“There’s these guys working on the show [MTV Movie Awards] as writers, and they’re the first ones here in the morning and the last ones to leave. I think you should really take a look at them.” So Jimmy Fallon told the legendary producer of Saturday Night Live (SNL), Lorne Michaels. That’s how Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, known collectively as The Lonely Island, got an audition to work on the long-running sketch comedy show that launched their careers.
Next month, Samberg will co-host the Golden Globes with Sandra Oh (Grey’s Anatomy, Killing Eve) and it’s been a hilarious ride from the SNL writers’ room to master of ceremonies while starring in one of the best comedy series, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, that returns to SBS VICELAND with season 6 fast-tracked from the USA, on Friday 8:30pm 11 January 2019.
California here we come
Samberg grew up in California and began watching SNL when he was a kid and got hooked on comedy.
In the book Live From New York by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales, Samberg said, “When I first started watching, it was people like Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz and Phil Hartman and then Mike Myers came in and obviously ‘Wayne’s World’ was huge for me.”
In junior high school, Samberg met Schaffer and Taccone and they remained buddies until they graduated university and moved to Los Angeles where they began making short films under the name The Lonely Island.
Samberg experimented with stand-up and improvisational comedy groups but could not find a groove. The Lonely Island began uploading their films online to websites that supported video and began to get attention with The ’Bu, a parody of The O.C., which led to offers to make television shows that went nowhere.
Next came a call from Michaels.
Live from New York…
Even though stand-up didn’t work out for Samberg, it gave him the edge in getting an audition for SNL; Michaels is known to prefer comics with experience in front of an audience. Samberg’s audition went so well that Michaels began to investigate and discovered The Lonely Island’s work on online.
In the early 2000s, SNL was struggling to adapt to digital media and Michaels saw the comedy team as a way to help usher the show into a new age. They hired Samberg first as a cast member on SNL, and then Schaffer and Taccone to join the writing staff.
Samberg said: “I think the idea was, ‘these guys have their own voice, and with Andy as a cast member, we’ll have people on the writing staff to help him get that into the show’. That’s the hardest thing if you become a cast member – translate how you are funny into the show – and I was extraordinarily lucky that they hired those guys …”
The SNL writers’ room was stacked with talent when Samberg and his buddies arrived. They were working alongside people like Tina Fey (30 Rock), Adam McKay (Anchorman, The Big Short, Step Brothers) and the future co-creator of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Mike Schur.
The cast featured established members Fred Armisen, Will Forte, Seth Meyers, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph. Alongside Samberg in the new arrivals section were Bill Hader, Jason Sudeikis and Kristen Wiig. Samberg was part of a group that would go on to become one of the greatest casts in the history of the show, but The Lonely Island struggled to get sketches on air.
On SNL, cast members and writers break into groups and write sketches. They then pitch them to Michaels, the head writer and the celebrity guest host, who all have the final say on what makes the show. Samberg and his writing team could not translate their sense of humour to the show with the sketches they were pitching. It all changed when they came up with the idea to do ‘digital shorts’.
SNL had done short films in the past but the process became too time-consuming and they were benched in favour of keeping the live show focused on sketches. The Lonely Island came up with the idea of making ‘digital shorts’ for the show, which they promised would be easy to make with digital cameras so they would be ready for the show each weekend; SNL is still made in only a week!
The Lonely Island got creative freedom to make the digital shorts and their first one, ‘Lettuce’, starring Forte and Samberg, made the show. It was so good that Michaels asked for more.
In December 2005, the team recruited Chris Parnell (30 Rock) to shoot ‘Lazy Sunday’, a musical short about going to see The Chronicles of Narnia. The short film went to air during SNL and then… nothing. The network that airs SNL, NBC, weren’t putting sketches from the show online at the time despite the fierce emergence of the internet. So, unless you recorded the show you’d have to wait until re-runs to watch a sketch again. After the show, Schaffer got an email from his brother who said, “Look at this place where you can watch things online.” That place was YouTube.
Thanks to YouTube, which was relatively new at the time, ‘Lazy Sunday’ became a viral hit. SNL had finally found the new audience it had been after. The success of ‘Lazy Sunday’ meant Samberg had established himself on SNL and earned the trust of Michaels.
Soon, the digital shorts were the most anticipated segments on the show, which led to The Lonely Island meeting their unofficial fourth member, Justin Timberlake, who would help them make their first album, which included other clips that would be huge online: Jizz in my Pants, Dick in a Box, I’m on a Boat and Natalie’s Rap featuring Natalie Portman letting loose.
Whenever a cast member on SNL becomes huge, the offers come in to do movies and more. Samberg would stick with his buds and make Hot Rod, a hilarious riff on 1980s sports movies about a wannabe stunt man in a small town.
Sadly, Hot Rod was unappreciated when it came out and didn’t launch Samberg into stardom like other SNL alumni; Will Ferrell was the golden boy. Hot Rod has since gained cult status which flowed to The Lonely Island’s equally excellent follow-up Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.
Samberg continued to appear on SNL until the end of the 2012 season while starring in indie films, Adam Sandler comedies (That’s My Boy) and lending his voice to animated films including Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Hotel Transylvania. Aside from a lot of cameos in television series featuring former SNL cast members, Samberg wasn’t having the career worthy of being launched from one of the biggest sketch comedy shows in America – but that was about to change.
Report for duty
Hot off the success of Parks and Recreation, its creator, Mike Schur, got a chance to pitch a show and decided television was overdue for a comedy about a police station. Schur drove the idea because he felt the setting had never been explored properly as most shows about cops are always gritty. Schur called up his old SNL writing roommate, Samberg, and offered him the role of the Die Hard loving Jake Peralta. Schur needed an actor who could work hard as the member of an ensemble without smothering the show with star power – Samberg was a perfect fit.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine debuted to positive reviews and modest ratings, but it soon became a show that was always at risk of cancellation. It only got a full season order of episodes once it had premiered and the chance of a second season was looking slim. Then an unlikely saviour appeared: The Golden Globes.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine got two nominations and won both: Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy and Best Actor – Television Series Musical or Comedy for Samberg. Thanks to a little award show publicity, people who had never heard of Brooklyn Nine-Nine were keen and it certified Samberg’s post-SNL career as the lead of a hit, award-winning comedy series.
The goofball charm of Samberg as Peralta is a big part of the success of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Schaffer and Taccone followed by appearing in several episodes as well as working behind the camera on directing duties. The Lonely Island are still tight with an Oscar nomination for best original song for ‘Everything is Awesome’ from The Lego Movie to their name as well as rumours of future films and TV series.
Aside from Golden Globes hosting duties, Samberg will voice a character in the upcoming prequel series to The Dark Crystal, but the big one is the triumphant return of Brooklyn Nine-Nine that has already been teased with an epic look at the new season.
Cool cool cool cool cool cool cool.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine will be back on duty with new episodes, fast-tracked from the US, starting on Friday 11 January 8:30pm on SBS VICELAND and SBS On Demand.