The Comedy of Cancer
Rogen, Seth, Newsweek
Byline: Seth Rogen
Seth Rogen and his friend Will Reiser turned a real-life diagnosis into the quietly hilarious new film '50/50.' Rogen tells Newsweek how the experience changed him.
I first met Will Reiser when my writing partner, Evan Goldberg, and I had just gotten hired on a temporary basis as staff writers for Da Ali G Show. I was 23 and Evan was 22. It was our first morning in the office, and then Will walked in, and he was 25, but he looked younger than both of us. He was a producer who booked the show's guests. We became friends because we'd take cigarette breaks together. We started hanging out and worked on the show together for maybe five months. We just got along. I thought he was funny, and he was a nice guy. I remember him as a Woody Allen-ish type of character who was really neurotic and would complain a lot, and I would make fun of him for it and be an asshole. For some reason we were both entertained by that.
Around six months later, Will called me one day and told me he had a giant tumor on his spine. That was in 2005.
This was my first brush with having anyone close to me get really sick. I was literally sitting on the toilet when he called me and told me he had cancer. I remember thinking, this is so horrible, and I can't connect to it emotionally because it's so ridiculous right now. But a few days later, it did sink in, and we really didn't know how to deal with it. It was scary, but Will started telling all these f--ked-up jokes, and it gave us permission to do the same thing. We were very young, and we never really got that emotional or sentimental about it. Alone, we all felt terrible for him, but together, our conversations carried very much the same tone as they did before. He'd make it seem like it was fine, even though it wasn't. He'd complain about girls he was trying to date--he was in a slew of terrible relationships--and was trying to make the situation be as normal as he possibly could.
It's not something I realized was happening until later, but I think a lot of people who were around really bailed on him, and I just didn't do that. …