New York — AFTER seeing many of the short films they have created for "Saturday Night Live" become viral sensations on the Internet, the comedy team of Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer find themselves accidental poster boys for the latest iteration of online success. Yet this summer, the trio -- known collectively as the Lonely Island -- make an old media career move with their feature film debut "Hot Rod."
Directed by Schaffer, the film is about a lovably hapless wannabe daredevil, an amateur Evel Knievel named Rod Kimble, who plans a big jump to raise money for his mean but ailing stepfather. Samberg and Taccone star in the film, to be released Aug. 3, with a cast that also includes Isla Fisher, Ian McShane, Sissy Spacek, Will Arnett, Bill Hader and Chris Parnell.
Though the project is credited to original screenwriter Pam Brady, all involved freely admit that the Lonely Island guys did extensive rewrites, and the film captures their collective sensibility of free-form, absurdist humor rife with pop culture riffs and a goofy, affable sweetness aimed right at the "Napoleon Dynamite" crowd.
The three have known one another since junior high school in Berkeley, and nothing showcases their long-standing friendship and easy, unspoken dynamic -- "our processes are intertwined," muses Taccone -- quite like the complex equation they make of ordering food to share at a hip Manhattan eatery on a recent rainy (nigh even lazy) Sunday afternoon. Ideas are introduced, demands are made, digressions explored -- talking about soup leads to a discussion of the old French Tintin comics -- compromises are proposed until, at last, decisions are made. One shudders to think of the route their creative process must take.
Team Lonely Island began on "SNL" in fall 2005 (Samberg is a performer, and Taccone and Schaffer are writers), but their shorts for the sketch comedy show -- "Lazy Sunday" and " ... in a Box" -- were not their first brush with Internet acclaim. Before being hired there, the three gained a certain online popularity with the comic videos they posted to their own website, www.thelonelyisland.com, as well as at www.channel101.com. They were also involved in a few television pilots, none of which were picked up, and joined "SNL" after a writing job for host Jimmy Fallon on the MTV Movie Awards.
Schaffer notes that while it's easy to peg their success to the Internet, the truer trajectory of their career moves, from getting signed by agents to getting hired for jobs, has been through established show-business channels.
"It's such an obvious, weird thing," he says of the online angle to their story, "because we made videos and people cared to some degree. But I can tell you specifically each stage of our careers along the way, and none of them were made by the Internet. They were all made in traditional senses."
The biggest leap in their Internet notoriety came with "Lazy Sunday" in fall 2005, which featured Samberg and then-fellow cast member Parnell as a pair of nerds extolling their slackadaisical afternoon of cupcakes and fantasy movies in the manner of a hard-hitting rap video. There is something ineffably "now" about their work, something that just seems to effortlessly tap into the cultural currents and interests of the moment. As "Saturday Night Live" executive producer Lorne Michaels, also a producer of "Hot Rod," points out, their ages -- Taccone recently turned 30, Schaffer is 29 and Samberg 28 -- have something to do with it.
"They are not only making the movie," says Michaels, "they also are the audience. They're not going, 'Oh, I wonder what people this age really want to see.' "
Perhaps the biggest challenge faced by the trio in making "Hot Rod" has been in somehow translating their sensibility for concise, free-flowing comedy into something that coheres as a feature-length film.
"I feel like what we've learned from the shorts is never leaving the audience bored," says Taccone. "So we're always getting to the meat of the thing, and if it doesn't work you throw it out. If you do that for every single part of the movie, which I think we have done, you end up with a pretty tight, entertaining thing."
Breaking rank for a moment, Samberg hastens to point out to his friend, "You're going to eat that quote if people are bored by our movie."