Seth Rogen and Harvard Lampoon’s Alexis Wilkinson Talk Politics and Humor

They were featured at a panel hosted by Harvard's Institute of Politics along with The Daily Show’s Lizz Winstead and comedy director/writer Evan Goldberg.

seth rogen harvard

Harvard Lampoon’s Alexis Wilkinson with Seth Rogen and Lizz Winstead
Photo by Bryanna Cappadona

They say it’s hard work to be a politician. But, as noted by Seth Rogen, it might be even harder to make fun of a politician.

The actor’s latest movie, The Interview, co-starring the peanut butter to Rogen’s jelly, James Franco, follows a delusional journalist and his hooligan producer who go to North Korea together to kill Kim Jong Un. Rogen is understandably one of the most LOL-inducing guys in Hollywood right now, and at Harvard’s Kennedy School on Tuesday night, he sat down with The Daily Show co-creator Lizz Winstead to discuss comedy’s role in current events, politics, and satire.

Leading the discussion was Harvard Lampoon president Alexis Wilkinson, a comedy superstar in-the-making who is already earning some serious cred in publications like TIME, Cosmo, New York, and yours truly. Later joining the discussion was Rogen’s longtime friend and director, Evan Goldberg.

With his boat shoes and newsboy cap, Rogen is a likable guy in an unpretentious way that most comedians are not. He made an off-handed joke about blind dating being like Tinder, but “with humans.” He laughed generously at a quip about marijuana. Winstead, who resembles a normal, less hysterical version of Reba McIntyre, was on point with her discussion of gender roles in comedic movies.

“If you have a life where you don’t have women all over it, then you don’t create movies from the perspective of a woman,” she said. “Women running studios—how many people are doing that? A fallacy exists still where people say, oh there’re women’s comedies and there are men’s comedies.”

Perhaps one of the best takeaways from the panel was their ongoing discussion on what material crosses the line between humorous and offensive. Between Winstead, Rogen, and Goldberg, they circled the concept more than once without finding a clear answer. Wilkinson asked if satire might have a “social responsibility when it comes to joke-telling.”

Winstead said, “It is not satire’s role to solve problems, it is satire’s role to expose problems.”

Rogen, who explained the process of multiple screenings before landing on the final cuts of a film, said he tries to be sensitive. “But I personally don’t feel like there’s some politically correct squad that is trying to prevent from doing my job in the best way possible. If anything, I’m shocked with what I’m able to get away with.”

True, considering his next movie laughs at the possibility of killing Kim Jong Un.

“We have to go too far on set to make sure we’ve gone far enough. We can always tone it back,” Goldberg said.

Winstead added, “The line is ever changing and that really depends on who you’re developing your material for, what that means. When we talk about something that’s offensive, should we not talk about religion? Should we not talk about abortion? Should we not talk about [taking out] a world leader?”

Of course, The Interview will be the next movie on Rogen’s resume that’ll sit right on that ambiguous line. North Korea did, after all, condemn the film as “act of war” and allegedly hacked Sony Pictures as retaliation. Is it crazy?

“I would hope they’d have better things to do,” Rogen said.