'Forgetting Sarah Marshall': Jason Segel looks back at comedy that 'changed my life' 15 years ago

Actor wrote and starred in the 2008 hit comedy that made him a bankable movie star.

FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL, Jason Segel, back: Kristen Bell, Russell Brand, 2008. ©Universal/courtesy Everett Collection
Jason Segel (foreground) with Kristen Bell and Russell Brand (in back) in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. (Photo: Universal, courtesy Everett Collection

“That was the naïveté of youth giving way to some really brave art,” Jason Segel says now of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the R-rated hit released in theaters 15 years ago, on April 18, 2008. Segel wrote and starred in the comedy as a heartbroken composer who goes on vacation in Hawaii — only to find the actress (Kristen Bell) who just dumped him there with her new rock-star boyfriend (Russell Brand).

When you hear Segel talking about braveness, your mind might immediately flash to the infamous opening scene of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, where the actor, playing Peter Bretter, stands in his apartment buck naked as Bell’s title character ends their five-year relationship in the most awkward fashion. (The scene’s hardly subtle metaphor for being “emotionally naked” was lost on few.)

But Segel, who spoke to Yahoo Entertainment while promoting his acclaimed new Apple TV+ series Shrinking, is hinting more at the film’s finale: when Peter realizes his dream of staging a puppet-based rock opera about Dracula called A Taste for Love.

“I didn’t understand that it was weird to end a movie with a lavish Dracula puppet musical, I just felt like it was what I liked and it would be good. And now I think, ‘Oh, there was like a lot of money behind that movie,’” Segel says of the Nicholas Stoller-directed, Judd Apatow-produced film made by Universal for $30 million.

“Somebody was sitting behind a desk reading the end of that script, like, ‘What the hell?’ But we tricked them all.”

Audiences were into it. Though the film was only a modest hit upon its release, earning $63 million in the U.S. and $105 million worldwide, Sarah Marshall eventually found a large, devout fan base on Blu-ray and DVD. Critics dug the movie, too, as its 83% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes attests.

Though Segel was already part of a popular sitcom ensemble with How I Met Your Mother, Sarah Marshall turned him into a bankable movie star. Over the next few years, he would co-headline comedies with Paul Rudd (2009’s I Love You, Man), Emily Blunt (2012’s The Five-Year Engagement) and Cameron Diaz (2011’s Bad Teacher and 2014’s Sex Tape).

Arguably his biggest triumph, though — and directly a result of that bold ending to Sarah Marshall — was being entrusted to reboot Disney’s Muppets-verse with 2011’s The Muppets, which he wrote with Stoller and starred in alongside Amy Adams.

“From the moment I made Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I had in the back of my mind that if I could write something good enough, I could always keep working,” says Segel, who also wrote on Five-Year Engagement and Sex Tape and, in more recent years, Windfall and Shrinking (which also marks his return to comedy after nearly a decade of more dramatic fare).

“And that has been a great tool and a great comfort, and also a lot of pressure, you know? But yeah, it changed my life.”