The Almighty Jay

Alongside fellow Canadians Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Rogen’s writing buddy who scripted Pineapple Express and Superbad), Baruchel normalized weed smoking on film and placed it in the context of normal people growing up and pursuing jobs and romance. It’s not lost on him that he and his buddies may have contributed something to the legalization of cannabis in this country.
“Before Knocked Up, I would always get yelled at by my managers for mentioning pot in an interview, but after that movie made a bunch of money, lo and behold, it became this cool thing,” says Baruchel, who still lives and makes films in Canada, like his last two directorial efforts, Goon 2 and Random Acts of Violence. “Marijuana had occupied a pretty specific real estate in cinema up to Knocked Up and I’m not saying we split the atom, but we might have contributed towards a more nuanced, reasonable understanding that being a pothead isn’t a gateway to becoming a junkie.”
For Baruchel, the voice of Hiccup and star of the beloved animated franchise How to Train Your Dragon, image is important, at least as far as it goes for not sullying something he loves. So when he makes stoner comedies and is also able to be the face of a billion-dollar franchise—the eleventh highest-grossing animated franchise of all-time—it says something about the normalization of weed.
“I have a sincere respect and reverence for those movies and would hate to do anything that took away from it, but people, ultimately, didn’t think of it as an issue,” Baruchel says. “I think it kind of speaks to where people’s heads are at and the evolving evidence, and just look at the cast of How to Train Your Dragon (Jonah Hill, Kirsten Wiig and Christopher Mintz-Plasse from Role Models and Superbad)—that says it all.”
Baruchel’s an avid comic book fan and Random Acts of Violence, his new film, which he wrote, produced, acts in and directed, takes viewers on a demented cross-country American journey into serial killers, and enough creepy set pieces to appease any Hitchcock fan. Psycho, he says, Hitchcock’s masterpiece, is his earliest favourite horror film, and his most recent Halloween films recommendations are Kill List, by director Ben Wheatley, and The Host, from Bong Joon Ho, who would later win the Oscar for Parasite. However, there’s no talking about suspense motion pictures with the fiercely patriotic Canadian without mentioning Toronto’s master of horror, David Cronenberg.
“He’d be the G.O.A.T. regardless of where he’s from, but the fact that he’s Canadian and not just reps here, but doesn’t try and erase that from his voice and set his shit in a fake American world, makes him one of my absolute heroes,” says Baruchel, who worked with Cronenberg on Cosmopolis. “I will spend my life trying to trigger five percent in an audience of what Videodrome triggered in me.”
These days, as we approach the second anniversary of Canada’s cannabis legalization and also look to homegrown films to help bolster our culture, we can do a lot worse than saluting the almighty Jay. “I think legalization is something that every Canadian, whether or not you consume cannabis, should be proud of—that we live in a country where this happens,” he says. “I was raised to be patriotic and believe I was living in and growing up in the best country in the world and I have lived to see that belief be something meaningful, practical and true.”