked about it seriously. I never asked Will about his feelingswe just tried to get medicinal marijuana cards. That was one of the reasons we wanted to make this movie. There probably have been movies made about young people with cancer, and theyre probably just fucking miserable. We didnt feel like our experience had been represented in films.