By Lia Johansen-Villanueva
When I lost my virginity, I sent the group chat a link to “I Just Had Sex,” The Lonely Island’s anthem to, well, just having had sex. We all did it, this group of young women announcing our own sexual encounters to each other via the group’s (and Akon’s) increasingly ridiculous ones (“But I cried the whole time?! / Doesn’t matter, had sex!”). The song appeared on The Lonely Island’s sophomore album, 2011’s Turtleneck & Chain, but by then, Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone had thoroughly embedded themselves in our lexicon.
The three had been comedy shorthand between us since their first album, Incredibad, which turned 10 earlier this year. The internet has ensured that someone is always keeping track of such milestones. But to a specific corner of people — the ones that got to be in middle school and high school in 2009 — Incredibad’s tenth birthday means a great deal. I know, because I’m one of them.
During the last few years, we’ve been asking ourselves (or, older, maler, whiter comedians have been asking themselves) what it means to be funny right now, what we can and can’t say, and who exactly gets to be in on the joke. People keep gesturing, vaguely, at a fundamental shift in what’s funny now, as if comedy opened its doors to any kind of diversity and then we all cunningly locked the door behind us. But a decade later (or longer: the group’s game-changing “Lazy Sunday” digital short first aired on Saturday Night Live in in 2005), The Lonely Island’s first album still holds up. It’s why the group’s somehow first-ever tour, kicking off this week, is such a big deal.
Something about Incredibad lodged itself into our shared consciousness. It peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Rap Albums chart and was the No. 1 comedy album of the year. As their first single, “Lazy Sunday” transformed Samberg’s SNL career; the Lonely Island digital shorts became a mainstay of the weekly lineup. Soon, “Dick in a Box” won an Emmy, and “I’m on a Boat” was even nominated for a Grammy, though it lost to Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Rihanna.
The Lonely Island had YouTube to thank, as they’d uploaded their videos to the platform since the beginning, but it was also because for whatever reason, they understood exactly what the internet would think was funny, way before being funny on the internet was the marketable skill it is now. Today’s comedians-to-watch lists are mostly made up of people who started out being funny on Vine, or funny on Twitter, or funny on YouTube (or, for the savvy, funny on all three). But in 2009, there was just Incredibad, and the fact that it made 12-year-olds laugh — 12-year-olds like me.
Being a 12-year-old girl in 2009 was different, I suspect, to being a 12-year-old girl today. But if the success of films like Eighth Grade and TV shows like Big Mouth has taught us anything, it’s that being 12 at any point in time has always been kind of the same: very gross, mortifyingly embarrassing, and definitely a catalogue of regrettable sartorial choices. Incredibad was an accidental ode to all of those things: Samberg’s hair used to look like the hair on all the boys I had a crush on in middle school, “Lazy Sunday” captured the heightened drama of a preteen trip to the cinema, and “Jizz in My Pants” just made us laugh. It was gross, and immature, and there was a luxury in being invited to laugh at something without being laughed at.
Girls and women are more often the target of gross-out humor than they are in on the joke, which is probably why Louis C.K. got to make jokes about wanting to masturbate in front of women for so long without anyone asking whether or not he actually did masturbate in front of women. To be funny in that kind of way was to lock women out, and to enjoy that kind of humor, as a girl and as a woman, is often a series of mental gymnastics, of adopting a not-like-other-girls mentality, the unfortunate result of wanting to be one of the boys. But on Incredibad, the joke was always resolutely on them, delivered in sincerely good hip-hop packaging.
What makes “Jizz in My Pants” and the rest of Incredibad still so good is that their ridiculous premises, always escalating into insanity, are never delivered at the expense of the music or its production. “Last week I saw a film / As I recall it was a horror film” makes me laugh just thinking about it, and the song’s pitch-perfect ‘90s synth-rock delivery system is why. Half the escalation on the Julian Casablancas feature, “Boombox,” relies on Samberg’s increasingly ridiculous pronunciation of “boiled goose.”
And on “I’m on a Boat,” we’re not laughing at T-Pain — we’re laughing at the absurdity of applying the braggadocios logic of early-aughts rap to three dudes on a boat that isn’t theirs. We’re laughing at the utter perfection of a sentence like “I’m on a boat and / It’s going fast and / I’ve got a nautical-themed pashmina afghan.” Comedian and wizard of the silly song Demi Adejuyigbe, perhaps best-known for his fake end-credits raps, has said, on multiple occasions, that Hot Rod is one of his favorite movies (and honestly? Same.). You can hear it sometimes, as much in his ability to take a premise and drive it to its least-logical conclusion as in the clear and real fondness for the pop culture and musical stylings he targets.
At the same time, though, the jokes on Incredibad are knife-sharp satire. You’re laughing at “me toil part time at ja Cold Stone Creamery” before you’re hit by the deadly accurate takedown of white college boys who become faux Rastafarians the first time they smoke weed. I talked to Val, who was 12 with me when I discovered The Lonely Island, and she described them as “outlandish and outrageous” while approaching a “truth about life and the self.” The dick jokes are one thing, and they’re unsubtle, but like Val told me, "The comedy often comes from the bits that are obscured by the ridiculous.” She’s right: “Jizz in My Pants” is stupid and absurd, but hidden inside it is the line “I won’t apologize, that’s just absurd / Mainly your fault for the way that you dance,” a distillation of the way men can turn against the women they’re interested in when their advances go awry. But more than that, the thing that came up again and again when I talked to girls who have loved Incredibad for a decade, was how it was something that they shared with their friends.
Sometimes the comedic sensibilities of The Lonely Island are compared to a group of teenage boys building on an absurd premise to make themselves laugh harder and harder. But we would sing these songs to each other in school cafeterias and make each other laugh, too, giggling at how rude we were finally allowed to be. It was something for us, something I can still text my friends out of context, guaranteed to make them laugh a city or country or even continent away.
When I showed my 13-year-old brother the group’s criminally underwatched 2016 film, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, we were both reduced to a laughing heap on the floor (my dad was also laughing, but he’s too dignified to become a heap). This summer, on The Lonely Island’s first tour ever, their audience will almost certainly be full of people who felt the same way we did in 2009. I wonder if they’ll know how much they mean to us.