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back hair don't care

A Celebration of Neighbors’ Seth Rogen, Back-Hair Pioneer

At one point in Neighbors, we see Seth Rogen's character having sex with his wife (Rose Byrne) on their living-room couch. A moment later, Zac Efron and his frat bros pop up to gawk at the two. And who could blame them? It's a sight to behold! No, not Byrne, who is completely covered by the largeness of Rogen's body (he admitted to gaining weight for the role to contrast with Efron). No, there, in full display was Rogen's back and the hair that covered it like the outstretched wings of an American bald eagle. It might seem like a small point, but I assure you, considering Hollywood's decades-long aversion to back hair, it is nothing short of revolutionary. Seth Rogen is a back-hair pioneer.

When I tried to think of recent examples of back hair in movies, the only thing that came to mind was this scene from Along Came Polly, where the entire joke was that a man dared — dared! — to play basketball while being hairy. Finding examples that don't go for an easy joke, however, is much more difficult, like looking for a single hair in a haystack. This post got its start as "A History of Memorable Movie Back/Body Hair," but there were too few instances. A month ago, in a meeting, an editor here waxed nostalgic about a former editor who had waxed even more nostalgic for the 1981 movie Thief, and a fleeting shot in which James Caan’s back hair peeked its way through a white tank top. It was the last time he remembered having seen such a thing. I imagine others having similar feelings towards Albert Brooks in Modern Romance, Peter Sellers in A Shot in the Dark, Dan Hedaya in Alien: Resurrection, and Paul Giamatti in Lady in the Water, but that is it.

What was very easy to find, however, were examples of seemingly very hairy actors with baby-smooth backs that made them appear as if they had walked backwards into a Nair waterfall but stopped before getting completely wet. Alec Baldwin, Burt Reynolds, Henry Cavill,  Sean Connery, Hugh Jackman, even freaking Robin Williams — all have voluminous body hair that magically stops at the clavicle, as if there were an Under the Dome–style glass barrier preventing it from going further backwards. Look at the insane contrast between Borat's front and back. Did Steve Carell also have a private back-waxing session before filming his now-iconic 40-Year-Old Virgin chest-waxing scene? Because come on. We don't know for sure that they all wax, but you'd have to imagine at least some of them did. Paul Giamatti can be seen with a hairless back in Big Fat Liar. Here, it looks like Scott Caan has inherited his dad's natural coat, but he appears here, on Hawaii Five-O, to be both smooth-shouldered and -backed. Even modern Hollywood's pinnacle of burliness, Nick Offerman, is rarely seen from the neck down. He explained in a 2010 interview with New York, "I’m very hairy, and men in film and TV are no longer allowed to be hairy. If you’re going to be topless you have to wax everything."

Seth Rogen was once one of those guys. Just look at his bare back and butt in Knocked Up, or his blatantly waxed body in 40-Year-Old Virgin’s “Aquarius” finale. Rogen was 25 when he made Knocked Up. Over the last seven years, he must’ve changed his mind. Maybe it was getting married. Maybe he decided to fully embrace his bear-icon status. Maybe it was an Apatowian desire to speak one's truth through comedy. Maybe he was just trying to keep up with the R-rated comedy "bodies-are-funny-and-gross" arms race started by Jason Segel's penis in 2008's Forgetting Sarah Marshall and carried on through to Paul Rudd going spread-eagle in This Is 40 and the spider-bite scene in We're the Millers. Either way, Rogen's back in his "Bound 2" parody, and Neighbors is quietly revolutionary. In neither case is the hair mentioned; it just exists. Yes, in both, the joke is that his body is gross in comparison to Kim Kardashian's or Rose Byrne's or Zac Efron's, but that is a joke that could've been made even if Rogen had been baby-smooth. Instead, Rogen embraced his hirsuteness, proudly letting that hair drape over his back as if he were an Olympic athlete and it were an American flag. Let us all salute it.