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.