Seth Rogen has another Neighbors movie coming out. And you can probably guess that it includes a lot of madcap hijinks just like the first movie did, which propelled that first Neighbors movie to a box office haul of $270 million – so it’s not entirely surprising that there is now a Neighbors 2.
But that’s the thing about comedy sequels: Usually they are just bigger and louder. But, as Rogen explains below, they weren’t sure they could make a funnier movie, but they did know they could put more thought into it. And the movie is funny, but this is a comedy with a few things on its mind… a quality not immediately evident from the trailers. (Rogen compares this to the pill you have to hide in a piece of cheese to make your dog eat it.)
Sexism, gay marriage, Black Lives Matter, Bill Cosby: all of these are topics that are, surprisingly, addressed in Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, directed by the returning Nicholas Stoller and co-written by Rogen, longtime partner Evan Goldberg, Stoller, Andrew J. Cohen, and Brendan O’Brien. Mac (Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) are trying to sell their house, but now a new sorority next door (led by Chloë Grace Moretz’s Shelby) threatens their sale. (And poor, poor Teddy, played by Zac Efron, is caught up in this whole mess again.) But the twist is we find ourselves sort of rooting for the sorority because their quest for independence from sexist fraternities is noble. And yet somehow this still all works as a comedy. It’s kind of remarkable. Ahead, Rogen explains how and why they wanted to pull this off and reveals just how nervous he was about a scene where “Cosby” is used as a verb.
Right after I interviewed you for Steve Jobs, I got on the elevator with the real Steve Wozniak.
Oh, that’s so funny. He’s the nicest guy in the entire world.
I think he thought it was weird when I yelled, “Oh, I just spoke to the person who played you!”
I’m sure he loved it. I just had lunch with him a few weeks ago.
Oh, you still keep in touch?
Totally. We became friends.
Neighbors 2 has a lot to say. I was not expecting this from a comedy sequel.
It does have a lot on its mind! We weren’t sure we’d be able to make a funnier movie, but what we were pretty sure of is we could put more thought into it than the first one. And I think we knew we could take the movie emotionally in new places – we could add new characters and stuff like that – but I feel a dangerous game people get into with comedy sequels is how do you make it bigger and funnier and grosser and raunchier? And we were like, instead of playing that game, let’s try to make it maybe a little smarter.
The world has changed a lot just in the two years since the first Neighbors came out. Neighbors 2 addresses the jokes from the first one that wouldn’t fly today.
I think we are all socially conscious people and I think in almost a day-to-day basis, things that are acceptable then become no longer acceptable. And, generally, we are not the people who fight that. Some comedians go around saying how nice it was in the good old days when you could make terrible jokes about whoever you wanted. And we’re generally not those people. If anything, we will make jokes about how you can’t make those jokes anymore. But to us, that seems like a more fertile area. It’s just analyzing the change and how “bros before hoes” was an acceptable joke two years ago and everyone thought it was funny – but now, if you think about it under the lens of this movie, it’s really not a cool thing to be saying.
We learn Dave Franco’s character, Pete, is gay. You avoided anything resembling a “gay panic” joke. When was the decision made to do that?
I can’t remember exactly when it happened. I don’t think I was in the room when it happened. I actually remember coming into the room and being told, “read this.” And I read it and I kind of experienced it the way the audience experiences it, where you’re not exactly sure what’s happening at first. And you kind of slowly realize what’s going on. And I remember loving it. I thought it was awesome.
What we did at first, we didn’t get into it enough. At first it was like, “Oh, Pete’s gay,” then we didn’t talk about it. And then we realized that almost felt like the wrong joke, which is just, “There’s gay people in the world.” You know? So we found a way to work it into the story. And then once we found a way to really make it really a part of Zac and Dave’s emotional issue with one another, how Zac feels like he’s been abandoned, and he’s self-conscious there’s been a secret kept from him – it fed into his story and his stakes. That’s what really made it work well.
A bad movie would have made Zac’s character mad that his friend is gay, or something like that.
Yeah. Yeah, I think so. Or, they just would have had him been gay and not made anything else of it. And then he would have been gay just for the purpose of being gay, which also didn’t seem like it was doing anything for us. But, yeah, I love that scene. That was one of those things when we were first showing it to audiences, I was very happy with how well people responded to it.
You don’t get from the trailers that this is a socially conscious movie. I guess that’s the way you have to do it?
[Laughs.] Yeah, you kind of have to sneak that in. It’s like the pill in the cheese that you give to the dog. It’s kind of been part of our marketing philosophy from the beginning. I remember when we made The 40-Year-Old Virgin, people would come expecting a silly movie about a guy trying to get laid – and that’s great! – but hopefully it will give them a little bit more than that. I think that philosophy has held pretty good water over the years. I think as the marketing goes on, honestly, they’ll explore more of those themes. But at first you just have to bombard people with “hilarious imagery.”
People have expectations for a “comedy sequel” and I think this will surprise people.
Well, we put a ton of time and energy into trying not to make a terrible sequel.
And in the two years since the first one, Jerrod Carmichael has become a famous person…
And he’s teamed with Hannibal Buress as police officers and Black Lives Matter is even addressed…
We hit on every socially relevant theme on the planet in the stupidest way imaginable.
Was there ever a thought there might be too much in there? Or is it more, “as long as it’s funny, who cares?”
No, we never – it’s probably a thought we should have more, but it’s not a thought we have that often. It was making us laugh really, really hard and it just seemed hilarious and it seemed to support the story and help the theme of the movie in general. One of the themes of the movie is social consciousness and, obviously, various characters are on different sides of that coin. But, as soon as that became a theme in the movie, it just felt like the more jokes about it you could make, the better, really.
I’m not sure, but I think this might be the first movie to use “Cosby” as a verb.
It might be!
That’s his legacy.
That is it.
It got a strong reaction.
That’s another joke, the first time we screened it for an audience, I was like, “Alright, here we go. Let’s see how this one goes.” But, no, people were ready for that joke.
Were you really worried about that one?
I was more worried about the context surrounding the joke. Like, is it funny to do a scene where two people have been drugged who are fighting each other? And the answer, mostly, was “yes.”
Was there a specific moment when you realized you can’t get away with a specific joke that you got away with two years ago, then turned it into a joke about how you can’t make that joke?
A little bit. It was more once we realized the movie was partially through the lens of these socially conscious characters, it was more like, oh, well those characters would probably find the first Neighbors movie pretty sexist at times. And those characters would probably find a lot of the stuff the people in that movie were doing pretty sexist. So, I think that was more it. We started to make ourselves laugh realizing, oh, we ourselves are doing things these characters would not like.
I need to be careful when I wrote this up. I don’t want this to sound like it’s a nonstop lesson.
[Laughs.] Exactly, which is why they are not marketing it that way.
In this movie, Mac and Teddy team up. I love it when former adversaries join forces.
[Laughs.] Yeah, exactly. It was fun for us to get to be on the same team as him. I think Zac is so fucking funny and I think his performance in this movie, especially, is so hilarious and would make me laugh so hard when we were shooting the scenes. He’s just so earnest and sad. Nothing makes me laugh harder than just a really sad man. He’s so sad all the time!
I love that Teddy has fallen on tough times because he can’t get a job because he has a criminal record because of the events of the first movie. That is both funny and realistic.
[Laughs.] “It’s hard to get jobs.” We ruined his life. And there are lots of young handsome guys out there in the world.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.