The Lonely Island first won loads of notice for its 2006 Emmy-winning SNL short “Dick in a Box,” featuring Justin Timberlake. A decade later, the comedy trio, composed of Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone, comes full circumference with its brazen “Dick in a Limo” scene in Judd Apatow's hilarious new movie, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. The rip-roaring mockumentary, written by and costarring The Lonely Island, pokes fun at true celebrity excess via a fictional singer-rapper known as Conner4Real (well played by Andy Samberg) as he launches his self-indulgent world tour. SF Weekly spoke to Samberg, Schaffer, and Taccone about Popstar, opening wide June 3, maintaining their Berkeley roots, and the mechanics behind the scene that'll be emblazoned on your mind for years to come.
Being that you're all Berkeley natives, does the Bay Area still feel like home?
Jorma Taccone: Yes. Our families are up here, so it's still very much home.
Akiva Schaffer: It's also that the Bay Area is such a part of our upbringing and who we are as people, so it's a very specific place.
Andy Samberg: You could say that it feels like home because it's where we're from and it's our home.
Jorma Taccone: Yeah. We grew up here. Born and raised. East Bay.
Your new movie Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is about how a group of guys changes when they get a taste of fame or the Hollywood lifestyle. So I'm wondering if the adjustment you faced moving to glitzier LA or New York City was an easy one.
Jorma Taccone: It took me a second to adjust to LA, I guess. It was nine months of a little bit of shellshock, but I went to UCLA and then we all moved down there and spent a lot of time there and these guys live there now. I feel very comfortable in all three places, I would say.
Andy Samberg: I agree with that. There's definitely a lot of stuff about the Bay I miss aside from friends and family and favorite restaurants. I like the fresh air, Tilden Park, and being near Mount Tam and all that stuff— and the culture of it as well.
Akiva Schaffer: Growing up here, you're taught from an early age that LA is terrible and to hate LA for no reason whatsoever and then you get down there and you realize, “Oh, everyone there's really nice.” Then you're there and you say, “I'm from the Bay” and they all go, “I love it up there. It's wonderful.” Then you realize, “Oh, this wasn't even a two-way fight. Nobody in LA was even thinking about it. It was just the one way.” They have nothing but love for the Bay Area down there, but it's not reciprocated.
I know you've said that certain documentaries inspired the movie?
Yeah, we watched a lot of pop documentaries as research. We watched Katy Perry, Jennifer Lopez, One Direction, both of Justin Bieber's, Beyoncé's Lemonade, and some online YouTube tour clips of A$AP Rocky and Wiz Khalifa. So we cast a broad net of everything happening in rap and pop and the way it's documented, and there's some commentary in the movie, about how really everyone has a documentary crew now. It's really just the way of that world. It was really fun research because we are really fans of all that music, so it was kind of like mixing business with pleasure.
Is Popstar criticizing the nature of celebrity today or just poking fun at it?
Andy Samberg: It's examining the state of pop culture, I would say, and the way pop stars and celebrities interact with social media and their fanbase and what those expectations are nowadays and how fast it changes and how fickle the audience is. There's not one big mission statement like we're gonna take down this. It was more of a collection of observations that we thought were funny and that we could think of good comedy based in.
Jorma Taccone: Like any good discussion, it has both positives and negatives.
Andy Samberg: Exactly. Things like corporate tie-ins and how hard it is to sell records now.
Akiva Schaffer: What it means to live openly on social media.
Jorma Taccone: Living your life in public and what that does to you.
Andy Samberg: The fact that my character's name is Conner 4 Real, and not to be too heady about it, but what is truly the for-real version of him? We liked that name for him because that was part of what we were having fun with.
We did get glimpses into the real Conner when he was alone with his turtle, though.
Jorma Taccone: Yeah, which makes sense because that was when he was nine years old.
Andy Samberg: And with his two buddies he grew up with, which is the path he needs to remember.
Since you're also three longtime friends who work together, does your friendship make your working relationship easier because you trust each other, or harder because you can't say what you really feel because you're trying to protect each other's feelings?
Andy Samberg: No, there's never a time when we don't say what we want to say, which makes it different than working with people you don't know as well, but I think in the end it's time-saving because you're not tippy toeing around each other. Because you're family, you're like, “Hey, I don't like that.” Or “Hey, I don't think that works, so let's talk about it. Let's fix it.” You can cut through the tippy toeing and…there's such a thing as too much courtesy when you're trying to make something good and maintain a common goal. The fact that we've known each other for so long, there's no room for anyone to be like, “Even though it would make everything a lot better if you'd do this thing, we're not going to ask you because you're so and so.” So I would say, in general, it's much better and much more effective, and that's why we keep doing it.
You've all flirted with the music industry, between performing The Lonely Island songs, directing music videos, and Andy, you're married to Bay Area singer-songwriter Joanna Newsom.
Andy Samberg: I literally bow before her every morning. If anyone out there's worrying about me not appreciating how incredible she is—worry not.
Does that give you the best of both worlds, because you get to act and do stuff that's music-related?
Akiva Schaffer: We're making comedy songs. Make no mistake about it. They are joke songs. But it's fun, like when we were scripting the movie and you get to a little bit of writer's block and you say, “Let me put down the script for a bit and go into the studio.” It's such a different creative process to write a song than it is to write a feature. So it's fun to get to do that.
Andy Samberg: There's something very special about the intersection of a joke we really like with a musical moment that's soundwise very satisfying. When those things come together and it's like, “Ooh, that song just crescendoed in a way that's musically very satisfying with a really dumb joke that we love,” that delivery system of comedy is something that we really love.
The movie was hilarious. There's one scene, though, that really stands out. In fact, it's permanently emblazoned on my brain.
Jorma Taccone: Yeah, the Aquaspin scene. [Laughs] You can't get the image of the washer-dryer out of your head.
Explain the mechanics behind the limo scene, where Conner is tasked with signing a big, floppy dick?
Andy Samberg: We shot it with a real one, but also shot it with a prosthetic just in case.
Jorma Taccone: A friend of ours painted a fake member for 16 hours to get it to look perfect. Then we shot it both ways and thought, “No, the other one's funnier.”
Andy Samberg: You know what it was? It was the uncanny valley. People could smell it. So we used the real one.
Akiva Schaffer: We shot it with the other one, too, just in case the real one was too much for people.
Jorma Taccone: But guess what: it's not. People love it. Everyone is 100 percent ok with it across the board and that's a fact. The MPAA said, “Approved.”
Akiva Schaffer: A fun fact about it is we had two cameras going in the back and me and Andy are back there, and we're looking at each other. On camera, you see it, and it just makes our eye lines into a profile. So a trick you can do when you have two cameras is that you both look here, and you're not even looking at each other, and you're doing the whole scene to nobody, essentially. But on camera, it still appears like you're looking at each other and is a more attractive shot. So that put my eye line and his eye line directly at the window…
Jorma Taccone: Down the barrel of the gun, so to speak.
Akiva Schaffer: So I was doing the whole scene to butts and boobs, but I'm angrily yelling at Andy. But I was just staring at the penis dead on.
Andy Samberg: It was a good acting exercise. I feel like everyone should do that. But was that penis scene really emblazoned on your memory?
Yeah, it's not like it was the first time I've ever seen dick on screen. In fact, depending on my mood, I might see it several times a day. But I've never seen it used so artfully before.