Evan Goldberg (left) with his longtime creative partner Seth Rogen.


A kingpin of comedy

Working alongside his longtime friend Seth Rogan, Evan Goldberg, BA’05, has established himself as a Hollywood power player with a long string of hits, from films like Superbad and Pineapple Express to the current blockbuster TV series The Boys

Story by Daniel McCabe, BA’89

January 2023

For the first and only time during our 35-minute video chat, Evan Goldberg, BA’05, looks confused.

“What do you mean?” he asks when I tell him that Superbad, the 2007 smash-hit comedy that firmly established him and his longtime writing partner Seth Rogen as new power players in Hollywood, was sort of, kind of, if you squint at it in a certain way, a movie about McGill – or at least about someone’s life right before they started studying at McGill.

When I explained what I meant, he understood what I was talking about, so I’ll do the same for you.

Superbad is a movie about two close friends, named Evan and Seth, who experience a series of misadventures during the final days of their last year of high school. Evan will be leaving town in the fall to go to college. He will be accompanied on that journey by their mutual friend Fogell (aka McLovin). Evan and Seth, though both are loath to admit it, are worried about what the impending separation will mean for their friendship.

In real life, Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen have been close friends since first meeting in a bar mitzvah class in Vancouver. The two were virtually inseparable until Goldberg left town in 2000 to attend McGill in Montreal. Accompanying him on that journey was their mutual friend Sam Fogell, BCom’05.

So, yes, McLovin, Superbad’s most memorable character (or at least the real person he is broadly based on), is a McGill graduate.

Evan and Seth (the real-life ones), in spite of the distance between them, and Evan’s studies at McGill, and Seth’s work as a stand-up comedian and actor, kept collaborating on a script they had begun writing together as 12-year-olds, a script that eventually became Superbad.

“I remember literally the physical pain of it,” says Goldberg. “We would write [together] over the phone and so I needed my hands.” Goldberg would squeeze the phone between his head and shoulder – which invariably led to a very sore neck. “Eventually I went to Radio Shack and bought a headset.”

Adrienne Slover, BA’04, a Toronto-based educator, became close friends with both Goldberg and Fogell at McGill. “I remember Evan telling me that he and Seth were working on a film, and Sammy, Seth and Evan were all in it, and it would be hilarious,” recalls Slover. “You can imagine my excitement when I went to see Superbad years later and they dropped the names of all these people I knew from McGill. I would tell people that McLovin was one of my best friends in real life, and he is much cooler in real life.”

As it turned out, Goldberg’s years at McGill proved to be surprisingly beneficial for his future career in Hollywood.

A scene from the film Superbad

Hollywood via McGill

“The many tentacles of my McGill connections go deep,” Goldberg explains. “I knew Kyle Hunter in high school, and he came with me to McGill and was on my floor at McConnell Hall. He co-wrote Sausage Party and was the executive producer for This Is the End. In our second year, we befriended Ariel Shaffir [BA’05, who also co-wrote Sausage Party], and he and Kyle work together. We all became friends with Adrienne Slover, who co-founded Reel Start with me. We also became friends with Jason Stone [BA’04], who is a director [in Los Angeles] and was a producer on This Is the End.

“And that’s just half of them,” he adds. “I know about six more people from McGill who ended up coming down to LA and working with me in different capacities. I made a lot of great connections at McGill.”

Usually working in close collaboration with Rogen, Goldberg has written, directed and/or produced some of the most successful comedies of the last 15 years, including Knocked UpPineapple ExpressThis Is the EndNeighboursSausage Party and Goon.

As an executive producer, Goldberg was recently nominated for two Emmy Awards. One was for Pam and Tommy, a miniseries that examined the impact that the infamous and unauthorized release of a sex tape had on the lives of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee. The other was for The Boys Presents: Diabolical, an animated spin-off of The Boys, a show that had earned Goldberg an Emmy nomination in the previous year.

The Boys hit it big 

One of the most popular television shows currently being streamed, The Boys is based on a comic book co-created by writer Garth Ennis. Goldberg and Rogen previously co-produced another TV series, Preacher, that was also based on a comic by Ennis.

“Our initial bond in high school was over film and comic books,” says Goldberg of his friendship with Rogen. “Everyone liked film, but no one read comic books. Maybe there were 10 nerds, back when nerd was still an insult, who read comic books in my grade and the only one I connected with was Seth. I read Thor and Batman and Spider-Man and then I started reading Garth Ennis comics and I was like, ‘Woah, this is not for children, this is definitely for adults.’”

Goldberg favourably compares Ennis’s work to Quentin Tarantino’s films, crediting both creators with a similar blend of dark humour, smart storytelling and graphic violence.

The Boys focuses on a world where super-heroes are the most famous celebrities on the planet. Many of them are also terrible human beings – terrible human beings with superpowers surrounded by a small army of publicists and fixers who cover up their mistakes and misdeeds.

The series is, among other things, a very pointed critique of celebrity culture. The show’s co-creator, Eric Kripke, has stated that he bases Homelander, a curdled version of Superman and the show’s breakout character, largely on Donald Trump.

While Goldberg understands that celebrity can have a toxic effect, he is also quick to defend the people in his industry.

“I actually think it’s a bit of a misconception that most people in Hollywood are maniacs,” he says. “I think a lot of them are good-hearted people who get involved with charities and like to help other people. I would argue that the proportion of bad people who work in finance or in government compared to the number of bad people in Hollywood is much, much higher. That said, when you do come across a bad Hollywood person, it doesn’t get much worse.

“The process of being a famous person can really garble your brain,” he adds. “You are surrounded by all these people whose one job is to make sure that you are happy, that you are streamlined, that you’re moving along. They all pander to the celebrity. You actually have to push back against that to prevent the universe from turning you into a schmuck. I think Seth does a pretty good job. The healthiest way to deal with it is to regularly take the piss out of yourself and I think that’s why our friends like to do that with us, because it’s a really nice grounding thing for them to remember who they are and how weird and silly and unusual our situation is.”

Offering students a Reel Start

Goldberg has been working to open up that weird and silly and unusual world to others – most notably underrepresented young people from Toronto and Los Angeles.

“About five years ago, I was on a movie set in Los Angeles and I was chatting with Adrienne [Slover] on the phone,” says Goldberg. “There were about 140 people on the set. Two were famous actors, one was the director, and then there were all these other people who had great, interesting jobs. I couldn’t get over the fact that there were all these kids who lived five miles away from that set, but who might as well have been living on another planet in terms of having access to those job opportunities.”

Together with Slover, Goldberg co-founded Reel Start, an organization that gives students from schools in those cities the chance to learn about the different types of jobs that are associated with making films and TV shows. “We’ll have different people come in, an actor, a director, a wardrobe person, a props master, and the kids will find out about what those jobs are like,” says Goldberg.

The program also gives the students the opportunity to make short films of their own, in collaboration with some high-calibre talents. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jay Baruchel, Dan Levy and Michael Peña are some of the actors who have appeared in Reel Start films. The most recent Reel Start project, an animated film overseen by students from Toronto, features voice work by Rogen and Anthony Mackie.

“In our first year, I brought in the same [director of photography] who worked on This Is the End, we got the costume designer from Black Monday,” says Goldberg. “We bring in top professionals to work with the kids and help them bring their visions to life.”

“I work with students whose families come from all over the world, who speak all these different languages, who have diverse backgrounds – and many of these students come from communities that are underrepresented in film,” says Slover.

One of Reel Start’s goals is to encourage young people from those communities to explore a possible career in the film industry. “We really strive for representation and we try to bring in specialists [from the film industry] who represent diverse communities and you can really see the students connect to that,” says Slover.

She cites the example of Pilar Flynn, a film producer who is a native of Chile and Ecuador. “Pilar talked about how she was Latina and how she produced Elena of Avalor,  the first Latina Disney princess, and how she never thought she would see a princess on screen who looked like her. One of the students in our group that year was South American, and you could see how taken she was with Pilar.”

“Most programs like this [aren’t available] until students are in university,” says Goldberg. “Our thesis is that it isn’t necessarily too late at that point, but you certainly don’t have a head start that way. I had an early start. It took me 10 years to do that one script and the first draft of Superbad was awful, humiliatingly bad, just utter rubbish, but over 10 years I learned how to make it good and by the time everyone else was at the starting line, I was already ahead of them. We wanted to give that opportunity to others.”

The fact that Reel Start is regularly able to attract top industry professionals to talk to students and to work with them is a testament to Goldberg’s reputation among his peers, says Slover.

“That is the reason why people are so quick to help Evan [with this]. It is because he is such a well-liked and respected person.”

Pushing at the boundaries

One of the hallmark characteristics of the Goldberg-Rogen team is their determination to continue to push at the boundaries of what is considered to be acceptable in mainstream film and television.

The end credits for Superbad famously feature an impressively diverse array of penis cartoons (courtesy of Goldberg’s brother). Sausage Party might look like a Pixar movie at first glance, but if you carelessly left a DVD of that film within easy access of a seven-year-old hosting a sleepover for her friends, you might be receiving some very angry phone calls from parents the next day. Characters in The Boys are regularly killed off in imaginatively gruesome ways.

In a recent interview, Rogen said, “The day that the studio stops calling us, telling us that we’ve gone way too far, is the day that we’ve started to lose our touch.”

Goldberg smiles when he hears the quote.

“I couldn’t agree more with that. We are working on a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, and we just got that call yesterday. It’s how I know we are doing a good job. I can’t give you specifics, but they told us that [a scene in the film] utterly disgusted them.

“It is one of the funniest parts of the movie and it will be in the movie,” he vows.

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