Interview: SNL’s Andy Samberg

Photo: Seth Kushner for YRB Magazine

Ever since Jimmy Fallon and Will Ferrell bade farewell to Saturday Night Live, the weekly sketch comedy show has been driven by veteran cast members like Darrell Hammond, Tina Fey, Chris Parnell and Amy Poehler. But with the remarkable success of the SNL Digital Short “Lazy Sunday,” which aired last December, a rookie cast member has been catapulted into the spotlight: Andy Samberg, 27.

Unless you’ve been in a coma for the last few months, you’ve probably seen the two-and-a-half minute rap video, which follows Samberg and Chris Parnell as they quench their “snack-attacks” with pink frosted cupcakes from New York’s famed Magnolia Bakery, load a backpack with Mr. Pibb and Red Vines purchased with less-than-crisp $10 bills at the local deli, and cab it to the Upper West Side to catch an afternoon showing of The Chronicles of Narnia

Samberg arrived at SNL last fall with his two best friends, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer, who both now write for the show. (The three wrote “Lazy Sunday” together with Parnell.) Talking to Samberg, it seems clear that as far as his comedy is concerned, he doesn’t think of himself apart from his partners in crime – almost as if they were conjoined triplets. The “Dudes,” who grew up together in their hometown of Berkley, CA, are collectively known as the Lonely Island, a title initially bestowed on the apartment they shared after graduating from college and moving to L.A. in 2001. Putting their degrees in film and theater to good use, the Dudes soon began to write, direct and star in their own short films, which they posted to their website, www.thelonelyisland.com.

In addition to longer episodes like “White Power” (an 18-minute film about three otherwise good kids, struggling to overcome an addiction to White Power-brand teeth-whitener), music videos in the vein of “Lazy Sunday” have long been part of their repertoire. Under the name Incredibad, the Lonely Island has produced a number of songs, most notably “Just 2 Guyz,” “Ka-Blamo!” and “Stork Patrol.” Like the rest of the Dudes’ work, the videos are funny, but the quality of the music itself (from the beats to the lyrics) is also impressive; they’ve even been compared to the Beastie Boys. “‘Ka-Blamo!’ you could say, has a lot of Beastie Boys influence, like we’re even sorta’ aping them at some point. But like in ‘Stork Patrol,’ we’re all doing our best Ghostface,” Samberg says.

The Lonely Islanders seem like the kind of dudes who got stoned and then actually made movies instead of just watching them like the rest of us. Of their pre-SNL work, perhaps they are best known for The ‘Bu, a series that originally aired on the L.A.-based website, Channel 101. A parody of TV dramas like Fox’s The O.C., the Lonely Island website explains the series’ title: “Young, sexy people that live in Malibu call it the ‘Bu, because when you say the entire word, it takes time, and then you wouldn’t be young anymore.”

The eighth and final episode of The ‘Bu coincided with plans for a pilot called Awesometown; although the show was not picked up, Samberg and his boys were well on their way to establishing themselves in the comedy world. But a good reputation doesn’t always pay the rent, so when the Dudes were broke, Samberg did what any other L.A. comedian would do: he went on commercial auditions. In the spring of 2004, he landed a part in a Japanese commercial for Honda. “It was fuckin’ awesome. It was so sweet – they flew me and like five other Americans out to Tokyo, business class. We just kicked it in Japan in a five-star hotel for a week, and shot this commercial and went out and got wasted and did karaoke,” he says, adding, “Just for the record, I do not like karaoke. But I did enjoy it in Japan.”

How did Andy Samberg make it from the Lonely Island to the island of Manhattan and Saturday Night Live? Speaking, as he usually does, of himself, Schaffer and Taccone, in the plural, Samberg says, “We first got introduced to the SNL world, so to speak, when we were writing on the MTV Movie Awards. We did it two years in a row, and this past year Jimmy Fallon was the host, so we worked pretty closely with him. I guess he suggested [that SNL producers] check us out.” After watching the material on the Lonely Island website, SNL producers asked Andy to audition and ultimately invited him to join the cast, while Jorma and Akiva were offered writing gigs.

Given that his background is unlike that of most Saturday Night Live cast members, who performed in sketch and improv groups like Second City before joining the show, has the transition to live TV been difficult for Samberg? He did a lot of stand-up comedy prior to SNL, which he says prepared him for the experience of performing in front of a live audience, though it did take some time to get comfortable with things like blocking and playing to the camera. “In terms of transitioning the comedy, I feel like definitely those people [the other cast members] have done a lot more live sketch, but we’ve done a lot of sort of controlled comedy of our own, and obviously it plays more when we do stuff that’s sort of pre-shot, ‘cause that’s what we’re used to…and the success that ‘Lazy Sunday’ had is a testament to the fact that that’s what we’re the most experienced with.”

To call it a success is an understatement. A slew of bloggers immediately rushed to update their Live Journal and My Space entries, calling Andy SNL’s new savior and posting links to “Lazy Sunday.” The short has since been downloaded millions of times, spawning a new generation of catch phrases (e.g., “It’s all about the Hamiltons, baby”). Although “Lazy Sunday” has been subject to a barrage of press, Samberg maintains that his life is more or less the same as it was before – except that now, he is recognized almost every time he leaves the West Village apartment he shares with Schaffer. When he arrives at trendy Union Square eatery, Coffee Shop, for the photo shoot, he is wearing a new black jacket, which he bought to replace the fur-hooded parka he wore in the video; he’s identified more frequently in the parka, and doesn’t want people to think he’s wearing it because he is seeking the attention.

But while most people under the age of 30 might recognize Andy Samberg – as the awesome, shaggy- haired dude who made that rap video with a clever hook that combined the name of a children’s movie with allusions to getting blunted – apparently it is much more difficult for them to remember his name. A New York Times copy editor is probably seeking employment elsewhere after the paper misidentified him as “Adam Samberg” on the front page of its Arts Section. Andy says he was not surprised by the error. “I’ve been getting that in standup since I started. Everyone calls me either ‘Adam Samberg’ or ‘Andy Sandler.’”

He jokes about making it big so that no one will get his name wrong again, but Samberg seems not to be distracted by fame or fortune, and he’s not rushing to prove that he’s a major league baller. Us Weekly recently crowned him, “The Next Jimmy Fallon,” and while he’s flattered by such comparisons, Samberg doesn’t see himself as being the Next Big Anyone, per se. “I kinda’ just wanna’ do my own thing, and hopefully someday have someone else who does their own thing be called, ‘The Next Andy Samberg.’” Somehow, the remarkable popularity of “Lazy Sunday” – and the subsequent rush of publicity he has experienced in its wake – doesn’t seem to have fazed him, though he hopes it won’t prove to be a one-hit wonder. But the video is not unlike a lot of the work in the Lonely Island portfolio; “It just happened to be on Saturday Night Live now. So I think if we just kinda’ keep trying to make each other laugh, we should be fine; that’s always been the rule,” he says, referring to Schaffer and Taccone. (In fact, as we go to press, “Young Chuck Norris,” another SNL digital short starring Samberg, is already making its rounds on the internet.)

From the moment he arrives at the Coffee Shop shoot (cradling a rather large ceramic cow as if there’s nothing at all unusual about that), his playful charm is like an energy that endears him to everyone in the room. A self-described “fuck-around dude,” Samberg seems like someone you might know; like someone you went to school with, or wish you had. “All I’ve ever really wanted is to do comedy,” he says, “and it’s exciting to have any success with it.”

(A version of this article originally appeared in YRB MAGAZINE Copyright © 2007)


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