Interview: Andy Samberg Talks Up the Funny in ‘That’s My Boy’
CHICAGO – As the chorus of “Goodbye Ruby Tuesday” signaled the recent season finale of “Saturday Night Live,” it was Kristen Wiig that said farewell to the show, but not before a lingering twirl from Andy Samberg, who just announced his own departure. The next phase for Samberg begins with a co-starring role beside Adam Sandler, in the film “That’s My Boy.”
Andy Samberg was born in Mill Valley, California, and grew up watching “Saturday Night Live,” as a self-described obsessed fan of the show. He spend two years at the University of California, Santa Cruz, before transferring after two years to New York University, to study filmmaking. It was with his childhood friends, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer, that he would form a comedy troupe called Lonely Island. The trio landed a gig on Saturday Night Live on their writing staff, and Samberg broke out as a featured cast member on the show.
Besides his incredible ability to do impersonations and strange characters (like “Blizzard Man”) on SNL, Samberg also helped create – along with Taccone and Schaffer – the famous Digital Shorts series, which launched the classic “Lazy Sunday” rap (2005), the Samberg/Justin Timberlake duet “Dick in a Box” (2006) and the oddly appealing “Jack Sparrow” (2011), featuring Michael Bolton. Just before Samberg departed SNL, the team created the 100th Digital Short, and topped it off with a sequel called “Lazy Sunday 2.”
Photo credit: Tracy Bennett for Columbia Pictures
Right in time for the summer movie season, Samberg transitions to “That’s My Boy,” a raunchy, wild-ride movie comedy costarring Adam Sandler. While in Chicago promoting the film, Samberg sat down to talk to HollywoodChicago.com about working with Sandler, and his legacy on “Saturday Night Live.”
HollywoodChicago.com You’ve been on a few movie sets over the years. How does an Adam Sandler set atmosphere compare to the other ones?
Andy Samberg Well, there is a huge movie star on his set, which is him. Sandler runs a really fun set, he’s worked with the same guys a lot, both the producers and his physical crew and cast. He’s fiercely loyal dude, that’s what he is known for, outside of being funny. There is a real ease to it, it flows real nice and everybody kind of knows what the other is thinking before it happens. I felt lucky, because everyone was accepting and brought me into the fold.
It’s not a hard improvise-on-every-take kind of thing. It’s more like do the script as written, watch playback, come up with new jokes, try those and a very fluid ‘let’s try and make this as funny as we can.’ It’s the way I like to work.
HollywoodChicago.com You’ve joined an elite group of actors that have actually fought actor James Caan on screen. What movie of his came to mind when you practiced your motivations before the scene was shot, and why?
Samberg I was doing my best to not to think of everything else he had been in, because if I thought about other movies James Caan had done before working with me, I would have got it in my head about how much of a letdown this was going to be for him. It would be like, ‘The Godfather,’ and now the ‘Dick in a Box’ guy. [laughs]
I tried to pretend like I knew how to act. He’s a hall-of-famer, no doubt. And he’s jacked, seriously ripped and in shape. In the screenings I’ve been to, just him taking off his shirt gets a huge laugh, because people can’t believe how buff he his. He’s in much better shape than me.
HollywoodChicago.com I saw your unofficial trailer to ‘That’s My Boy,’ and I missed the part with Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Ben Stiller and Jason Segel in a giant can of sardines. How much of your unique comic sensibility made it to the final cut of the film?
Samberg Can I talk to ‘Blizzard Man”? [laughs] I would say a good amount. Many people have said I’m playing the straight man in this movie and I don’t feel that way, because I get a lot of great comedy to work with – a lot of physical stuff happens to me and the character does loosen up and becomes more like I actually am.
Sandler gave me free reign with the role, a lot of the laughs I get in the movie are things I improvised, and it was actually a really fun and new thing for me. I get a lot of laughs in the screenings just by reacting to how crazy he is – he’s so off the rails, filthy and joyously awful in the movie – if I just react the right way, then people will think ‘oh yeah, I know what he’s going through.’ I don’t rap in the movie, but other than that I represented myself in a way in which I can be proud.
Photo credit: Tracy Bennett for Columbia Pictures
HollywoodChicago.com What are the major differences for you between created and participating in a full length film versus doing sketch work. What’s more difficult in your experience?
Samberg A movie so far for me has been more challenging. I just have less experience with it, and from a writing perspective in particular, finding a way to do the kind of jokes you like, and expect an audience to care about the characters in the story over the course of 90 plus minutes, there is a real art to that. I was pleasantly surprised on how much ‘That’s My Boy’ held together, where by the end I had friends who came to test screenings telling me it was really good, that they tracked the story the whole way, and I cared about everybody in it. First, I have to say that’s amazing, because it’s a very irresponsible and raunchy movie, but when I watched it again I did feel the same way.
For me, with a sketch – and a lot of people complain about this with ‘Saturday Night Live’ – you don’t have to have some grand resolution. It’s satisfying if there it, but if it’s a two or three minute piece and there is six solid laughs in it, you’re pretty much in good shape. That’s the major difference between sketch and films.
HollywoodChicago.com You can always just have Don Pardo come in at the end on ‘SNL’…
Samberg Don Pardo is the secret weapon. He can end anything. He could have ended ‘The Sixth Sense.’ [doing a perfect Pardo impression] ‘He was dead the whole time!’ Yep, Pardo makes it work. [laughs]
HollywoodChicago.com There is a bunch of nostalgia woven throughout the film, mostly from the 1980s. What is your favorite period of comedy in show business history, and why does it continue to influence the comic landscape today?
Samberg I watched ‘The Three Stooges,’ Charlie Chaplin and I’m a huge Marx Brothers fan as well, I also grew up watching ‘I Love Lucy’ reruns. It really started hitting me hard with Mel Brooks, Monty Python and early Steve Martin. You watch it now, and it’s still funnier than most of the sh*t coming out. From there, it’s been everything that people who love comedy watch – from ‘Strangers with Candy’ to Pee-Wee Herman to ‘Airplane’ and the Naked Gun movies.
When I first started watching ‘SNL’ I was about eight years old, it was the Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz, Dana Carvey, Jan Hooks era, and by the time I was a teenager it was Adam Sandler, Chris Farley and David Spade, my brain just exploded. When you hang with Sandler, those are all his buddies, so when I bump into Spade he tells me a story about Farley. For me, growing up, the things that I was excited about and into, I can’t imagine having a life that is more than what I’ve got.
HollywoodChicago.com Speaking of ‘SNL,’ now that you are one of the treasured ex-members of the cast, what behind-the-scenes memory is most precious to you, something that didn’t happen on the air?
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald for HollywoodChicago.com
Samberg One thing that happened that no one knows about was that a few years ago when Jude Law was hosting, Seth Meyers wrote a sketch called ‘Hamlet Auditions,’ because Jude Law had just played Hamlet. It was him auditioning, and in the waiting room was Bill Hader’s Al Pacino and other crazy people. I came in as Nic Cage, and in rehearsal I just entered and started screaming, and then do the ‘Wicker Man’ thing – [as Cage] ‘The bees, the bees!’ and jump through the window.
It was a prop severed window, but I went through without covering my head. I hit the mat on the other side, and I was suppose to stay there until the sketch was over, so I wouldn’t make any noise. I lifted my head, and looked down, and blood was just pouring out of my head from my face. I was like, ‘oh sh*t,’ and of course I was in the next sketch. It was only the audience dress rehearsal, but they didn’t know I was bleeding.
I didn’t realize that apparently this is a common occurrence, because one of the dressers found out and she came running up to me with what I guess is the stuff a prizefighter’s corner has – salts or whatever – and stuck a bunch of sh*t to my face, wiped it with a baby wipe, and told me I was good to go. I did a quick change, and was in the next sketch with a huge lump on my face, but it was all taped up. I had to do it again live on the show, because the ‘Hamlet Auditions’ got picked, but this time I covered up. [laughs]
HollywoodChicago.com Since you are somewhat of a historian regarding ‘SNL’ as well, what is your favorite story an ex-cast member has told you, and what would you ask John Belushi if he walked into this room right now?
Samberg That’s two huge questions. I definitely heard the stories about Sandler, like one time he walked into a pitch session with Michael J. Fox with his pants off, stuff like that. If Belushi walked into this room right now, I don’t know, I’d freak out. For multiple reasons, besides the comedy. [laughs] But he is one of the kings, one of the originals.
HollywoodChicago.com I observed that maybe Nicolas Cage was a bit put off when he was ‘In the Cage’ with you. Did he do anything to throw you off?
Samberg Not the case. He was a blast. He was the sweetest man.
HollywoodChicago.com Weren’t you a bit scared to meet him?
Samberg I was terrified to meet him, you never know what they’ll think. But when he showed up he was as great as I hoped – he fully got the joke. For me, obviously the amount I know about Nic Cage’s career lends itself to the impression. But Cage showed up, and was the guy from ‘Raising Arizona.’ He just said [in Cage voice] ‘I think it’s really funny, what you do, it’s completely insane. It has nothing to do with me, but it’s a funny character.’ That’s completely right. It was exciting for him to come on and kind of take the piss out of it.
HollywoodChicago.com You popularized the internet download and now it’s pretty common. Since you lived your whole life within the development of that technology, what backlash do you predict with happen with culture and society?
Samberg That’s a huge question, it’s like a college lecture. I will need a thesis and then work through my examples. [laughs] I will say this, the internet reaches a certain audience who likes the type of entertainment that I do, and more people are getting in on it as computers are more common, the internet gets faster and people get it on their phones.
The backlash is that a career can be churned through much faster. Back when ‘SNL’ started, if they did a classic sketch, people would have to wait months before seeing it again in reruns. Now if you do something that people really like they can watch it 800 times that week, and can say, ‘done with that, what else you got.’ It puts pressure on comedians especially, because you constantly have to come up with new stuff. If you don’t have a presence online constantly, you can convince yourself that you’re not out there enough. But it’s terrifying because you can burn out or people can get burnt out watching you. You have to just do things you think are funny and not force it.