BEVERLY HILLS, California — By now, you've probably sung along with Justin Timberlake to "Di-- in a Box," forwarded the "Lazy Sunday" viral video and laughed at a few of Andy Samberg's other "Saturday Night Live" breakout moments.
But how much do you know about Samberg's Lonely Island?
The depressing name represents a carefree comedy troupe for the Internet generation, and the trio's first feature film — the outrageous "Hot Rod" — could be the group's next comedic treasure to come out of the box.
"They come from a different kind of sensibility," "Deadwood" star Ian McShane said, discussing his and Oscar-winning actress Sissy Spacek's unexpected participation in "Rod." "It's not the usual stuff. It's quite insane."
That insanity scored big time two weeks ago, as the Lonely Island trio landed a shocking Emmy nomination for "Di-- in a Box" (see "Justin Timberlake May Add Emmy To That Box: 'SNL' Viral Hit Nominated"). "That's about as surprising as it gets," grinned Samberg, who is joined by writer/actor Jorma Taccone and writer/director Akiva Schaffer in Lonely Island. "I can't tell if the process was more exciting — or [if it's] the idea that someone's gonna have to do that engraving if we win."
"It's still amazing to me to walk down the halls of 'SNL,' " Taccone said of their newfound fame. "You see pictures of the greatest comedians we grew up worshiping, basically. It's crazy to be able to still work there."
Before the popularity, movie deal and Emmy nomination, Samberg, Schaffer and Taccone started off like so many other viral-video stars: as friends with a video camera and an offbeat sense of humor. "We all grew up together and went to the same junior high and high school," Schaffer remembered of their 2001 launch. "After college we reconvened, moved to L.A. and lived in an apartment. And any dudes who live in an apartment will usually give it a name — ours was called 'The Lonely Island.' "
From that Lonely apartment — whose name aptly reveals its lack of dudettes — the three buddies filmed short comedy sketches using their modest means to the max.
"The Internet is encouraging a bunch of people to make comedies and any other kind of art," Samberg said of the viral-video revolution that rose up alongside them. "People who never in a million years would've tried [to make a movie] now have the opportunity to. It doesn't cost anything, and you can get it up there and be discovered in an instant."
Exhibit A is the Lonely Island trio, whose hilarious shorts "White Power," "Regarding Andy" and "Awesometown" were eventually discovered by "SNL" creator Lorne Michaels, with some help from one of his famous employees. "I found them, oddly enough, at the MTV Movie Awards," Michaels recalled. "Jimmy Fallon was hosting, and we were talking, and he said, 'There are these guys writing on the [awards show] who are very funny. They're the first ones in and last to leave. I think they're really original.' "
"[Michaels] called us in and offered all three of us auditions," Schaffer remembered. "Andy got [cast as a performer], and me and Jorma got put on as writers. So we all got hired together."
Since their 2005 "SNL" debut, Lonely Island's wholly original "Digital Shorts" have ranged from the hilariously thuggish "Day in the Life of Natalie Portman" to the "Chronicles of Narnia" rap "Lazy Sunday." The trio have spread their bizarre humor far and wide. "I saw [their videos] when I was filming in Romania," laughed 64-year-old tough guy McShane, admitting he's not exactly their target demographic. "One of the few things in Romania that made me laugh there was watching ... 'Di-- in a Box.' "
Now, just a few years after they made do in their shared apartment, the Lonely Island group received stars, a budget and a soundstage for "Hot Rod." "[Movies] are basically the same thing we were doing in our apartment," laughed Schaffer, who directed the flick. "Sometimes they're done exactly the same way. ... But within 24 hours I can say, 'We need a bedroom set, we need a fireplace, I need these kind of costumes, and we need all this,' and the set and wardrobe people can put it together — which, obviously, we couldn't do living in our apartment."
"We were putting up our stuff on [the Internet] when we didn't have jobs," laughed Taccone, who plays Samberg's pajama-clad brother in "Rod." "[Back then], we were just using our [digital] shorts as an excuse to not work."
"It's definitely arguable that we wouldn't have made 'Hot Rod' without the Internet," admitted Samberg, insisting that the flick is no different than what's come before it. "I would love to see this movie made, period, with or without me. It really fits our sensibility."
"Each comedy troupe is different; you hopefully develop your own style," Schaffer agreed. "I know for the movie itself we tried to make it surreal and weird, as well as silly and funny."
And as for the question they're most commonly asked: The Lonely Island guys say they're not quite sure where concepts like "Di-- in a Box," "George Jack Washington" and "Laser Cats" come from.
"We're constantly shooting each other's [ideas] down," Schaffer said of their process. "And then we're constantly also trusting each other and going, 'All right, let's try it. I don't think it'll work, but we'll try your stupid thing.' "
And what heights await the Lonely Islanders next?
"Dude, we made a movie!" said proud papa Samberg. "We're on 'Saturday Night Live,' and then we made a movie! ... If it never gets better than this, I'll be happy. Making this movie with my buddies, and working on 'SNL,' those were my dreams. Those two things are all I ever wanted out of my career, and now they've happened. So everything from this point on is icing."
"[What we make now is] the same thing we've been making for the last five years," Taccone said. Then, with pride, he added: "They're also the same sensibility that we've had since we were 12 years old."
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