Thanks to network television shows like The Office and Modern Family, the mockumentary had lately lost some of its connection to satire, a bond established by landmark films such as This Is Spinal Tap and Albert Brooks’ Real Life. But over the last few years, several former SNL cast members and writers have managed to re-establish that link. Bill Hader, Seth Meyers, and Fred Armisen created the brilliant Documentary Now for IFC and both the Andy Samberg/Lonely Island film Popstar and 7 Days In Hell, a tennis send-up written by Murray Miller and starring Samberg and Kit Harrington, parodied the documentary form to great effect. Now, Samberg and Miller are set to debut a 7 Days follow-up. Based in the world of ultra-competitive cycling, Tour de Pharmacy leans on an impressive cast and a strong dedication to silliness to poke at the use of PEDs in sports and to once again take aim at breathless sports documentaries.
We spoke to Samberg about the film, what’s next for the Legends Of Sports series, the challenges of doing a mockumentary as a big studio release, and redefining how to gauge success for Popstar. We also touched on the prospect of him getting tatted up for the next season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which Nic Cage role he’d take on if given the chance, and the debate between whether a grower or a shower works better when it comes to making the perfect dick joke.
What is it about cycling and doping that felt right as a focus?
It was kind of an instinctual thing where we were like, “What sport to do next?” That one just felt funny as soon as we started talking about it. Obviously, the look of it has a lot of potential. Grown men in spandex, especially if you cast people who don’t look like your typical cyclist. It’s one of the earliest ideas that Murray Miller… he wrote it and is co-executive producer with me on this, and he was like, “If we got somebody like John Cena, who’s super jacked and it was all about PEDs, it would be really funny.” And we were all like, “Yeah, yeah.”
It felt like a fun world to play around with because there’s this long history of cheating in cycling, like all the way back to the very, very beginning. When we started researching, it was making us laugh. The earliest Tour de Frances, they designed a race that’s basically impossible, and all the cyclists were drinking booze and stuff to deal with the physical pain. Then a little later on, there was a guy who left the race and took a train and then rejoined the race. Stuff like that we were like, “Oh, this is already a comedy.” We kind of just leaned into that.
Are you interested in doing more?
100 percent yes. It’s sort of flying under the radar, but, 7 Days In Hell and with this one, Tour de Pharmacy, we’ve had a little Sid and Marty Krofft banner over them called Legends of Sports and it’s sort of our attempt to do a comedy 30 For 30. We’re already planning to do more, and HBO has been really supportive about it so that’s definitely the plan.
Are there any sports you really don’t have an interest in doing?
The big ones we’re finding are actually the hardest to do. There was a time where I was like, “Man, it’d be really fun to do basketball or something.” Then you start thinking about the logistics of it and how you achieve it.
A big part of our decision-making is budgetary as well. We somehow, through really awesome effects help, pulled off Wimbledon with 7 Days In Hell. And really kind of, I guess you could say pulled a Jaws in terms of showing very little of it to let your imagination fill in the rest. But there are some sports where I think we probably couldn’t cover it up without it looking really fake.
Yeah, I imagine trying to fill a big arena would be, you know, 50,000 people, it might be hard to pull off visually.
Exactly. And even just shooting… Let’s say we tried to do soccer, and the World Cup or something. Then, you have to get a ton of people out on the field and shoot it from super high and far away and coordinate it. It’s a lot harder to do. I think Murray also really likes leaning into things that are a little more niche in America, to get more creative leeway.
How did you get Lance Armstrong involved? That was a wild cameo.
More than a cameo.
Yeah, more than a cameo. He’s really in it. [Laughs.] There’s plenty that we cut out too. Not for any reason other than just time.
Basically, Murray wrote that on the script and we were laughing really hard, and we were like, “Would he ever do it?” I was like, “I don’t know. I knew him a little bit because he had done SNL when I was there.” So we just reached out and asked. We sent over the script and asked him to watch 7 Days In Hell if he wanted to sort of understand the tone, and he was into it. So we just had a quick phone call and kind of ran down what we would want him to do, and that’s pretty much the gist. Flew down to Austin, shot with him, and had some really delicious barbecue.
Was there anything he wouldn’t do? Anything he rejected?
There actually wasn’t. There are a few things we shot that we didn’t end up using, but there was nothing where we were like, “Try this” and he said, “No.” You know what I mean? We tried jokes about his being on Oprah and stuff, but they just didn’t play as well as the stuff we left in. There was really nothing brought up that he was like, “Oh I don’t know if I want to say that.” He was pretty game.
Jeff Goldblum plays you at an older age. Do you see a lot of similarities?
I mean, I would be very lucky to look as good as Goldblum. He’s holding up nicely. But yeah, as soon as his name came up, we all started laughing. I wouldn’t say that I’m a dead ringer for Goldblum. Like, no one ever goes, “He looks like a young Jeff Goldblum.” But it’s similar enough that it made it made us giggle a lot, and also, Jeff Goldblum’s hilarious. And we love him. And we’ve been watching him since we were kids and thinking he was the best. So, it’s one of those casting choices that definitely tickled all of us.
We were like, “Man, if he would do it, that would be really funny.” And once he said yes, then we got to have fun sort of retooling a lot of his lines and shaping them in ways that would be Goldblumian. And he did not disappoint. And he was so game. He came and he did a million takes of every line and really kind of chopped the whole thing up. He was really fun.
Popstar was beloved by critics. I love it. It’s a cult movie, obviously, I’m sure you’ve heard all the praise, but it didn’t do great at the box office. And you’ve got these with HBO…
I’m definitely not over getting praised for it. [Laughs.]
Oh, okay! It’s the modern Spinal Tap. But… it didn’t kill at the box office. Do you feel like TV is a better medium for mockumentaries? Or are you still game to try again with a movie mockumentary?
I think it’s better than trying to put out a mockumentary as a major studio release. I think if we were to do another feature length, the plan would maybe be to do it more independently or [via] Netflix or someplace where the expectation isn’t that it’s gonna be a big glossy comedy. Even though I think Popstar actually has a little bit of gloss because of all the concert footage and stuff, but I think the thing about trying to sell the broad population on a mockumentary is it’s a little bit of a tough sell at this point. Especially because even the big glossy comedies are having trouble in theaters now. It’s really tough.
I mean, there are a million things to factor in. The one thing I’ll say, though, that I’ve been really happy about… Aside from the positive critical response, which was really really nice, especially when you’re making a goofy comedy, to get that, it feels fantastic. And unexpected, always [Laughs.] But the way it works now, people get so many shots at a movie. It comes out, even if you’re bummed out with how the opening weekend, it goes almost immediately to the hotels, planes, and On-Demand, and all these places. And then it goes on to the first of three different cable channels, paid cable channels, now it’s about to premiere on HBO. It’s actually premiering on HBO right before Tour de Pharmacy on Saturday. And like, it gets a whole other wave of press. Like, Kiv (Akiva Schaffer) and Jorm (Jorma Taccone) just did an interview about the movie, sort of to address that people are now starting to find it. And the hopeful end game is that it’s on Netflix or it’s playing on a Sunday on Comedy Central, or wherever it ends up.
You know, if you make something with repeat viewing value that you really pour your energy into and make sure it’s good, even if it doesn’t make a huge amount of money initially, it still hopefully has a shot at making some kind of impact with an audience that values that kind of thing. So far we’ve been finding that that has been the case, which has been awesome.
I have a dick joke question. I just want to preface that. You’ve got quite a reputation with dick jokes. You’re kind of a grand artist of it. In Popstar…
[Laughs.] Thank you.
In Popstar, you’ve got a show-er. In this, you’ve got the grower guy behind John Cena’s head. What works better for comedy? Grower versus show-er?
I think it’s case by case. Just like any actor [Laughs.]
So when that scene is written for Tour de Pharmacy, do you say, “Well that’s gotta be a grower”?
Well, our friend Chris Romano, who plays the character and was also one of two streakers in 7 Days in Hell, is notorious, socially, for taking his dick out. All the time. And, has, I guess you’d say, it’s a grower. But we don’t know how much it grows. For all we can tell, it’s just a dinky dick. And him wanting to show it to everybody is inherently hilarious. He’s a comedian so he knows it’s funny and enjoys doing it.
We knew that when we were writing that stuff that it was gonna be his specific dick that we’d all seen a million times because he never stops showing it to everybody. So we wrote towards his dick, the same way we wrote towards Goldblum. [Laughs.] And then just had fun kind of piling on and insulting it and, you know, and getting different characters in the movie to say how ugly it was.
I’m sure you can’t go too far into what’s coming up with Brooklyn Nine-Nine, but, at the end of this season, it seemed like not a great situation for Jake. Are you excited, as an actor, to kind of maybe play around with the idea of Jake in prison for a few episodes?
Have you gotten those stories yet? Are you getting prison tats done? Anything like that?
I’m getting prison tats done just in case that’s the way that we take it.
I leave no stone unturned. And if he ends up not going to jail, then I’ll just have some sweet tats. [Laughs.]
The best tattoo, you know, in my opinion, maybe ever, is on our show, the Hitchcock one where he’s got the gun in his own mouth and he’s blowing the smoke off. That episode made me laugh so fucking hard.
I won’t spoil anything, but I will say I’ve been talking with Dan Goor a lot and we’ve been talking about the beginning of the season and it sounds like it’s gonna be really good and interesting and funny.
You were briefly in Master of None doing a Nicolas Cage impression. I read that he turned that down. So, you come in and you do a great job with it. Which leads me to a dumb question: is there a Nic Cage movie you would jump into and play a Nic Cage character if they were making a sequel?
Any Nic Cage movie? God. I just recently re-watched Con Air and it was so fucking good.
That movie is so much fun. I mean, he’s the king. If I really had to answer honestly, Raising Arizona. It’s one of my favorite movies ever.
Not Still Guarding Tess?
I’d do that too. I also really like Wicker Man.
Is it just the ability to just go off the grid in terms of acting style? Like with the bee scene?
Oh, my God. It’s so great. Yes, he’s a daring performer, Nic Cage. He’s not there to fill in the colors. He’s there to break through the lines. And that’s why he’s so compelling. You’re just like, “What the fuck is this guy gonna do?” He’s such a wild card. But he’s undeniably compelling.
I agree with you. I think I would like to see you in a Con Air sequel. I think that would work. I think we should make that happen.
I’d do it in a heartbeat.
I have no power at all to make that happen. But maybe this article will be the seed. Probably not, but maybe.
Yeah, this is the catalyst.
Tour de Pharmacy debuts on HBO and HBO Now on Saturday, July 8 @10PM ET.