As a result, Samberg is currently hovering at a curious place in his renown. If you say, “Andy Samberg,” many people will stare back at you blankly. But if you say, “The guy in the ‘Dick in a Box’ video who wasn’t Justin Timberlake,” almost everyone will nod and say, “Oh, yeah, that guy,” then chuckle.
This will change, of course, if Hot Rod is a hit. Already, Samberg’s face is all over movie posters and popcorn bags across the country. At times, though, he still doesn’t quite believe he’s starring in a real movie. “The first preview we went to was the craziest thing,” he says. “People were watching … us.” In part, his disbelief has to do with the speed of his ascent. Lots of SNLers wind up getting cast in comedies, but not many have it happen after their first season. Thanks to “Lazy Sunday,” Samberg was being written up in the New York Times just months after he’d joined the show. (Though the paper misidentified his photo as “Adam Samberg.”)
During a brunch in L.A., Samberg mentions that Schaffer had spotted a taxi with a Hot Rod poster on the roof and snapped a souvenir shot. “I haven’t seen one of those yet,” Samberg says, pausing over an enormous platter of creamed beef over eggs and toast.
I ask him what would happen if he saw a huge Hot Rod billboard looming over Sunset Boulevard.
“I’ll probably shit in my pants,” he says. Then he looks at his breakfast. “This is not going to help.”
Samberg, in person, is exactly as he appears on TV. He’s got that grin that recalls the gleeful slash across the jaw of a Muppet. He’s got that hair, too—a wild tangle of grown-out bedhead that sort of loiters in a cloud around his skull. He has an affable, Berkeley-bred quality that suggests he would probably be the awesomest camp counselor ever. (He served as such for several summers at Sky Lake Yosemite.) His childhood was, it seems, untroubled by exceptional trauma, corrosive unpopularity, or other psychic scars that might have warped him into a jester. Instead, he simply developed an early taste for absurd nonsense. “When I was growing up, I was into movies like Ace Ventura and Billy Madison and Airplane,” he says. “You know, movies where it’s like, ‘Welcome to Crazy World!’ That to me was so refreshing and freeing—that people actually made a whole movie about bullshit.” He likes to call himself, his friends, and his fellow young SNL castmates (Samberg is 28) part of “the Muppet Generation,” by which he means they’re happy-go-lucky and goofy. He illustrates this on an L.A. sidewalk by breaking into a loose-limbed, arm-waggling Grover dance.
It would be a mistake, though, to assume that he’s some whatever-dude slacker who’s drifted into success. For starters, he exhibits an encyclopedic memory for every network or studio that ever turned him down. Of Awesometown, a pilot he and Taccone and Schaffer developed, Samberg says, “Fox passed. We took it to Comedy Central. They passed. MTV? Passed. MTV2? Passed,” as though each “no” was a personal slight that’s only now being avenged.
Samberg, Taccone, and Schaffer started hanging out in high school, “just taking a camera to parties and filming ourselves doing silly shit,” Samberg says. After college—Taccone and Schaffer went to school in California, Samberg at NYU—the trio reunited. “We figured we could either work together,” says Samberg, “or be competing with each other.” Inspired by stories of other comics who’d made short-film calling cards and landed deals, such as the South Park guys who’d turned an animated Christmas card into a hit series, they decided to move to L.A. They shot films and lived in a cheap apartment and worked various low-rung jobs during what Samberg now calls “the hell year.” At the time, pre-YouTube, no one was really posting funny films online, let alone seeking them out there. They started their Website mostly so friends back in Berkeley could see their sketches. They called the site Lonely Island after the nickname they’d given their apartment.