Andy Samberg is sitting in a tall director’s chair on a soundstage in Hollywood, wearing a white T-shirt and jeans, hair askew, smiling that Samberg smile. He’s seated next to three of the co-stars from his new comedy movie, Hot Rod—Bill Hader, Danny McBride, and Samberg’s old high-school friend and collaborator, Jorma Taccone—all of whom have gathered to perform a relatively straightforward bit of movie marketing: record a bunch of interstitial interview clips to run on Comedy Central during an upcoming Sunday movie marathon. This seems like a good idea. The channel’s young-dude-sitting-around-on-Sunday-watching-Fletch demographic is exactly the kind of person who’s most likely to recognize Samberg from Saturday Night Live, or from the “Lazy Sunday” and “Dick in a Box” sketches that zipped from in-box to in-box last year like some viral-video superflu. So this would seem, for Samberg, to be an ideal synergistic marketing opportunity, were he the kind of person who’s prone to string together words like synergistic, marketing, and opportunity.
Andy Samberg is not that kind of person. He’s more likely to string together words like super, lame, and balls, as when he describes to me a comedy video he made in junior high. “It was about one-armed boxers,” he says, then laughs. “Man, it was super-lame balls.”
You know what else is apparently super-lame balls? Recording interstitial promos. Because when the director lobs an easy question from off-camera like, “Tell me the plot of your movie,” Samberg replies, “Hot Rod is about a sex offender.” (It’s not.) “He does stunts to raise money to sex-offend.” (He does not.) Then he, Taccone, and Hader crack a few jokes about how lame the movies are during Comedy Central marathons. (“Stay tuned for Teen Wolf Too!”) A lot of this is the usual comedian joshing—Hader keeps doing an entirely counterproductive bit about how, on the day Hot Rod opens, you should go out and see Transformers for the seventh time—but the implied joke in each of Samberg’s responses is, Hey, America! Can you believe they’re making me do this marketing bullshit?
Which is, in part, playing right to Comedy Central’s audience, employing the slacker jujitsu of marketing by making fun of how super-lame balls marketing is. But it also seems, in part, to be a visceral, almost involuntary response by Samberg to the obligations that come with starring in a major studio comedy—namely, convincing as many people as possible that they’re going to find you funny. This is a guy, remember, who got his start just six years ago making video shorts on the cheap with two childhood buddies (Taccone and Akiva Schaffer, who directed Hot Rod) and posting them on the Web. Next thing you know, Samberg and friends were hired to work on SNL, a gig they’d dreamed about for years. Then their digital short “Lazy Sunday”—which starred Samberg and Chris Parnell as two nerdy New Yorkers rapping about cupcakes, Red Vines, and The Chronicles of Narnia—blew up on YouTube, at which point an executive at Paramount decided Samberg might just be the next Adam Sandler, or Will Ferrell, or Insert Hot Comedy Star Here, and enticed him to star in Hot Rod.
Which is to say that, not long ago, Samberg only had to worry about making himself and his buddies laugh. Then he had to worry about making Lorne Michaels laugh. Now he has to worry about making you—by which I mean most of America—laugh. And he’s not quite sure he knows what America finds funny. “I certainly know how to make my friends laugh,” he tells me. “And that’s what we’ve always lived by: If you think it’s funny, go for it. But then you get into, like, testing. And marketing. And posters. And a trailer. And you’re suddenly like, God. Maybe I don’t know what people will like.”
Make no mistake: Andy Samberg wants to make you laugh. And up to this point, he’s had a pretty good track record. Both “Lazy Sunday” and “Dick in a Box” were huge, unexpected hits. (If for some reason you are not familiar with “Dick in a Box,” put down this magazine, go to a computer, and Google “Dick in a Box.” I know it doesn’t sound promising, but I beseech you: It is by far the most hilarious Justin Timberlake–starring, Kwanzaa-referencing, Color Me Badd–parodying, “put your junk in that box”–instructing short video you will ever see.)
Taken as a whole, the digital shorts Samberg has made for SNL, nearly all of which were directed by Schaffer and co-written with Taccone, have been the highlights of the past two seasons. Another short featured Natalie Portman doing an angry rap with lines like, “All the kids looking up to me can suck my dick/It’s Portman, motherfucker, and I drink till I’m sick.” (Samberg cameos in the video dressed as a Viking. Why? Because he thinks Vikings are funny. Also monkeys. He’s a big fan of monkeys.) In “Roy Rules,” Samberg sings a homoerotic heavy-metal love song to his brother-in-law. “Roy rules! / He loves wearing T-shirts! / But in my dreams he’s dressed like a pirate and my dong is his peg-leg!”