Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Andy Samberg - The movie that changed him was Billy Madison

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Andy Samberg’s Super-Awesomely Retarded Awesome Zone!
He’s the best thing about SNL, his new movie is hilarious and his * still won’t leave your inbox. Inside the chimp-loving mind of comedy’s reigning goofball.

By Jonah Weiner

Blender, September 2007

In June 2004, Andy Samberg climbed out onto a ledge at the Chateau Marmont — the Hollywood hotel where John Belushi overdosed on speedballs and decadence keeps a pied-à-terre — and unzipped his pants. It was the after party for the MTV Movie Awards, and Samberg had been hitting the open bar pretty hard. “I was about to pee out the window of a second-floor bungalow,” he recalls. “Suddenly, I felt this hand on my shoulder. It was The Rock, and he was talking me out of it: ‘You don’t wanna do it, man. It’s not worth it.’ So finally, I climbed back in, and I said, ‘You know what, Rock? You were right. You were right.’” Sitting in the leafy backyard of a downtown-Manhattan bar, Samberg grins goofily. “That dude is awesome.”

Andy Samberg is an unapologetic connoisseur of all things stupid. He went to a fancy film school. He’s comfortable tossing around cineast lingo like “diegetic space” or dissecting the oeuvre of art-house auteur Jim Jarmusch. But he’d rather tell a story costarring his penis and a professional wrestler. Channel-surfing a few nights ago, he and a buddy caught the 1996 Jason Alexander vehicle Dunston Checks In. In Dunston, Alexander squares off against an unruly orangutan in a stuffy four-star hotel — and poo-flinging high jinks ensue! It wasn’t a hit. Even the orangutan fired his agent. But Samberg, a guy who makes his living discerning what’s funny from what’s not, was transfixed. “I have a deep love of monkey jokes,” he proclaims.

Two years ago, he was just another Saturday Night Live newbie, a Jewish boy with a floppy haircut, trying to sort out his place in the cast. He wasn’t the fat guy. He wasn’t the black guy. He wasn’t the guy who played George Bush. “He’s not someone who can do a thousand characters, and he knows it,” says his SNL costar Bill Hader. But Samberg quickly became the show’s funniest breakout star since Will Ferrell. And while it took Ferrell several seasons to hit his exuberant, cowbell-banging stride, Samberg just did what he’d been doing since graduating NYU four years earlier: He shot a ridiculous video. Airing in December 2005, “Lazy Sunday” — a gangsta-rap send-up in which Samberg and Chris Parnell play dorks celebrating a Chronicles of Narnia matinee — didn’t just dominate YouTube; it made YouTube. Instead of appearing on TV once a week, Samberg was suddenly shoving cupcakes down your throat every time you checked your inbox.

After ‘Lazy Sunday’ broke,” Samberg remembers, “the producers were like, ‘Let’s let these guys do their own thing.’” (Akiva Schaffer directed the video and Jorma Taccone composed the beat; both have been Samberg’s buddies since junior high school, and they remain his closest collaborators.) A year later, Samberg enlisted SNL musical guest Justin Timberlake for “[Junk] in a Box,” an early-’90s-styled R&B jam that made women worldwide wary of opening their Christmas presents. To date, it’s racked up 24 million YouTube views, the fourth highest in the site’s history. Samberg says he’s heard of “at least a hundred instances” of * placed in boxes in homage. “Somebody told me a dude got fired ’cause he did it at work,” he chuckles. “Sorry.

Samberg, 29, is the king of viral comedy — a genre second only to porn in its ability to thrive in buffering, 1024 x 768 dpi form. His sensibility, siphoned into three-minute bursts, is perfect for an age where the Star Wars Kid and the Toilet-Flushing Cat have become comic icons without the benefit of a network show or an HBO special. Call it Comedy 2.0. You can watch one of Samberg’s shorts, make and upload your own version (there are about 1,500 “Lazy Sunday” covers and remixes on YouTube), then PayPal yourself a bootleg T-shirt printed with one of his catchphrases: MR. PIBB + RED VINES = CRAZY DELICIOUS.

His gags often begin mundanely, then erupt into surreal logic. On a May SNL broadcast, Samberg frenched a talking sheepdog for 13 exquisitely interminable seconds. “To get Andy,” says Lorne Michaels, the creator and executive producer of SNL, “you have to value silly, to think that’s a legitimate way of looking at the world.”

Now, silly is everywhere. Human Giant, the comedy trio who rose to online prominence with sketches about a crew of bumbling Criss Angel–esque “Illusionators,” can probably thank Samberg for their MTV series. And it’s hard to imagine HBO giving the rock-comedy duo Flight of the Conchords a show if it wasn’t for “* in a Box.” Even Will Ferrell’s gotten into the viral-video business, cofounding the clip clearinghouse

People want a quick laugh,” Samberg says. When he was living in Los Angeles six years ago, he spent a few months temping, including a stint “filing stuff” at the tabloid magazine Star. He walked away with more than free paper clips: It was a crash course in the tedium of the typical cubicle drone. Not long ago, if you wanted mirth at the office, the options were grim: Xerox your ass or, worse, buy a Dilbert calendar. Today, all you need is a video of someone hurtling off a trampoline. “I’ve never been at work and thought, *, I could really get into a story right now,” Samberg says. “But it’s easy to watch a guy get kicked in the balls.”

This summer, he’s up-streaming his act. Samberg plays the title role in Hot Rod, a comedy about an inept stuntman. Many SNL stars have stunk up the multiplex in their film debuts, but Hot Rod feels like an instant dorm-room classic. Will Ferrell and Lorne Michaels helped punch up the screenplay, which was written by South Park vet Pam Brady. Improbably, Sissy Spacek and Deadwood’s Ian McShane show up for supporting roles as Rod’s parents. The result is sublimely silly. Samberg spends much of the movie wearing a conspicuously fake mustache and slamming headfirst into hard surfaces, and the plot regularly breaks into inspired, lunatic detours — like a time-bendingly-protracted fall down a mountain (Samberg: “I love the joke that goes on for way too long”) or a bloody brawl between a grilled cheese and a taco. (The pleasures of seeing a giant sandwich hemorrhaging blood from a head wound, it turns out, are surprisingly rich.)

So Hot Rod could turn Samberg into the next Mike Myers. It could also turn him into the next that-guy-who-played-Mango. Either way, he seems unfazed. Asked how he feels about the film, he beams: “We made a dumb movie.”

Like football, cars and fake Spock ears, comedy is a secret male language: a way for boys to defer adulthood (“Toga!”), avoid intimacy (“You know how I know you’re gay?”) and scare away girls (“Shwing!”). As a kid growing up in Berkeley, California, Samberg was raised by parents he affectionately refers to as “hippies.” His favorite movies were Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Steve Martin’s The Jerk — screwy romps where men fart, talk in wacky voices and act like children. But the film that sealed his comedic taste came out when he was 17.

The first time I saw Billy Madison, I was in shock; it was so perfect, I wasn’t sure what to make of it.”

In Billy Madison, Adam Sandler pushes comedy’s fantasy of eternal adolescence to a sub-moronic, glue-eating extreme. Madison, a hotel-chain heir who has to repeat grades 1 through 12 in order to inherit his father’s company, spends his days speaking gibberish and hallucinating man-size penguins. To a generation of teenage dudes, the movie was revelatory: You could be in your 30s, Sandler promised, and still set fire to bags of dog shit. The eye-opener for Samberg came just a few scenes in. “Sandler’s sitting at the dinner where his dad has all these businessmen visiting, and his dad says, ‘Well, Billy, because you took your sweet-ass time coming down here, these men are going to miss their last flights home.’ Sandler goes, ‘Well, this guy can stay in my room, I tell you that much!’ and he grabs this old dude next to him and just starts biting his hand. Like, gnawing on it. At that moment, I was like, ‘What the * is happening in this movie? He’s literally doing anything he feels like!’

Samberg took two lessons from Billy Madison. The story is larded with non sequiturs and hand-gnawing departures from reality, which taught him that narrative should never get in the way of a timely kick in the balls: postmodernism meets potty humor. And it featured a hero who would become central to Samberg’s comedy: the overgrown doofus. He may not be able to do a thousand characters, but ever since he played a fantasy­-loving nerd in “Lazy Sunday,” he’s been perfecting the man-’tard.

No SNL skit summarizes this as completely as “Laser Cats,” which features YouTube-ready animal humor and grown men behaving like 10-year-olds. In the short, Samberg and Bill Hader show Lorne Michaels a video they’ve been working on: a cheesy sci-fi fantasy in which cats can shoot lasers from their mouths. Clad in ill-fitting exercise gear and helmets, the two scamper around the NBC studios, firing crudely animated beams out of house­cat cannons. “The older you get as a comedian,” Samberg says, “the funnier it gets to act like a complete child.”

In Hot Rod, Samberg plays an alpha man-’tard: Rod Kimble, who wears a little cape and attempts bike jumps that typically end in humiliation and severe head trauma. “I’ve got a lot in common with him,” Samberg says. “He’s willing to sacrifice himself for entertainment, and I’ve always liked making an ass of myself to make people laugh.” Jorma Taccone, who plays Rod’s half brother Kevin, backs this up: “I remember Andy in high school, singing stupid songs, wearing headbands and looking just as dumb as he could at all times.”

Samberg arrives for our interview wearing a thrift-store tee and battered skateboard sneakers, and his hair strikes a good-natured compromise between shaggy indie rocker and raffish ’70s soccer star — a trademark do so recognizable that Lorne Michaels has forbidden Samberg from changing it. He announces that the funniest word in the English language is dong, slides in and out of goofy voices with a bro-ish bonhomie and generally radiates the grinning sense that everything around him gives him pleasure. "Whenever someone asks me to do an Andy Samberg impression," Hader says, "I kind of think of a Muppet and just go, 'Shmorgy-dorg!'"

When Samberg plays a dork on SNL, it’s an exaggerated version of himself. The guy talks to his parents three times a week. He loves Star Wars. “Watching Planet Earth HD,” Samberg declares, “is my favorite thing in the world.”

Still, what dork do you know who texts with Justin Timberlake? For that matter, who else can both identify Queen Amidala’s home planet and hook up with her? (When Blender asks about Samberg’s tabloid-reported flings with Natalie Portman and Kirsten Dunst, he denies the former and demurs on the subject of Dunst: “I’m not saying that happened,” he protests, before adding with mock sleaze, “but that’s not saying it didn’t happen.”) After beers at the bar, we head to a secret White Stripes concert, and while we’re waiting at the box office, a cute, flirty blonde asks if he can get her into the show. He hesitates. She offers him a blow job. “I’m just scraping by,” he says apologetically. “And, for the record, I would not accept a blow job.”

Most comedians aren’t offered oral sex outside rock concerts. But Samberg is a lot better-looking than most comedians. When Scarlett Johansson last hosted SNL, guess who she made out with in a sketch? (It wasn’t Horatio Sanz.) “She was dressed up like a grody alien,” Samberg says of the kiss. “But I’ll still take it.”

Let the sight of Will Ferrell’s flubber stand as pale, jiggly proof: Ugly gets laughs. For this reason, Samberg is ambivalent about his looks. He often contorts his face until it resembles a crumpled whoopee cushion, and one of his funniest mannerisms is a self-satirizing, faux-cocky smirk. “Funny and sexy are enemies,” he says. “Twice a month, I do 20 push-ups and collapse. I’m headed toward gutsville, but I think it’ll help my career.”

Samberg’s biggest influence after Billy Madison was Stella, the comedy trio of Michael Ian Black, David Wain and Michael Showalter, who, in the late ’90s, posted dozens of shorts to In a characteristic Stella short, the trio swings unpredictably from hand-holding to beat-downs while traveling to meet Santa. When they arrive, Mrs. Claus exposes her massive penis and invites them to suck on it. Fin. Samberg, Taccone and Schaffer discovered Stella when they were living in Los Angeles after college and began posting their own shorts — usually filmed while drunk at 4 a.m. — to their site, “I’m not even kidding,” Samberg says. “The wildest hope was that I would someday be on SNL and then the three of us would make a movie.” The site caught the attention of power-moving talent agency UTA, which signed them in 2002. An SNL audition soon followed, with Samberg hired as a featured player and the other two brought on as writers.

But Stella’s comedy was often mean, almost nihilistic — they kinda came off like dicks. Onscreen and off, Samberg seems essentially sweet. Historically, comedians fall somewhere between mental patients and telemarketers on the mangled-souls scale. Not him. “Andy’s likability comes through,” says Chris Parnell. “And I think that makes it easier to laugh at someone’s comedy.” He’s anarchically silly enough for boys but not too threatening for girls to get the joke — or to write “me + you = FOREVER!!!” on his MySpace.

Samberg’s a poster boy, says Hader, for a new generation of well-­adjusted comics. “Whether it’s Andy, Ferrell, Seth Rogen or Jonah Hill, none of them have ever told me, ‘I have to kick a heroin habit.’ We had cool families. We get along. I guess what it boils down to is, we’re all really nerdy.”

Recently, Rogen had a party at his house in L.A., and Samberg spent much of it chatting up Hill, who played Rogen’s even burlier roommate in Knocked Up. At the end, they exchanged numbers.

I texted Jonah the other day while I was taking a [poop],” Samberg says. “I wrote, ‘I’m taking a [poop] and wanted to let you know I’m thinking of you’. He wrote back, ‘That’s weird, I was thinking of you too, but I was watching another dude take a [poop].’ So, our friendship is going good so far.”

Hill costars with Michael Cera in this summer’s other major dude-comedy, the sharply written coming-of-age flick Superbad. “I think it’s great,” Samberg says. “If it was coming out the same day as Hot Rod, I’d be really nervous.”

Samberg’s already looking beyond the summer, though. He has five years left on his SNL contract, there’s a Lonely Island comedy CD planned for the distant future and he’s already booked his next movie role, the lead voice-over in an animated comedy due out next year.

It’s called Space Chimps,” Samberg says. “I don’t really know much about it. But it’s got space, and it’s got chimps. What part of that equation isn’t awesome?



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