There’s a moment in this interview with Andy Samberg that was a little awkward, because of the way I set up a question. I will try to explain it here for your maximum enjoyment of something stupid I did, because there’s really no way this will come through when you start reading the interview below.
A couple of weeks ago, Seth Meyers participated in a piece about a 2009 SNL sketch called “Potato Chip.” During this conversation, I mentioned I would be talking to Andy Samberg in a few days – Samberg had been on Meyers’ show the night before. Seth Meyers gave me an insider-type question for Samberg. The problem is, Samberg has been on a non-stop publicity tour for Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. Over the course of many interviews (on Monday night, Samberg was even interviewed on TNT before an NBA playoff game), sometimes the interviewer will come up with some dumb “bit” or “game.” When I mentioned, “I have a question from Seth Meyers,” Samberg made a face that could only be described as, “[Sigh.] Here we go.” He kind of understandably thought I was going to do some sort of “Seth Meyers question joke,” whatever that might even be. And then I noticed the face he made and I was horrified that he thought I was doing “a bit.” The face he then made when he realized it was real was also really great – and led to an inside-baseball SNL story about a never-aired sketch involving Kuato from Total Recall and John McCain that even today Seth Meyers won’t let him do on Late Night‘s “Second Chance Theater.”
Now that that’s out of the way: As noted, Samberg is promoting Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, in which he and his fellow Lonely Island cohorts, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer, play the members of a boy band called The Style Boyz. It’s Samberg’s Conner4real who goes solo, to great success at first. But the reviews and reactions to his new album are terrible, and Conner4real has to adjust to the adversity. (Shot mockumentary style, there’s an interview with Ringo Starr that’s one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a theater this year.)
Conner4real has a pet turtle he’s had since childhood. I bought a turtle in 1998 and it is still alive.
It’s still alive?
Turtle or tortoise?
What’s the turtle’s name?
Simon? I had a turtle when I was a child named Squirt.
At the time I wasn’t thinking this was a lifelong commitment.
I was hoping it would be a lifelong commitment. At one point my mom, very sadly, overheated the tank when I was at summer camp. It was very traumatic for me.
She felt terrible.
Now I feel terrible bringing this all up.
[Laughs.] But it was nice for me to spend time with this tortoise, but we said it was a turtle during the movie.
The scene where Conner takes a no-look basketball shot and all his friends react like he made the shot reminded me of something I witnessed once with a famous person. Do you know anyone where that kind of thing happens?
Not to that extreme. Obviously everything in the movie is a really extreme comedy version that is sort of vaguely going on.
After an interview I did, I witnessed a famous person get a text from a handler that his college football team had won, but I knew they had lost by 30 points.
Oh my God.
They were trying to keep him happy. He was so excited.
That’s so mean! Did you tell him?
Yes. He was like, “Why are people lying to me?”
To keep you in a good mood!
It’s just a little thing to keep someone in a good mood.
Well, when somebody is the engine that’s running the whole vehicle, people want to keep the engine running smoothly, so they’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen.
I know everyone is busy, but how did it take this long for there to be a Lonely Island movie?
It was a combination of a few things, the main one being schedules being hard. Akiva directed The Watch, Jorma directed MacGruber, I started doing Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which is obviously a huge time suck. And I was still on SNL for two years after they had sort of departed, but were sort of coming back and forth. So it was a combination of really tough scheduling and making sure that when we decided to do it, it was an idea we were really keyed into. And the thing that really sparked it and set it in motion was Judd Apatow saying that if we wrote it, he’d produce it. Him saying that made it very real.
Were you confident you could pull it off? You’ve obviously had great success since “Lettuce,” but this is a lot longer…
[Laughs.] Well, that’s why we were so excited to work with Judd. This is his bread and butter.
It seems like it would be difficult to write songs that are both entertaining and made for an album that, in the movie, no one really likes.
Yeah, that was a tricky thing to navigate.
Did you have to approach that differently than your other songs?
Some of them it’s not, and some of them it is. There are definitely songs in the movie and on the soundtrack we wouldn’t put on a normal Lonely Island album without the context of the story.
I’d say “The Donkey Roll.”
In the movie, people love “The Donkey Roll.”
Exactly. And it’s treated like a real song in the context of the movie. But it stands to reason the sort of questionable subject matter, which is more akin to the songs we’d do as digital shorts, are all a part of his new record that people are not feeling.
Like a song about equal rights where Conner tells us many times he’s straight?
Exactly. An untrustworthy narrator kind of song.
Ringo Starr has a talking-head moment at the end of that song that gets one of the biggest laughs in the movie.
How cool is it that he’s in it?
Were you there when they filmed him?
I was getting my tattoos put on, but Akiva and Jorma were there. I watched the whole interview, he talked about some interesting stuff.
I heard The Beatles breaking up came up and the expectation was that he’d say, “Well, it was time,” or whatever…
No, he said, “That was a big mistake!” I was like, “Well, yeah, he’s seeing things clearly.”
When Akiva, Jorma and yourself were hired at SNL, did anything like what we see in this movie ever happen? They were hired as writers and you were hired a writer and performer. You became the public face all of a sudden.
Well, we were more just exited we all got hired. What we were facing that was really going to be a bummer is one of the three of us hired, or two of the three of us hired – which would have been a true nightmare. The two of them made a pact that if they only asked one of them, they’d turn it down – which I think was the right call. They both told me, very sweetly, that if I got the show, I had to do it. It was a Good Will Hunting kind of a thing.
When they showed up in the morning to pick you up, you wouldn’t be there and didn’t say goodbye?
Yeah, yeah. They knew how much this was my dream, specifically. And we’ve known each other since high school. So for them, as my friends, being like, “Dude, you can actually be on SNL, this is so fucking crazy, you have to do it.” But, when they hired all three of us, it was pretty unprecedented.
They never had really hired a whole group like that before.
Exactly. And at that point, it was like, “We did it!” It was more that. And also, I’d been doing standup for seven years, sort of in anticipation for this kind of thing. I was very much more geared towards wanting to be an on-camera comedy person. Akiva didn’t even audition. Jorma did it because they asked, so, “Yeah, fuck it, I’ll try that.” But he had trained more in theater and classical acting. I’m sure if they had hired him to the cast he would have been psyched…
And I bet great…
Oh, he would have been great. And by the way, we kept making our videos and the two of them wound up in tons of videos anyway.
I have a question from Seth Meyers.
[Laughs.] Oh no.
He’s interested in your Kuato from the 2008 election. He adds, “I’m a big fan of his political writing, especially Kuato.”
[Laughing. ] Wait, is this the real Seth?
It has to be because we were just talking about this. I just did “Second Chance Theater” on Seth’s show and the thing I was pushing to do was: During the 2008 election they did those Thursday night specials. And we wrote one – “we” being me and Akiva and I think Jorma helped – an “Update” feature with me as Kuato from Total Recall doing a rant about how John McCain had ripped off my style. [Laughs] Saying they had the same hairdo and the same way of talking and all this stuff. And they were like, “That is not appropriate. We’re not doing that.” But it killed so hard at the table read that I was like, “You guys have to let me try it.” And they just wouldn’t let me try it. It was the one big thing I always wished I had gotten to do. Even now they wouldn’t let me do it at “Second Chance Theater.”
By the way! I really actually like John McCain. He came to the show a few times and was genuinely a nice guy. I don’t agree with all of his politics, but he seems like straight up guy to me.
Seth also added, “If Andy’s smart, he won’t talk about it.”
[Laughing.] I’m not smart! He always knows I’m not smart. I’m too excited about my own dumb ideas.
Next we can get the “Kuato is mad at John McCain” movie.
Or Kuato and John McCain buddy cop movie.
Then throw One Take Tony in, too.
[Laughs.] One Take Tony…
I love “One Take Tony.” It delighted me.
“One Take Tony” was a one-time hangout with John Mulaney and Colin Jost; we came up with a ton of ideas for characters. And that was one of them and it was making us laugh so hard. I think it was the only one of the three that aired. The other one was a character called “Griff Banks: The Sensitive Bully.” That went to dress twice and played pretty good, actually. He’s sort of playing on the trope of the bully in every high-school movie where the bully is riding on a kid, then the kid stands up to him and he immediately caves. So, Griff Banks would cave fast. If anyone stood up to him at all, he would start balling.
We will never see Kuato talk about John McCain on “Second Chance Theater,” will we?
I think it might just be a little too rude to John McCain. I think that’s what it comes down to. Even though it wasn’t intended as that.
And he’d been on the show.
He’d been on the show. I was basically searching for any excuse to do Kuato. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.
You’ve gotten him on the air.
I did three Kuatos. And also just Kuato at the “Update” desk is so garbage. And the first two pages of it is just explaining what Kuato is, “he’s from Total Recall…” So it would have been on “Update,” in a mannequin in the seat, then the stomach popping out. And then we were like, “Well, shit, does it have to be Bill Hader comes out,” because in the sketches I come out of Bill’s stomach. So then Bill would roll out and be like, “Oh, I’m not Kuato,” and we’d cut to Seth, then I would pop out of a mannequin. It was so overly wrought.
I’m so happy you actually told this story.
I buried myself.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.