4 — Let’s Go!
SETH: Hi, welcome to Storytime with Seth Rogen. This week’s episode: Let’s go.
NEWSCASTER 1: So who was that guy getting so much attention from the media this morning? By George, that was John as in John F. Kennedy Jr.
SETH: In 1995, JFK Jr. Founded George magazine.
NEWSCASTER 2: In this extraordinary magazine,
NEWSCASTER 3: George looks red hot.
SETH: The first cover of the magazine featured supermodel, Cindy Crawford dressed up kind of like a sexy George Washington which to this day stirs some very complicated feelings in me. George was kind of like a Rolling Stone magazine for the politically interested. Kind of like a cool political magazine at a time when politics themselves were kind of cool.
SETH: And its editor was JFK Jr. who was a rising socialite, gaining national media attention of his own.
NEWSCASTER: What it won’t have is gossip about John Jr.
FRANKLIN: I was working there the summer he did the nude cover.
SETH: This is Franklin Leonard. He founded The Blacklist.
FRANKLIN: And this was the summer after my freshman year of college. I am from west central Georgia. This is the first summer I spent in New York city. I’m 18 years old and the world just seemed insane to me. JFK Jr. like literally walking around the office and like, I’ve seen that guy on TV. The editors in the magazine are like the cool kids in New York ‘cause they work at George magazine.
SETH: It was cool. Even I remember like the cover with Howard Stern, standing there with a chainsaw and I was like,
SETH: This is a cool magazine. (Seth laughing)
SETH: JFK Jr. took a liking to Franklin who was then a summer intern.
FRANKLIN: All the things that you heard about him were true. He was super charismatic. He treated us really well. He acknowledged that we existed.
SETH: When Franklin brought up post-graduation plans, JFK Jr. offered Franklin a job.
FRANKLIN: He was like, Hey, come work for me.
SETH: Come work for me after you graduate Harvard. That was the plan, but you know what they say about plans.
TOM BROKAW: A dark day for America. That family truly is cursed.
THEME SONG: Storytime.
AFTER AD BREAK Storytime. Yeah.
SETH: Franklin Leonard is a fixture in Hollywood. As I know it, he created something called The Black list, which started as just a list of people in town’s favorite unproduced screenplays and has become a list of who the next generation of up and coming filmmakers are. But The Blacklist is not what Franklin wanted to talk to me about.
He actually wanted to talk to me about a very personal, informative thing that happened to him the summer before his senior year at Harvard. The story that shows over the course of one day, everything you think your life is going to be, can be changed forever. Let’s go back to the beginning though.
(inquisitive music plays)
FRANKLIN: Well, I was actually, I was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. Um, my dad was in the army. I like to think that my family and Barack Obama were like a relatively small group of black people in Hawaii in like 1978, which was kind of fun. And then we moved to Columbus, Georgia, which is like two hours south of Atlanta on the Alabama border, like deep south.
SETH: And you have a clear memory of this?
FRANKLIN: Yeah. I have a clear memory of like moving back and immediately realizing that I was a weirdo.
SCENE FROM FAMILY MATTERS:
Steve Urkel: Did I do that?
FRANKLIN: I was Urkel. Like, let me be very clear. It was what all of my friends and enemies called me. (Seth laughing)
SETH: It’s, it’s bad, but when your friends and enemies find common ground for a way to insult you. (Seth laughing)
FRANKLIN: In retrospect, they, they were right. I was really into math. I was a nerd.
SETH: Into math? (Seth laughing)
FRANKLIN: Yeah. I was that kid.
SETH: Did you have friends?
FRANKLIN: Yeah I mean, there were other nerds at my high school. Like my mom used to tell me when I was a kid, just be yourself. Eventually people will realize how cool you are. And it turns out she was right. (Seth laughing)
FRANKLIN: I mean look, credit to my mom. She nailed it.
SETH: And what pop culture, I’m just curious, like what pop culture things were you into at this time?
FRANKLIN: I watched every, I watched pretty much every movie that like came out because when you don’t have much of a social life in high school, you end up going to movies like by yourself, like on a Friday and Saturday night (Seth laughing) ‘cause like there’s nothing else going on.
SCENE FROM “THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT”:
A.J. MACINERNEY: The president has asked me to convey to you that he’s sending his energy bill to the floor with a call for a 10% reduction.
FRANKLIN: I remember watching the American president in the theater, uh, and like looking around and being like, why isn’t everybody else, like applauding about this ACLU speech?
SCENE FROM “THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT”:
ANDREW SHEPHERD: Do you think they’ll ever be a time when you can stand in a room with me and not think of me as the president?
SETH: (laughing) You were an early Sorkin adopter too. (laughing)
FRANKLIN: Clearly, clearly. Look, I was just like, oh my God, someone else is sort of not down with the deep south? This was amazing. (Seth laughing)
SETH: But Franklin was not long for the deep south. It was time for Urkel to go where an Urkel will thrive. A place where Urkels can frolic free, percolate, snorting, laughing, falling, asking if they did that.
(music indicating a big change)
FRANKLIN: So I’m a big nerd in high school, that gets me into Harvard, right?
(sound of college students talking)
FRANKLIN: I went to college thinking that I was going to be a biomedical engineer.
FRANKLIN: And very quickly, my freshman year of college, I like go into that like first math class at Harvard, where like all the guys who were really into math are in that class.
FRANKLIN: And I looked around and had this realization that like maybe being good at math in Georgia is very different than being good at math at Harvard. Right?
SETH: Yeah. (Seth laughing)
FRANKLIN: Being good at math in Georgia, like you went to math on tests, whatever. Being good at math at Harvard is like some straight up “Beautiful mind”, I’m going to change mathematics and win a Field’s Prize in the next 20 years. I have a healthy self-image, but that’s not me.
SETH: I had a similar thing when I was at, I, did stand up comedy in Vancouver. And then when I was 18, I was doing standup comedy in Los Angeles. And I was like, oh, these are very different things. (Seth laughing)
FRANKLIN: Right. (laughing)
(sound of college students talking)
FRANKLIN: I sort of made a hard right turn towards like politics. I majored in a degree called social studies. It’s basically a social and political theory.
(inquisitive music plays)
SETH: That’s what brought him to New York to that internship with JFK Jr.
JFK Jr: Politics isn’t dry. It isn’t dull, so why should a magazine that covers it be?
SETH: Franklin does the internship, goes back to Harvard. He still has three more years of school and he needs to write his thesis on something. So he chooses something nice and simple.
FRANKLIN: Jazz as, as political resistance in South Africa, during apartheid.
FRANKLIN: Yeah. Right? Dope subject, like absolutely fascinating that you get to listen to jazz music as like work.
FRANKLIN: Um, and I could go to South Africa, which is a place I’ve always wanted to.
SETH: Jazz music had long been used as a political tool against the institution of racial segregation, known as apartheid. Musicians like Hugh Masekela were as widely known for their activism as they were for their music in the sixties. When the apartheid government banned gatherings of over 10 people, many South African jazz musicians went into political exile for decades. They didn’t return until near apartheid’s end in the eighties and nineties and homecoming concerts then became part of the rallying cry for democratic leadership under the African National Congress, also known as the ANC, the party of South Africa’s first, fairly elected black presisdent, Nelson Mandela.
NELSON MANDELA: Out of the experience of an extraordinary human disaster that lasted too long.must produce an actual South African reality. That will reinforce humanity’s belief in justice.
FRANKLIN: This was like Mandela’s last year as president.
SETH: Franklin had to get to South Africa stat.
FRANKLIN: You know the “Let’s Go” travel guide series?
SETH: Uh huh.
FRANKLIN: So that was, I don’t know if it still is. It used to be written by Harvard students.
SETH: Oh, wow.
FRANKLIN: They give you the old guide. You go check that. You look for new, cool stuff and you add new information and they put it out for next year,
SETH: Wow! (laughing)
FRANKLIN: Which is like a pretty remarkable,
SETH: like fucking great. (laughing)
FRANKLIN: I was like, great. I’m gonna to do, Let’s Go South Africa. I’m gonna drive around the country for two months while the country is in transition between Mandela and Mbeki. And then that will cover my plane ticket.
FRANKLIN: So I can do research on this thesis.
SETH: Kind of a last hurrah before his senior year.
FRANKLIN: One of the last things I did before I left the US for South Africa was have lunch with John and he had offered me a job at George magazine.
(Sound of plane landing)
FRANKLIN: And what I actually probably took for granted at the time is that was literally my first solo international trip.
FRANKLIN: I definitely had never like gotten on a plane and like flown to another country and been by myself for an extended period of time, which is why I now understand why my parents were like, so you’re going to South Africa for three months by yourself? Um, we don’t entirely know how to feel about this. It’s not like there were cell phones that I could like check in with them. They were just kind of trusting that I would call once a week to let them know I was alive.
SETH: And it’s your, it’s your accommodations like where you’re staying?
FRANKLIN: Hostels, hostels.
SETH: All just hostels.
FRANKLIN: So it’s all hostels. And unfortunately, South Africa, at this point, there are tons of hostels everywhere. Tourism is actually going pretty well in ‘99. All of this comes back by the way. (Seth laughing)
FRANKLIN: I rent a car and now I’m driving around South Africa. So every day, you know, bigger cities I’d stay two or three days, but I’m everyday driving to a new place.
(sound of driving)
FRANKLIN: What I discovered very quickly was is that there’s not a lot of primary research to be done for an undergraduate on jazz, political resistance during apartheid. A lot of the jazz musicians got out because they had to, it couldn’t go to a library and like solve this.
FRANKLIN: This was going to require, say a lot more sort of like, you know, actually being in the community and talking to people and earning trust.
FRANKLIN: And like, hey, tell me about your grandparent.
FRANKLIN: You know, or like, tell me about your story. And there was no way that I, as this like interloping, like kid from Harvard was gonna be able to do that sort of by parachuting in, and then like bouncing from town to town, writing this travel guide.
FRANKLIN: I’m proud of the fact that I realized that very quickly, a little disappointed that I didn’t clock it before then. (Seth laughing)
SETH: But it was an ambitious thesis, I would say (Seth laughing).
FRANKLIN: It was ambitious, and by the way, anybody who has written that book, I would love to read it.
(sound of driving fades out)
FRANKLIN: That was never going to work, but I was like on my, like, you know, walk about, right? I was going to see the world and do it on my own and, and figure out what I wanted from my life.
(music indicates another change coming)
FRANKLIN: So we’re now like mid July, I’m down to the coast and I sort of choose, I think it was Port Elizabeth as the town that I was gonna use as my like sort of point of departure. And I was sort of gonna drive like an hour and a half inland to all of these sort of inland parts and like towns that I didn’t necessarily want to like spend the night in.
Um, but I had to cover them for the travel guide. I think my agenda for the day was go to the Mountain Zebra National Park drive around, check out the Mountain Zebra and the like facilities at the Mountain Zebra National Park, and then rewrite up, uh, whatever was in the guide for that and then anything else that was nearby.
SETH: Yeah. (Seth laughs) Were there mountain zebras?
FRANKLIN: I never got to see the Mountains zebras. I assumed there are mountain zebras there. Maybe you’d see another vehicle every 5 to 15 minutes, maybe. You know, it’s the middle of nowhere. I think I wrote to somebody at the time that it felt like I was like driving through the land before time.
Right? Like, I feel like if a dinosaur had like peered over the side of like a hill or a mountain, I’d be like, hey, that makes sense. Okay.
SETH: Jurassic Park-y.
FRANKLIN: Well, Jurassic Park-y I feel like was more tropical. More rocky.
SETH: I see rocky. More moon like.
FRANKLIN: Sort of like Grand Canyon-y, like purples and reds and scrub brush and shit.
So I’m driving on a dirt road, I’m listening to Ray Charles. It was the only CD that I had for some reason. I don’t know why. Um, and I, I don’t know if I was going too fast. I don’t think that I was going too fast, but I remember hearing like a pop.
(Sound of pop, Ray Charles plays through a dreamy filter)
FRANKLIN: And like the back right side of the car, like pitching up. I remember being like very present in the moment.
RAY CHARLES SINGS: To be free and explore the unknown.
FRANKLIN: This is not good.
(Sound of car crashing)
THEME SONG: Storytime.
AD BREAK ENDS: Storytime, yeah.
(sound of car rolling over.
FRANKLIN: The car rolled twice.
SETH: Oh my God.
FRANKLIN: And then the car sort of comes to a stop facing the other direction, but still right-side up. But like, the roof is collapsed on top of me now. And I remember like sitting there and being like, I definitely have some sort of injury that’s going to fuck everything. So I’m like grabbing my torso, like trying to like feel down my legs, like, and literally expecting to like put my hand in like a gaping hole. Right?
FRANKLIN: Or like having like a hand come back covered in blood. And it was like a little bit of blood, but I didn’t feel any pain, but I was like conscious enough to be like, that’s probably just adrenaline and you’re definitely dying. But I was like, I had the presence of mind, like take my seatbelt off.
And then the, the driver’s side window had like popped out. The windows, like sort of shattered. There’s spindly glass in the window sill. So I crawl out of the car. And I see a little bit of blood and it’s like the amount of blood that you get from like a heavy paper cut.
FRANKLIN: But it was still blood. So I’m like, oh God, where did that come from?
And then I’m still like standing there, like trying to figure out if it’s like on my head or my torso like where it was from. And then I figured out that there was literally like a cut in the webbing of my hand that I had gotten as I crawled out of the window from the glass.
SETH: Oh god. (Seth laughing)
FRANKLIN: But otherwise I feel completely fine.
(Sound of wind)
FRANKLIN: And the car is fucked. The car is going nowhere. The car, the roof has collapsed. I think all four tires have popped off at this point. There’s no like maybe I can drive it out of here. It’s I can’t get near it ‘cause I’m worried that thing’s going to blow up. Right?
SETH: Yeah (Seth laughing)
FRANKLIN: It’s like that level of destruction. I definitely was like, what if no one comes before it gets dark? Like, I think that thought occurred to me because I was definitely also like, not on a main road anymore. I don’t know if there are park rangers. I don’t know if anybody else is visiting the Mountains Zebra National Park. And again, I think it’s important to remember. This is 1999. There are no cell phones.
FRANKLIN: There are no car phones. I’m a black guy in South Africa in the middle of nowhere with no way to communicate with anybody. And again, to be fair to South Africa, I would have had the same reaction if I had been in the US.
FRANKLIN: Like, this is (Franklin laughing) not specific to South Africa. Though I’m also acutely aware of sort of the, the racial history in this country, particularly this part of the country. Right? Um, which is sort of inland from the Eastern Cape and doesn’t have the best reputation for like how it treated members of the ANC.
(Sound of wind blowing, inquisitive music plays)
FRANKLIN: You see a car in a dirt road, you can see sort of a plume of smoke behind them, like the road runner? So I see, I see that in the distance. And as far as I can tell, like trying to trace where that road goes, like sort of weaving between where they are and where I am in the direction they’re headed on the road.
I start to think, okay, they’re headed my direction. Assuming they don’t turn around, they’re eventually going to get to me and there’s no way they’re gonna miss me. Um, and this couple pulls up. They think they have stumbled on to literally just bodies everywhere. It kept asking me like, is there anybody else in the car?
And I was like, no, it’s just me. Like, is there anybody else in the car? I’m like, I promise you, it’s just me. I’m fine. Eventually when everybody calmed down, they were like, we saw the car flip.
FRANKLIN: We were certain, certain that there’d be at least one person done.
SETH: Holy shit.
FRANKLIN: And I was like, Well, nope, just me still here.
I think I’m still here. I don’t know. All of this seems very surreal right now, so maybe…
FRANKLIN: So maybe this is sad, but I, I will, I will attribute it to shock and not just being a thankless Pratt, but like I have virtually no memory of them. It was, I remember reading the man. It was a man and a woman. They were definitely white. (Seth laughing) They were probably in their forties, but again, in retrospect, I have no idea, but they literally just showed up. They made sure I was alive, but eventually, um, a ambulance showed up. We went back to the main town.
SETH: Did you just leave the car there?
FRANKLIN: Yeah, I assume they, they picked it up and demoed it? (Seth laughing)
FRANKLIN: Here I am 22 years later and it hasn’t come up.
SETH: Yeah, exactly. So you’re not getting calls from Avis, South Africa. (Seth laughing)
FRANKLIN: I’m a hundred percent gonna get an email from Avis, like underpaid, unpaid bill (Seth laughing).
SETH: A lot of late fees on this. (Seth and Franklin laughing)
FRANKLIN: But so, yeah. And so then they took me to a hospital just to make sure that I was okay, but you know, now it’s like 6:00 PM, 8:00 PM.
(Sounds of hospitals and ambulances)
FRANKLIN: I’m literally in this like rural South African hospital. I remember the doctor was Cupis from Cuba. And I remember thinking like, you’ve been like baseball. That’s something that we can bond over. This is wild. I’m an American, you’re Cuban. We’re in South Africa, but we’re talking about the New York Yankees.
This is, uh, this is, this is the world. This is crazy. Eventually the cops were like, yeah, it’s not like there’s anything to charge you with. (Seth laughing)
SETH: You crashed.
FRANKLIN: You’re fine. We can let you.
(sound of dialing phone)
FRANKLIN: There was also like having to call my parents.
(Sound of phone ringing)
FRANKLIN: First things first, I’m ok. So then the cops found a driver, like a taxi driver in town who would drive me like the three hours back to like Port Elizabeth. And this is like this point it’s like 2am. And it’s like a two and a half, three hour drive. So I remember like sitting in the back of this taxi while this like 65, 70 year old South African man um, you know, just like listening to like you know, church radio and like, feel like there was like a full moon. I remember like the moon being very bright and sort of looking across this landscape as we were like coming into Port Elizabeth and being like, how is this my life right now? Like, this is not, I don’t know how to process any of this.
(Sound of music in the car, then sound of birds chirping)
FRANKLIN: I get back to the hostel at like 6:00 AM. And a bunch of people were like watching the TV and like the living room of this hostel.
BILL CLINTON: As the search continues, I want to express our family support and offer our prayers. And those of all Americans for John Kennedy Jr., his wife Carolyn, her sister Lauren, and to their fine families.
FRANKLIN: What they’re watching is the coverage of JFK Jr. died in that plane crash.
SETH: Holy shit.
NEWS REPORTER: The Kennedy plane suddenly disappeared at just the time and place that plane might’ve been, as it approached Martha’s vineyard last night.
TOM BROKAW: A dark day for America. This is unbelievable. That family truly is cursed.
FRANKLIN: It was literally just like one of like, oh, now I have literally, I’m going to have to figure out my life boat, both. Because like this thing that I thought I might do when I graduated, like, it is no longer on the table, but more specifically it’s like, all this shit is really a femoral. Um, yeah.
That’s why I literally spent the rest of the summer, like trying to process that before going into my senior year of college.
SETH: Well, when did you, so that’s, (Seth laughing) so there’s a lot, there. That is so crazy. So, but in, in south, so what, what do you do next in South Africa?
FRANKLIN: Yeah, so I called the folks and go like, yes, this happened.
Um, I think I maybe had a week or two left of, um, Let’s Go. And so then I was just taking sort of the, like, you know, hostile bus from place to place instead of driving on my own.
SETH: But you stayed.
FRANKLIN: Yeah, I stayed. Yeah.
FRANKLIN: But it, part of it was like, what am I going to do now?
FRANKLIN: Part of it was, well, if I’m ever going to have an adventure, certainly it should continue after surviving the car accident.
SETH: Yeah. I have to say the fact that you stayed is, uh, surprising and impressive to me.
SETH: Like I think a lot of people would have gone after that happened. (Seth laughing)
FRANKLIN: I guess in retrospect. Yeah. Like I almost died in a car accident is enough to be like check, please.
SETH: I would probably go home. (Seth laughing)
FRANKLIN: Yeah. It’s weird. I actually never thought about it that way, but yeah, for me, my reaction was, well, I guess I should do the biggest bungee jump in the world.
SETH: Yeah. (Seth laughing)
FRANKLIN: And so I headed down to Capetown because it was like both of my plans, right? Like I’m not going to be writing for the travel guide anymore. I’m not going to be researching this thesis. I need to figure out my life because I just realized that laying life ends and there was this like hostel bus that went hop on, hop off bus that took you down the hostels in the eastern Cape.
One of the stops was the largest at the time, the largest bungee jump in the world.
SETH: Oh wow.
FRANKLIN: Bloukrans which was like a ten second fall. It was like 216 meters or something.
SETH: That’s insane.
FRANKLIN: Yeah. It was completely nuts. And I remember everybody was like, are you going to do the bungee jump? Are you gonna do the budget jump? And like, to be clear, I’m not a bungee jump person.
SETH: Steve Urkel wouldn’t bungee jump. (Seth laughing)
FRANKLIN: But I remember thinking like, I mean, I just survived a car accident that probably should’ve killed me. Yeah, fuck it. Let’s double down. And, and so I did this bungee jump.
FRANKLIN: I remember telling myself okay, when you jump, everybody jumps and screams ‘cause that’s like a normal human reaction.
SETH: Yeah (Seth laughing)
FRANKLIN: I’m just going to, I was like, when you jump, don’t scream. Just enjoy the silence and like enjoy the fall. I don’t have a video anymore. I was like a DHS somewhere, but what you see is you see me jump.
FRANKLIN: And there’s like two seconds of silence.
(more dramatic music)
FRANKLIN: And then you hear me just screaming bloody murder.
(sound of man screaming)
FRANKLIN: Oh my God. (Seth laughing) As I fall for eight seconds. (laughing)
SETH: You did your best. (laughing)
SETH: Some people plan every aspect of their life, chart out a map that they hope to follow to a destination. Others either world’s tallest, bungee jump on the side of the road and they take a leap of faith. Over the course of this one day, Franklin went from being one to the other, and I’m glad he did because I probably would not know him if he was a scientist.
SETH: Storytime with Seth Rogen is an Earwolf production. Produced, edited, and sound designed by Richard Parks III. Our executive producer is Frida Perez. Additional production by Josh Richmond, Renee Colvert, Jared O’Connell and Marina Paiz with special thanks to Amelia Chappelow. Our artwork is by Robin Richardson. Our theme music is by Andi Kristinsdóttir. Make sure to rate and review Storytime with Seth Rogen and follow the podcast on Amazon music, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you listen to podcasts.
I’m Seth Rogen.