50/50 Injects Cancer With Comedy

By Jared Bowen

Oct. 2, 2011


Watch the segment that aired on September 28 on WGBH's Greater Boston.

BOSTON — There have been any number of movies about cancer over the years, yet few have dealt with young people having it. But that's the case in 50/50. The movie was born out of writer Will Reiser's own diagnosis. Actor Seth Rogen says his friend, writer Will Reiser, was the worst person to get cancer.

Seth Rogan: "He was very sensitive and very neurotic. And somewhat of a hypochondriac."

Will Reiser: "Although it turns out I had cancer!"

Rogan: "Turns out you had cancer, so maybe you weren't a hypochondriac."

Reiser: "I would say, for like eight months, I would talk about how I was so tired."

Rogan: "We thought you had mono."

Reiser: "I would go to the doctor and there would be nothing wrong."

Rogan: "It did just seem ironic, honestly, that the one friend we had that was so neurotic — but he was probably neurotic because he had cancer. "

It's this wit that spawned 50/50 — a comedy loosely based on Reiser's own cancer diagnosis. It was when both men were working behind the scenes in Hollywood six years ago that doctors discovered a giant, malignant tumor along Reiser's spine. He wrote 50/50 two years later.

"When I was going through it I was at an age where I did not know how to talk about, express myself on an emotional level, and talk about what I was feeling and what I was going through and how difficult it was. I think for me writing the movie really helped, it was very cathartic in allowing me to get the full memories out," Reiser recalled.

Then, as now, he dealt with it with humor. 50/50 stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Adam, a young, neurotic twentysomething stricken with cancer. Seth Rogen, who also co-produced the film, plays close friend Kyle, just as he did in real life.

"Looking back, it was crazy what some people did to him. It was insane! It almost seemed like some people treated him much worse than they would have had he not been sick. It was too much for them to deal with so they lashed out," Rogan said.

But being twentysomethings, the pair also managed to use Reiser's diagnosis for some — to put it kindly — social leverage.

"It wasn't like we were going out trying to meet women. Seth's fiancé and he met while I was sick and that only helped him look more sympathetic. And I introduced them which also helped. Cancer brought you together," Reiser said.

"Exactly, it's true. It's like this guy has cancer and he's still trying to hook up his friend? He must be a great guy," Rogan said. "We got into Batman Begins for free right after surgery."

In real life though, as in the film, Reiser's battle with cancer was arduous especially for his parents.

"It was really emotional for my mom, she was crying on set. But also I think it was cathartic for her as well. I didn't get to tell her in person. I had to tell her over the phone, I was in Los Angeles, she was in New York. Her first instinct was to get on a plane and move straight to LA, which she did, and I had to put her on a plane back to New York. She was driving me crazy," Resier said.

Like Terms of Endearment, consider this an exceptional entry into the uncomfortable cancer canon.


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