A Berkeley Threesome Masters Mockery

Fresh from "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping," Jorma Taccone and pals Andy Samberg and Akiva Schaffer keep the parody party going.


Published:

The roots of The Lonely Island go all the way back to Willard High School in Berkeley in the 1990s.

Photo by Emily Berl

(page 1 of 2)

Jorma Taccone has launched artistic collaborations in various ways, but few were more accidental than his relationship with Boots Riley of The Coup. Last year, the comedian and filmmaker was standing at the bar on the final night of the Sundance Film Festival when he realized that he was in line alongside the Oakland hip-hop star.

“He’s a very noticeable guy—he has some of the highest hair in the room—and I was like, ‘Oh, my, god, I’m such a fan; I love the Coup.”

Taccone and partners Andy Samberg and Akiva Schaffer had recorded an homage to The Coup on Incredibad, their first album as the comedy troupe The Lonely Island. “That was a tribute to one of their songs, ‘Fat Cats, Bigga Fish,’ I think, or it might have been ‘Pimps,’ ” Taccone said. “Those two songs are back to back on Genocide & Juice, and I always think of them as being the same song. We talked for a while, and he told me about this script he had, and he said, ‘I’m gonna do this for you.’ ”

Riley’s screenplay, Sorry to Bother You, bore little apparent relationship to The Coup’s 2012 album of the same name. He described it as a dystopian sci-fi comedy starring a telemarketer and a race of half-horse people known as Equisapiens. Taccone asked Riley to send him the script.

“Apparently it went to the wrong email address, and six months later, it finally got to our company,” Taccone recalled in a recent interview. “I read it and was like, ‘Oh, man, this is so inspired and weird and so perfectly Bay Area and perfectly Boots—surreal and political and funny.’ I could compare it to a lot of things, like Being John Malkovich. Fingers crossed, we’ll be shooting it in the Bay. It’s such a Bay Area project; it needs to be shot there. It kind of ties together everything I feel Boots has been working on forever—capitalism and race and humor and music.”

The roots of Taccone’s first professional partnership, Lonely Island, go all the way back to Willard Junior High School in Berkeley in the 1990s, when Jorma, Akiva, and Andy developed a creative relationship that carried through their years at Berkeley High. “We were always messing around with video cameras,” Taccone said. “Me and Kiv shot little things together; Andy shot little movies with his friend James and some others.” They became a full-fledged working ensemble after college.

As The Lonely Island, Taccone, Schaffer and Samberg have gone from shooting adolescent home videos to making absurdist and raunchy Digital Shorts for Saturday Night Live—including the first viral YouTube video, 2005’s “Lazy Sunday”—to recording full-length albums to writing and co-producing (with Judd Apatow) this summer’s comedy film Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. “It’s shocking that I’ve been allowed to have that kind of job, working with my best friends, still, this many years later,” Taccone said.

“We all graduated at the same time and showed each other the stuff we’d been working on, and it was like, ‘Oh, we clearly need to work together,’” Taccone said. “The style was a little different—Kiv and I were a little more focused on the craft of filmmaking, and Andy was just wanting to make the best jokes possible, but we were clearly all wanting to be funny.” So, in 2000, Samberg (NYU) and Schaffer (UC Santa Cruz) joined Taccone (UCLA) in Los Angeles. Five years later, after making scores of short videos on borrowed Hi8 camcorders, bouncing around the TV and comedy scenes in Hollywood, and making fruitful connections, they landed their breakthrough jobs—all three as writers, Samberg as a featured player—on Saturday Night Live.

For about seven years, such Lonely Island music-video Digital Shorts as “Dick in a Box” and “Motherlover” (with Justin Timberlake), “I’m on a Boat” (with T-Pain), “I Just Had Sex” (featuring Akon), and “Jack Sparrow” (with Michael Bolton) were essential elements in the SNL mix.

“It’s a really hard job to quit,” Taccone said. “I left after five years, but Andy was still working there, and I wanted to help him out as much as possible, so I did five Shorts in year six, and seven out of the 22 the next year.” During and after their SNL stints, The Lonely Islanders branched out, together and individually, into films (Hot Rod, Extreme Movie, Land of the Lost, MacGruber) and other TV projects (Girls, Brooklyn Nine-Nine). In 2014, they signed a development deal with Fox, leading them to launch a new company, Party Over Here, and, earlier this year, they debuted a sketch-comedy series of the same name.

And they spent much of the past 2 1/2 years getting Popstar made. When they were first kicking around the idea, Taccone said, “Akiva had a kind of general meeting with Judd Apatow in which Judd basically pitched the same idea back to Kiv.” In the “mockumentary”—a send-up of contemporary pop tour documentaries such as Justin Bieber: Never Say Never—Samberg plays waning pop star Conner4Real, and Schaffer and Taccone, who co-directed the movie, play his former bandmates in the Style Boyz. “It just felt like there was a new documentary format that was happening—the pop puff-piece documentary. It felt like the format had changed enough that we could throw our hat into the ring of movies like Spinal Tap, which are obviously untouchable in terms of their legendary comedy status. We wanted to do something related to the very current pop culture world, a musical movie of some sort, and this felt like something perfect for us to focus on, where we could do a whole album’s worth of music and write a story around that.”

When I reached Taccone on his cellphone, he was sitting with his laptop in 61 Local, a cafe in his Brooklyn neighborhood. He was sketching out script ideas for MacGruber 2, a sequel to the 2010 movie that he co-wrote with SNL veterans Will Forte and John Solomon. In the film, Taccone directed Kristen Wiig, Val Kilmer, Ryan Phillippe, Powers Boothe, Maya Rudolph, and Forte, who played a former Green Beret, Navy SEAL, and Army Ranger who is called back into action against his archenemy Dieter Von Cunth. The original was a certified box office flop but has survived as something of a cult classic. “I’ve not been able to get the idea of doing MacGruber 2 out of my mind for the longest time,” Taccone said. “It’s definitely something that’s stuck in my craw. I just love the character—it’s so fun to write. It’s so rare to have your protagonist do the exact opposite of what a traditional protagonist would do.”

“I’m writing things now for MacGruber 2 that have moments of being political, but it’s never blatant. It’s all humor first. Maybe that’s the best way to define what we do—we’re always trying to be funny and make each other laugh first.”

Add your comment:
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Big savings on local dining & more.

Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags