Published May 29, 2011Arguably the hottest comedy team in the world right now, the Lonely Island consists of Saturday Night Live writer/performers, Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taconne, who are the men behind the show's super popular Digital Short segment, which generally consists of song and music video-based comedy. Their hilarious, new record is called Turtleneck & Chain and we caught up with the trio for a chat about all things Lonely Island.
I watched the "Jack Sparrow" video starring Michael Bolton on SNL the other night and I was thinking about how, even though you guys are writing songs, your medium is actually really visual. Like, some of the most effective jokes kinda need to be seen or acted out to be truly appreciated. So, I guess my question is, why did you ruin ["Lazy Sunday" star] Chris Parnell's career?
The Lonely Island: (laughs)
He was doing fine, y'know?
Andy Samberg: (laughs) I love that that's where that question went. Not what I was expecting at all. Wait a minute, is this Chris?
No, no. Well, y'know, he might be slumming it; this could be him. You never know.
Akiva Schaffer: He's on Archer. It's a really funny cartoon.
Andy: He's Dr. Spaceman! He's a hit!
Okay, I'm sure he's doing fine! I was just making a little joke. I see him on 30 Rock from time to time; he seems to be doing just fine. No, my question is, what usually comes first for you guys, the short film ideas or writing the songs?
Andy: The songs.
Jorma Taccone: Yeah, always the songs. I mean, you have to make the song to make the music video obviously. You have to something to lip sync to.
Right, but there was a while there when I thought, someone like Eminem was writing raps specifically to make videos; like in certain songs, the lyrics don't really make much sense until you see the video.
Akiva: Ah, well we do too. When we're writing the lyrics, we're visualizing what the video will be. So, writing with the knowledge that it will be a video.
Jorma: Yeah, you try and think of visual jokes and, after we're done with the song and making the video, we try to add additional jokes wherever we can.
Okay, because I was listening to "Shy Ronnie" on the new record and was like, "I wonder if people would get this if they hadn't seen the clip?" y'know?
Akiva: Yeah, well, with that one specifically, definitely the visuals help it out.
Akiva: That's why we include videos in the package. There's a DVD.
Jorma: A DVD, nine videos are included.
Akiva: Or, if you buy it on iTunes, there's videos there too!
Jorma: Oh my God, it sounds so easy Kiv! And really, really a bargain.
Andy: It sounds to me like a great value guys.
All right, so the videos are out there and you have to watch them because they're complementary to the songs.
Akiva: Some of the songs, we hope stand alone.
Andy: I'm gonna go ahead and say, since we're selling it as a product, that they all stand alone.
Akiva: Oh! An interesting opinion.
Good call, good call.
Andy: That's me. That's just me.
Jorma: I'm gonna agree with you Andy.
Akiva: You've convinced me!
Andy: Let's say you're short on cash and you can't afford the deluxe version.
Jorma: I'm listening.
All right, all right, that's good to know guys. Thank you very much.
Andy: Yeah, we're done (laughs).
You guys are clearly huge hip-hop and R&B fans because, even though you're satirizing some of the musical and lifestyle conventions, to me it seems like you're approaching it as real fans of the culture. Is that fair?
All: Absolutely, absolutely.
But you guys seem super white to me.
Andy: Okay, but elaborate on that.
Well, on a whiteness scale of 1 to 10, where do you guys fall?
Jorma: You mean visually?
Jorma: Visually, it's a 10.
Akiva: We just shot the Michael Bolton video. It was a cold day on the beach and my face is still red with sunburn from it.
Jorma: Oh, so you might be an 11 then.
Andy: I dunno, I got kinda of a nice golden brown tan.
Are you sensitive at all to getting flack about this idea of exploiting black culture? Has that discussion ever come up?
Akiva: We try to be very careful that we're paying homage to the music. We're using the music to tell jokes, rather than the jokes making fun of the music.
Jorma: The joke is usually self-deprecation for us.
Akiva: We're the butt of the joke usually, not the music.
Are you worried there's gonna be a university course, breaking down the Lonely Island?
Andy: Worried? We're gonna teach it! It's all part of our fallback plan.
Jorma: We're gonna slack off a lot on the lesson plan though.
You've worked with an amazing array of artists and this new record has Akon, Beck, Snoop Dogg, Santigold, Rihanna, and Michael Bolton on it among others. I know that initially getting these people to work with you coincided with them being on SNL and coordinating schedules. Is that still the case or are people now working on songs with you first and then appearing on SNL?
Akiva: Yeah, the answer is some of both. With Rihanna, she was the musical guest so that was more traditional, but with Michael Bolton, we pursued him…
Andy: We pursued him. T-Pain, Akon, we pursued outside of the show.
Akiva: Timberlake was a host…
Andy: Nicki Minaj, and it actually just worked out that she was the musical guest when we did the video.
So, it's getting easier for the Lonely Island?
Andy: Oh yeah.
Jorma: I mean, you can hear it in our voices; we are relaxed…
You sound super relaxed if I might say.
Andy: We are all naked!
What has been the best/weirdest collaboration experience you've had? Can you share that with us?
Andy: Um, Jorm collaborated with a ham sandwich last night.
Andy: It was pretty weird.
Akiva: But it was also the best!
Andy: Definitely the best. I liked it.
Jorma: A hot collab…
Okay, that sorta answers the question. Thanks guys.
Akiva: No problem.
Has any artist ― not any sandwich ― ever bailed on you guys and altered the course of a song?
Akiva: Gnarls Barkley did once. And it was the funniest because we're actually friends with those guys.
Jorma: Yeah, we can say that because we're really good friends with those guys.
Andy: It wasn't a song though; it was just a stupid sketch.
Akiva: Yeah, they were the musical guest and we had a really dumb, little sketch where Andy was gonna be roommates with Gnarls Barkley and, at the last minute for whatever reason, they had to pull outta the scene and it was midnight and we were in this apartment with this camera. So, we ended up shooting a nonsense little video called "Daiquiri Girl."
Andy: That was paired with a scroll explaining that Gnarls Barkley had bailed on us!
Andy: Yeah, for a more detailed description, you can just read the sketch.
Okay, yeah I guess I didn't do my research. Thanks for calling me on that guys.
Akiva: [laughing] Yeah, you'd have had to gone real deep too, out of the hundred videos we've made.
Andy: Uh, how many hits does "Daiquiri Girl" have now? I'm gonna say hundreds.
Akiva: It's the high hundreds.
One of them apparently isn't me. I'm sorry, I should've watched that video.
Andy: You really don't need to watch that one.
Jorma: You don't need to do that. Do yourself a favour.
Akiva: Unless you've watched every other thing we've ever made, then you could watch that one last.
Here's kind of a weird one: Could the Lonely Island exist without SNL at this point? Are you kinda autonomous from the rest of the show? It seems that way to some people,
Jorma: We existed as a group before SNL.
Akiva: We'd still exist as human beings, as long as we don't like, drive off a cliff.
Andy: We wouldn't disintegrate.
You would still exist, I guess, but would the entity be as strong as it is right now? Because right now, you seem to be at the peak of your power.
Akiva: I don't think it'd be nearly as strong. SNL's a great format for us.
Andy: Yeah, and SNL is also a partner in the records releasing and that's all in conjunction with Broadway Video.
You guys are about what, six years into being at SNL?
Andy: Yeah, we're about to finish our sixth.
And how much longer do you expect to be there?
Andy: Probably just like 20 more years.
20 more years?!
Jorma: Yeah, yeah.
Akiva: We're gonna set the record.
That's an amazing career plan you have there.
Andy: Yeah, sorry Darrell Hammond.
But it's true, you guys are very prolific with the Digital Short thing. I'm astounded and I think a lot of comedy fans are because it's so consistently high level every week and it's gotta be a ton of work. Yet, you sound so relaxed.
Akiva + Jorma: [Laughing]
Andy: That's the trick (laughing)!
Are there any plans to tour the Lonely Island?
Jorma: We would love to. It's just finding the time, y'know?
Yeah, you guys are really busy. I mentioned that right?
Andy: Yeah, you did.
But if you toured, you'd have to come to Canada right?
Akiva: Oh, I think we'd absolutely have to.
Jorma: Oh, heck yeah.
Andy: We'd probably start in Canada.
Oh, well that's nice.