The voice may well sound familiar, recalling Andy Samberg’s Nic Cage impression from SNL, but Digman! (which debuts tonight on Comedy Central) is not “The Nic Cage Show” or any kind of unofficial version of that. If you watch the show for more than 2 minutes, it becomes clear. What Digman! is is a kick-ass action-adventure cartoon filled with an enviable voice cast (Samberg, Tim Robinson, Mitra Jouhari, Guz Khan, Melissa Fumero) that channels the vibes of National Treasure and Indiana Jones while telling the story of a down-on-his-luck archeologist with a mammoth personality that’s trying to reclaim his place atop the food chain in a world that reveres archeologists.
Uproxx spoke with co-creators Samberg and Neil Campbell (who worked together on Brooklyn Nine-Nine) recently to discuss that voice, those inspirations, and a barrage of board games and animation staples that also influenced a show that also finds laughs in randomness, weirdness, and a little darkness. Bottom line, both Samberg and Campbell are having a lot of fun walking the line between satire and reverence for the genre, sending their characters through the streets of Venice, shouting catchphrases, dropping beautiful Hudson Hawk references (as if there were any other kind), and dealing with the sudden realization that neck snaps have consequences. Here’s Samberg and Campbell on all that and more.
So how did Digman! come to be?
Andy Samberg: Neil and I worked together a bunch of times, but most recently before this on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. He was a writer on the show. We would hang out on set for hours and hours while shooting, and kept talking about how we wanted to do something together and create something together. We both agreed that doing an adult animation show would be perfect for us because we really wanted to do something that was super joke heavy.
We will be saying this a lot because it really is the truth, but the root thought behind this was wanting to make something where we never had to cut jokes we loved. Not that we don’t love Brooklyn Nine-Nine, I’m super proud of it and I know he is too, but when you are on a network and it’s that kind of a show, there are definitely jokes you come up with where you’re like, “Well, we can’t do that, obviously,” and that’s the correct answer. But we were like, “It would be nice to work on something where we never have to say that.” So we basically came up with this idea in hopes of actually staying true to that promise.
Are there any specific animated shows from the past that you guys pulled from as inspiration?
Samberg: I could tell you some of my favorites. Certainly, The Simpsons and South Park are the bar. I think everyone agrees, not just because of the longevity, but because they are so dedicated to jokes and comedy. For me, they are part of my comedic foundation and my language. Certainly the quality of the adventure aspects of Rick and Morty and Futurama, things like that, definitely came into play where that is what we would aspire to, shows that take care and do a great job with those elements and make you engaged not just on a comedic level.
Neil Campbell: Yeah, and I think The Simpsons and South Park, in some sense, are basically what helped shaped my sense of humor. Rick and Morty and Futurama are comedy touchstones. We love them, and then I think there’s lots of cool stuff out there that you go, “Oh, it would be cool if we did a sequence that’s like this thing, and this one moment in Neon Genesis Evangelion, or something, or in FLCL, or whatever. One-Punch Man, and other things we love. But I don’t know that we were like… I don’t know if I could point to one moment, as much as it’s just things in our brain that love and aspire to, that people enjoy the show as much as we enjoyed those shows.
Samberg: (With) our love of the genre, the live-action action-adventure genre, and specifically in the world of archeology, or your National Treasures… We were really hoping to give this a cinematic feel, and part of that is the animation, and the design of it, but another part of it is the score.
Yeah, the music is great.
Samberg: Oh, good. I’m glad you like it. It’s my buddy Cornbread, who has done a lot of Lonely Island stuff, and he kills it. We were like, “Go full John Williams,” go full all the stuff that we are paying homage to. That’s the energy we want, and I feel like he has been delivering it at such a high level. The music feels big and orchestral and bombastic.
How do you land on the, I guess, the character quirks, but also specifically his voice, which is familiar, maybe reminiscent of someone…
Samberg: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
I don’t know, it’s sort of close (to Nic Cage). How did that happen? Do you run that by anybody?
Samberg: I will be totally honest. I did Cage on SNL, obviously. It was one of my favorite impressions. It was easily my favorite impression that I did. It was something that was assigned to me, and then it developed into something totally else. I wrote it almost every time with my buddy Rob Klein, and Cage came on the show and did it with me, and it was the best moment of my life. Certainly one of the greatest moments at SNL for me. It was so fun, he was so rad. He correctly pointed out, and we put it into the actual Weekend Update feature, that what I was doing was not actually an impression of him, it was actually a psychotic character that we had written and come up with. So I didn’t want to stop doing it. I loved that character. So we were like, “Well, how can we take this and not have it be we’re just doing The Nic Cage Show, because that is A) illegal, and B) not really something that I was interested in doing. I feel like when he came on and did it with me, that was like, okay, so this has run its course and it’s the most perfect ending you could imagine for it. So that helped us set the stage for the world we would do it in.
The beautiful thing about Digman!, I feel, is that we actually pivoted so hard into creating this whole universe where archeologists are the celebrities, and using that as a jumping-off point. It started as a joke of us talking about how all the movies we loved that have archeologists in them, like Indiana Jones, where everyone is like, “Yeah, an archeologist is a swashbuckling adventurer, who will run away from boulders.” And you’re like, “Yeah, I don’t know any archeologists in real life that do that, but this is pretty fun to watch.” So we were laughing, talking about that, and how that was fed to us, and took it and ran, and it became its own thing.
Do you worry about any kind of Nicolas Cage blowback from the familiarity of the voice?
Campbell: Every night.
Samberg: I certainly hope not. I feel like he’s got bigger fish to fry, honestly. The other thing I will say is this, there are definitely elements of the voice, but as we kept making the show, Rip started becoming something else, I think.
I would agree with that. In the second episode, I was thinking that actually. Not that it’s not still familiar, but it is definitely its own character. It’s not just Nic Cage from National Treasure.
Samberg: Yes, exactly, and we are not making any kind of Nic Cage jokes like the way we were on Update, where it was about the movies he had made, or about his tabloid stuff, or anything like that. So I think the longer we go with it, the less it even feels that way, which I’m really glad of, because, again, it’s not (him). I like that people are recognizing that there is a similarity in the voice, but I also don’t want it to be like, “We’re doing an unofficial show,” do you know what I mean? That was never the intention. It was more like, “Let’s make an adventure show.”
I think the show does a good job of walking the line of making sure you poke fun at some of the conventions of the live-action genre but doing it in a loving way. But I’m guessing that’s a part of it, is making sure that it still feels like it has a place in that genre.
Campbell: Yeah, I think a big thing for us was we love that sense of wonder, and that the world is full of mysteries and secrets and adventures, and stuff that’s part of that genre, like the Indiana Jones movies. But it’s also what Legend of Zelda feels like, and stuff like that, and I think there’s something that we really respond to and love about that kind of thing. What’s that old board game? Fireball Island! Stuff like that, where the world has traps, gangsters, treasures, and mysteries, and we got to find them. We were like, “Oh, well, we could write about some buffoons in a world like that.” And that felt like a lot of fun to us.
Samberg: Pitfall and Jungle Hunt, I would say, are our main two touchstones.
Board games that took an hour to set up.
Campbell: You pray it actually works, that you set them up right.
Samberg: Like Crossbows and Catapults. Did you ever play that? Oh my god, it was the best. You set up huge castles on either side of the room, and then you shoot either a crossbow or a catapult and try and break each other’s castles and get the flag to fall down, basically. Anyway, it was one of my favorite games. But it was a similar thing where it took forever to set up, and then you break it.
Who can I thank for the Hudson Hawk reference in episode two?
Campbell: I think it was you, Andy.
Samberg: Was it me? I feel like I said it, and you were like, “I was about to say Hudson Hawk.”
Endless praise for anybody who remembers that lovely film. I have the novelization of Hudson Hawk somewhere in here, the actual book.
Samberg: We have to reference the novelization of Hudson Hawk.
Campbell: We’ve got to get someone to do a novelization of the show.
It’s one of my all-time favorite things, and I talked to Jon Hamm for Confess, Fletch and asked him about it, so I have to ask you. Sergio on SNL. Is there any chance ever that there will ever be another shred of film of Sergio in this world? SNL50 is only a couple of years away.
Samberg: I can’t imagine if they ask us back for the 50th that Lorne will want anything but Sergio.
That’s the hope.
Samberg: I will say this, we did put Sergio in our 100th digital short. We did bring him back. He is near and dear to my heart. That one was funny because the first draft of that that I wrote was way too long.
Samberg: There is so much lore to it. There’s a Gremlins structure, throwing the curse or whatever. It’s almost like a shitty parable or something. But yeah, the last shot of Sergio, that last scene, was the thing that I really am the proudest of.
The first episode of ‘Digman!’ premieres tonight on Comedy Central at 10:30PM ET