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Buzz Interview: Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer

Andy Samberg and his friends/Lonely Island cohorts Jorma Taccone (pictured, right) and Akiva Schaffer (pictured, middle) have somehow figured out how to achieve the greatest thing ever. Growing up together in Berkeley, California, the three are now working together on "Saturday Night Live" and are about to release their first feature film, Hot Rod, this Friday. So, basically they figured out how to get paid to make jokes with their high school buddies.

Sure, we were there to talk up Hot Rod, which Akiva directed and which stars Andy and Jorma. But really it started to feel like I was back cracking jokes and shooting the breeze with my old buddies, so relaxed and fun was this interview. I also learned a great deal about these smart, fun guys, including the fact that they call themselves "The Dudes" (formerly "The Fellas"), they have a love of all things 1986, and that being on "Saturday Night Live" was Andy's childhood dream. They are fully responsible for bringing "Dick in a Box" to the world, and have been rewarded with an Emmy nomination in the Outstanding Original Music And Lyrics category. Check out all the awesome other stuff I learned about this trio of dudes...

Q. You guys have been friends since junior high school, so before there was Lonely Island, there was…

Jorma: The world didn’t even exist before Lonely Island. (laughs)

Akiva: We were actually born in Berkeley, we all went to Berkeley High School… We got to high school and we all became friends and it basically was maybe eight dudes, and just like we call ourselves "The Dudes" now, in high school we called ourselves "The Fellas." We’ve really matured and grown. (laughs) Pretty much when you’re in high school your dream is to figure out who’s going to pay you to just joke around with your friends from high school, and the three of us went off and the other five are like chemists and studied American Studies in Michigan and are getting their PhDs… so they blew it. They didn’t make it.

Andy: I love that you said, “Eight dudes called themselves The Fellas… before they became The Dudes.” (laughs)

Much more interview if you

Q. I know you went to UCSC and I was wondering what it was like trying to have a sense of humor in a town that sometimes can be on the sensitive side.

Andy: We were pretty well trained in that growing up in Berkeley, though. If you’re at all a sarcastic person growing up in that environment of Berkeley or even Santa Cruz, I mean, there’s a lot to be sarcastic about, certainly.

Q. You guys were really involved in the rise of YouTube... What was that like?

Jorma: It is funny because we are tied to like, the rise of YouTube, but I think that was just because we were doing our own shorts and producing them ourselves long before maybe other people were, but… if it wasn’t us it would have been somebody else, YouTube would still be flourishing.

Akiva: Other videos have gotten popular on there after our, after "Lazy Sunday," so one of them at least would have drawn everybody over there. But we got a lot of free press out of the fact that they were tied because with the rise of YouTube we always had to be a part of that story, so it worked out to be pretty good press.

Andy: The way you say that, “the rise of YouTube” –

Akiva: I would never say, “the rise of us,” but “the rise of YouTube” –

Andy: It sounds really scary like (gravelly voice) “the rise of YouTube…”

Q. In the earlier Lonely Island stuff, all three of you did stuff onscreen. Was there ever a time when you made the conscious decision to make Andy "the face," the guy who’s out there?

Akiva: No, Lorne Michaels made that decision long ago. (laughs) Because Andy’s the one, (turns to Andy) you’re the one since you were whatever age, had your own dream of being on "SNL" … I mean, it would be truly sad if one of us was the face on "SNL" and you were the one writing since you’re the one that… that’s what you’ve always wanted.

Andy: I did go, the one thing I did outside of these guys is stand-up, I did for seven years. These guys were working on their own stuff and I would drag my ass out to these terrible clubs and did stuff which I think in my audition for the show came in very, very handy. But, that being said, I would love to see these two onscreen a lot more.

Q. What did you learn from doing the shorts ("Dick in a Box," "Lazy Sunday") that you then applied to Hot Rod?

Akiva: Well, doing all the shorts that we’ve been doing since we decided, since we moved to Tinseltown, as we call it —

Andy: We do NOT call it Tinseltown!

Akiva: Just I call it that, then.

Andy: He would give the DMV his address and it would say "Tinseltown, USA."

Akiva: But, doing all those shorts, I was amazed how much on the set of a movie, once you realize what the 200 people around you are actually doing, and you know their names and you’re not as intimidated by the buzzing around of the 200 people, like, the wardrobe people are just worrying about wardrobe, the lighting people are just worrying about lights, how much it would actually boil right back down to the three of us and a couple of friends. Once everything got quiet and it was time to actually shoot, there was really, actually kinda no difference between doing a short and doing this thing in terms of like, you’re just trying to make the little scenes work. It gets very small right after it gets very big.

Q. How did the movie come about?

Akiva: Well, we didn’t write the movie. This woman Pam Brady had written it and she’s like a, had written for the "South Park" series, she co-wrote the South Park Movie, co-wrote Team America with Matt and Trey. And before we were even asked she wrote it for Lorne and for Paramount and then when we got there, first to Andy they were like, “Andy, why don’t you read it see if it appeals to you?” And then after "Lazy Sunday" it became, “Hey, the three of you guys why don’t you read it?”

Q. How did you guys change the script to make it more specifically geared to your talents?

Akiva: Well, she had written it for Will Farrell, and it had been positioned that it would be a vehicle for him and … it was very much obviously for Will Ferrell. When you read it you couldn’t picture anybody else in the movie but Will Ferrell, there were just these lines that he very much made his persona over the years. So, if [Andy] had just done those lines it would have been like, an impression of Will Ferrell. So, we had to go through... and kinda tweak it a lot just to get it to feel like it was ours, and his, and all that kind of stuff.

Q. Andy, how many of the stunts in Hot Rod did you do yourself?

Andy: I mean, I was on the bike a lot, I didn’t ever get airborne…

Jorma: Well, you went off that curb! You got some air, about six inches.

Andy: Yeah, about as much air as I could get... You know, I had never ridden a motorbike, and I was sort of terrible on any sort of wheels to start with — you name it, I crashed on it badly as a kid. So, I was starting from scratch and by that measurement, I did a lot of stuff.

Akiva: You didn’t have to be very good on it to sell the character, he wasn’t supposed to be much of an expert.

Andy: But that being said, what we realized and what we had explained to us is the tricky thing about the stunts in the movie is they all go wrong. And it’s a lot harder to make something look like it’s terribly awry but still be safe. So, I wasn’t allowed to do stuff mostly and to be honest it was the smart move. I think the one I thought I could actually do and looking back I’m SO glad I didn’t do is the pool one. (In the movie, Andy's character tries to jump the motorbike over a pool.) It’s like, what? It’s water! I’ll be fine. But it’s like, “You will die.” The other guy did it and I was like, (whispers) “Holy shit, I’m glad I didn’t do that one.”

Q. Is there a roster of '80s movies that you would recommend as preparatory viewing for this film?

Akiva: Well, Rad. That movie was influential on so many levels. You guys all know Rad?

(Everyone at the table nods.)

Andy: Oh, wow, we gotta go get a beer.

Akiva: It is a rare thing to have eight people at a table together and they all know what Rad is.

Andy: There’s more people [who know it] than I was expecting, you know, there are always one or two people who come in and are like, “So, it was Rad on purpose, right?”

Q. Any others?

Akiva: Well, Footloose obviously. We just wanted it to feel like thousands of '80s movies, like, this is nothing like E.T. but we wanted it to kind of have the tonal quality, picture-wise of E.T. just to kind of remind you of, it reminds us of the movies of our childhood.

Jorma: Just the fact that that Europe album, The Final Countdown, came out in 1986 and Rad came out in 1986, I’m starting to think that maybe 1986 is my favorite year ever.

Andy: I remember being a young lad and being like 1986 is my favorite year so far!

Q. What’s next for you guys?

Akiva: Well, the show ("SNL") starts back up again at the end of September. So we’re going back to that, for now.

Q. How involved are you with the writing process when it comes to the shorts on "SNL"?

Andy: The majority of [the shorts] are written by the three of us.

Q. Do you think you’ll always want to stick together?

Akiva: For a while. Yeah.

Andy: I definitely do. We bail each other out way too often.


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