All good things must come to an end. It’s a well-worn adage that everyone knows and has to come to terms with at one point or another. It’s funny sometimes that we can detect when something is nearing its conclusion without succinctly knowing the end date yet to be etched in stone. It forces us to enjoy the ride that much more. But of course, to remain just as cliché, when one door closes, another opens
Take into consideration today’s comedy actors that we so often revere; the Seth Rogens, James Francos, Jonah Hills, and basically anyone else has been a part of or recruited into the Apatow group of comedians. Since the premieres of Knocked Up and Superbad in 2007, comedies featuring these actors have reigned in Hollywood, firmly establishing and confirming the popularity of raunchy comedies. Since 2008’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Pineapple Express, however, the only other film that has featured a sizeable chunk of this comedy crew was This is the End (2013).
Since 2008, most comedies featuring these actors show them going solo or teaming up with someone else, and that someone might not be affiliated with the group in any way. Additionally, most of these actors do not star in any sort of comedy with the same frequency as they used to. Rogen and Jason Segel continue to strut their abilities as funnymen at a fairly consistent rate, but most have progressed further in their careers beyond the low-brow humor that put them on the radar. This comedic collective will continue to collaborate in future efforts, but since This is the End, it has arguably become more apparent that the end of their rule over a single genre has begun, thereby adding a new melancholic layer to their past, present, and future filmography.
Now, many of these actors’ films already include some level of melancholy given the serious subject matter they cover, including accidental pregnancy, divorce, and death. Additionally, this melancholy I speak of might be my own fabrication, but from the perspective of a millennial, we grew up with these comedies during our teenage years and have seen their success continue to blossom through college, so there is a bit of an emotional connection to these films. Movies like Superbad are to us what Animal House was to teens and college students 30 years prior during the fledgling days of National Lampoon. This has truly been our generation of comedians, and the thought of their dominance coming to a close is a little saddening.
One thing that is for certain is that the trajectory of many of these actors’ careers has gone through a bit of a change, the most obvious arguably being Mr. Hill. After getting his start with a minor role in The 40 Year-Old Virgin, he broke out in 2007 with roles in Knocked Up and Superbad. He was quick to capitalize on his newfound status as a leading funnyman, gaining roles in Funny People (2009), Forgetting Sarah Marshall and a leading role in its spin-off sequel Get Him to the Greek (2010). Although his status as a premier comedian has continued since then, thanks to Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s successful Jump Street series, he’s gained equal notoriety for his recent dramatic efforts. Roles in Moneyball, The Wolf of Wall Street and the upcoming Coen Brothers film Hail, Caesar!, have elevated his status beyond a simple one-trick pony.
The changes to Paul Rudd’s career have been a bit more recent. Throughout his years as an A-lister, he has remained a primary fixture in most of Judd Apatow’s ventures as director and/or producer, even comedies that Apatow hasn’t had a hand in and feature some of his typical gang. Now that he is Marvel’s Ant-Man, and is set to appear in Captain America: Civil War, an Ant-Man sequel and potentially more Marvel features, however, the frequency of his comedic appearances may start to go down. To be fair, Ant-Man intentionally exploited Rudd’s talent for comedic antics to full effect, separating itself from the rest of the Marvel heroes.
James Franco has been jumping back and forth between the comedic and dramatic for what seems like most of his career. Since 2007, he has been involved in around six projects per year on average. Jay Baruchel continues to do some comedic work, but in recent years, he’s slightly shifted gears toward more serious material with roles in Good Neighbours, David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis and the remake of RoboCop. Not only that, he’s struck out on his own writing, producing, and directing with his film Goon and its upcoming sequel Last of the Enforcers. And while Segel has almost exclusively dealt with comedies, he slowly drifted away from the group as the years went on, only featuring in This is the End as an uncredited cameo. Additionally, with his recent turn as the late author David Foster Wallace in The End of the Tour, he’s shown his equally strong dramatic chops.
The only performer who has remained relatively consistent with starring in these raunchy comedies has been Rogen, often teaming up with Evan Goldberg since starring in Knocked Up. He may have recently starred as Steve Wozniak in Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs, but raunchy comedies have primarily been the name of his game since he’s been in the public consciousness. While the films he stars in haven’t necessarily changed, the nature of his roles has. In Knocked Up and Superbad, he played likeable man-children in tune with their youthfulness to a fault, eventually having to face the responsibilities of adulthood. By contrast, recent roles in Neighbors and The Night Before see him as responsible adults trying to engage with their former youth, ultimately learning that time waits for none and it is best to live in the present.
Not only have these actors’ careers progressed beyond that gained them notoriety, history has told us that their reign over Hollywood comedy will soon draw to a close. In a Telegraph article regarding the then-impending premiere of Seth Rogen’s solo comical effort Observe and Report, Will Lawrence points out “With each passing decade, Hollywood shuffles its deck.” The likes of John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Steve Martin and Chevy Chase ruled the Eighties, he says, and “During the Nineties, these funny men were, in turn, trumped by the ‘frat pack’ – comics such as Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and Will Ferrell.” Those frat pack members remained pretty popular until the mid-2000s, and while they continue to do some comedic work, they’ve largely fallen out of favor with audiences.
The jury’s still out on when or if Rogen, Franco and the gang will lose their place with audiences, but as the years have passed, the humor they employ, how they go about presenting it and how they counterbalance the bawdy nature of their humor with more serious themes has become stale. At this point, the formula has become well established, and while not every film has used it, enough have to leave an impression. Trends don’t last forever, and the recent filmography, comedy or otherwise, from this troupe has been telegraphing an end that may come sooner than some might want. It wouldn’t surprise me if these thoughts have crossed Rogen’s, Franco’s, or any of their minds. Audiences pick up on whatever is new, the bright and shiny new toy in the toy box. But who will step in and take over once the days of this crew we’ve come to love have come and gone?
Whoever swoops in as next in line to the Hollywood comedy throne, the reign of Rogen and co. continues to be, and likely will end as a glorious one. For all we know, it could be a few more years before it all comes to an end. And thanks to the upcoming film Sausage Party, which will star Rogen, Hill, Franco and Rudd, among others, we will have at least one more movie with a good chunk of the group under the same roof. As long as the laughs keep coming, no one will want them to leave, but with all things, the curtains must fall. Stay tuned for the final act.