“Witnessing what happened to my mother destroyed almost all of my optimism. But that truly has changed because of Hilarity For Charity. I know and feel the good that is out there every single day.” So shares Lauren Miller Rogen, filmmaker and co-founder of Hilarity for Charity, a non-profit organization that works with the Alzheimer's Association to raise money for research and support groups, and to help families struggling to care for a person with Alzheimer's. It’s an organization near and dear to Lauren’s heart, having watched her mother, Adele, a teacher for 35 years, struggle through the debilitating effects of the disease.
Born in Long Island, raised in Lakeland, Florida, Lauren says she was always into creative activities. Happiest when she was drawing, she acted in summer camp plays and wrote stories, eventually finding herself enraptured by fashion. But when she moved to New York to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), she decided it was not the world for her. Acting was her passion. And after her dad convinced Lauren she needed a bachelor’s degree, she switched schools, graduating from the Film School at Florida State, a place she says she finally felt like herself. “I had found my people and what I was meant to do,” she shares. A few weeks post-gradation, Lauren and 15 of her fellows caravanned to Los Angeles. She’s called the City of Angels home ever since. In L.A. she worked as an assistant for three years, saving enough money to stop working, and pursue her dream of writing and acting full time. In 2011 she took For a Good Time, Call, a movie she co-wrote, produced, and starred in, to Sundance. Later that year she married actor Seth Rogen, after dating for over a decade.
Her relationship with Seth, which she calls “the best thing that happened to her,” began soon after Lauren moved to LA. However, life happens in the midst of happiness. Shortly thereafter, at only 25, the creative’s mom and the "heroic woman" whom she credits with showing her “how important it is to have passion for what you do with your life," was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s (anyone under the age of 64). Adele was 55-years-old. Lauren explains that “losing my mom, slowly, right in front of my eyes to a disease like Alzheimer’s shaped who I was for a while.” She was depressed. "I was really dark five years ago. Much darker than I thought I could ever be," she shares. The pain dominated her thoughts. Until a friend suggested a fundraiser. She resisted at first, the usual protests in mind. The fear of the workload. And the fact that she knew “NOTHING about having a fundraiser,” didn’t abed those fears. She remembers riding to the first event thinking, “there’s just no way this is going to work.” But, it did.
Since its first Variety Show in 2011, Hilarity for Charity has raised over $6M. Lauren says, “From the creation of HFCU (our program for college students), to the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Relief Grant Program (which has awarded over 120K hours of free at home care to those who need it the most), HFC has shown me that amazing things can come from the least expected places, and that doing what you can do is one of the best ways to help ourselves and the world around us.”
And naturally, though HFC is heavily focused on millennials, Lauren wants to rally as many people as possible around the cause. Especially the eight-second attention span Gen Z crowd. “It’s estimated that close to 15 Million Americans will have Alzheimer’s in 2050. Gen Z’ers will be how old then?” she asks. "I think that a disease like Alzheimer’s won’t be stopped until EVERYONE is involved in the fight.”
These days, Lauren swears by cuddling with her dog, Zelda. As for whether comedy is the best medicine, Lauren says, “It certainly helps. It’s also really the only thing my husband and I know how to do, so I don’t think we would have been able to form HFC without it. But, I also believe that if the time is right, sometimes some things are just so sad and so awful that the only thing we can do it laugh.” She still counts herself as incredibly blessed, despite the struggle her mother's disease has presented. "I can’t say I’ve faced any challenges that were particularly worse than most people—I’ve had unfair teachers and bosses, friends who didn’t value me, jobs I didn’t get and really wanted. Pretty basic stuff. Really, I have been pretty lucky my entire life." She does add the her biggest hurdle has been the one that most people face: self. "Like many, I can be my own worst critic, and the voices of insecurity, anxiety, fear, jealousy can drive me to places that aren’t productive, helpful, or even kind."
At present Lauren runs HFC, “with a great team of people,” writes, acts, and hopes to make “another feature in 2017 which I will direct.”
The days of caravanning to LA may be distant, but there is an optimism engrained in Lauren that even her darkest days can’t takeaway. She thinks back to her third day on the job as an assistant. “I delivered some papers to my boss who was in the middle of an ADR session with Tom Hanks,” she says. Her boss introduced her to Hanks who said, “Nice to meet you Lauren. Don’t. Get. Jaded.” Simple, but sage advice that has stuck. Because when Lauren says “I am lucky to do this work with HFC and THAT is what keeps me going,” you know she means it with her whole heart.