March 14, 1974
PhotosView All (4)
Screenwriter and director Etan Cohen started young, working on his first nationally televised show while still studying at Harvard, but with his ability to write children's programs and R-rated comedies with equal aplomb, he became one of the most sought-after comedy writers in Hollywood. Born in Jerusalem and raised in Israel and suburban Boston, Etan Cohen matriculated at the coed Orthodox Jewish day school Maimonides School in Brookline, where he'd write jokes in the margins of his Talmud to pass the time. While studying Yiddish at Harvard University, Cohen joined the famed humor publication Harvard Lampoon as a staff writer, and after spending a summer interning at MTV and submitting scripts to television showrunner Mike Judge, he was hired to the writing staff of the controversial "Beavis & Butthead" (MTV, 1993-97) while only in his sophomore year. Upon graduation, he moved to Los Angeles and signed with Disney Television Animation (contributing to shows such as the syndicated "Timon & Pumbaa" and ABC's "Recess") while continuing to work with Judge on the long-running slice-of-life animated series "King of the Hill" (FOX, 1997-2010) and the science fiction movie comedy "Idiocracy" (2006). When 20th Century Fox didn't know what to do with "Idiocracy," a biting satire about a dim-witted American who gets frozen for five centuries only to find that American society has become exponentially dumber, they dumped it unceremoniously into less than a hundred theatres to die a horrible box office death, but the film became a cult hit on home video and cable television. The film also made a fan out of Ben Stiller, who tapped Cohen to cowrite the Hollywood war satire "Tropic Thunder" (2008) starring Stiller, Jack Black, and Robert Downey, Jr. in an Oscar-nominated performance as an Australian method actor who dyes his skin black to play an African-American. The film was met with some controversy, especially in regards to a sequence where the blowhard actors discuss playing characters with disabilities, but it became a box office smash, earning more than $180 million worldwide. Cohen continued his relationship with Stiller with the screenplay to "Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa" (2008), the first sequel in Dreamworks' talking animal megafranchise, and watched his star power increase when the animated film took in more than $600 million. When Sony came calling, asking for assistance in reviving the "Men in Black" franchise-which had been dormant for a decade-Cohen faced the biggest challenge of his career, reportedly having to act as a buffer between the oversized personalities of star Will Smith, director Barry Sonnenfeld, and understandably concerned studio executives. But when the dust settled, "Men in Black 3" (2012)became the highest-grossing film in the series and was critically hailed in a way that its sloppy, rushed-into-development 2002 predecessor wasn't. Cohen made his directorial debut with "Get Hard" (2015), a crime comedy starring Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart.