The Lonely Island on ‘Popstar,’ Judd Apatow’s Phone Number, and the Fart Joke on Andy Samberg’s Peabody Award
The Lonely Island, the comedy musical trio behind great American classics “Dick in a Box,” “I’m on a Boat,” and “Jizz in My Pants,” are now movie stars. Or at least they star in a new movie as fake pop stars mocking celebrity culture and the music industry.
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, written by Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone and co-produced by Judd Apatow, is a mockumentary in the vein of This Is Spinal Tap. It follows Samberg as Conner4Real, the breakout solo singer/rapper of the fictional hip-hop boy band the Style Boyz. Imagine if the Lonely Island were a really bad version of the Beastie Boys, then Samberg broke off to make songs with lyrics like, “Mona Lisa, the original basic bitch.” That’s Popstar, which includes a hefty amount of fantastic cameos, some full-frontal male nudity, and a Holocaust poop prank.
I sat down with the trio in New York to talk about the new musical comedy, which they described as “the Hamilton of movies” – though the origin of this quote is up for debate with Samberg, Schaffer, and Taccone, who called me out for “Inception-ing” them with the idea (you decide for yourself). Throughout their back-and-forth banter they also told me how the movie began with Apatow publishing his phone number in Vanity Fair and the fart joke on Samberg’s Peabody award.
I’ve had the Bin Laden song stuck in my head for the past day. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing.
[all three laugh]
Andy Samberg: Sorry. It’s a great melody.
Jorma Taccone: Sorry. It’s bad for you, it’s great for us.
Akiva Schaffer: We get paid per streams in your head.
I’m glad I’m making you guys money.
Schaffer: Yeah. It’s fractions of a penny, but it’ll add up.
Samberg: Hey, that’s what it’s gonna be, right? Total Recall.
Schaffer: Minority Report.
Taccone: Total Recall, [in a goofy voice] remember? Okay, sorry.
The cameos in this movie are great. What’s the story behind getting Ringo in the movie? That’s the one that stands out the most.
Taccone: It’s pretty great.
Samberg: It does! Uh, Judd Apatow.
How so? How did he know Ringo?
Schaffer: I don’t think he did. I think that might have been the first time they met.
Samberg: I think he [may] have met him at something.
Schaffer: I’m gonna butcher this story, but I know basically there was something on Twitter where – yeah, you can’t quote me on it. You’d have to Google it. But basically where somebody was doing one of those live Twitter Q&A things and something came up where somebody asked Ringo if he’d ever be in a movie, or something. And he name–checked Judd, and Judd caught it –
Taccone: Of course he did.
Schaffer: And went like, “Holy s---! Ringo knows who I am,” essentially.
Samberg: By the way, that’s kind of how Judd operates. Because Judd included us in this Vanity Fair comedy issue he curated. And in our page he wrote the paragraph and he’s like, “I don’t understand why these guys haven’t made a movie yet. If they wanted to, I’d produce it. Just kidding. No actually, I’m not. Here’s my number, call me.” He had put –
Schaffer: His real office phone number.
Was this the origin of the movie?
Schaffer: I mean, in a way.
Taccone: Yeah, kinda actually.
Samberg: [to Taccone and Schaffer] It led to you guys having that meeting actually.
Schaffer: Yeah, his real office phone number is in that Vanity Fair. If you call that, they’ll pick it up and go, “Apatow.”
Taccone: I’m sure they got so many shitty calls after that from random people.
Good to know for anyone who wants to make a movie.
Schaffer: Yeah, that’s the hotline.
Samberg: As long as they are us.
What about the Mariah Carey cameo?
Samberg: We were in touch with her manager, right?
Schaffer: Yeah, it was through her management that had just signed her that also reps other people. They were like, “We just signed Mariah, would you ever want her?” And it was like a jack– usually we’re going after everybody really hard and that would be somebody who we’d, we actually brought up her name and were like, “Oh we should figure out how we can try to get –”
Samberg: Like, she’d never do it.
Schaffer: I don’t know if she’d do it. And then to have someone just be like, “Yeah, what about her?” I was like, “Yeees.”
Samberg: How do you say, “F--- yes”?
Schaffer: That one was getting lucky I guess.
Was there anyone you really wanted who just said, “Nope, not happening”?
Schaffer: We were shooting in the summer, which we realized in hindsight is stupid because if you’re a musician that’s when you make your money because everyone goes on concert tours. And especially in Europe, that’s when all the festivals are. So we started looking into people and going, “Aw, they’re in Europe” and then –
Taccone: I remember looking at [Lady] Gaga’s tour schedule and was like, “Holy shit, how can they even do this many dates?” It’s crazy. That ruled people out immediately.
Schaffer: If somebody’s going to make a fake music doc, next time I’d say do it –
Taccone: Don’t do it in the summer. Do it in the off-season.
Schaffer: February’s probably the dead time. But we ended up actually doing a bunch. Because of that honestly we did some before we even shot the movie. When we did camera tests we ended up making people come to, like any time we had a camera we would come and find people. So we shot some in pre-production, some at random times during production. We’d be in the middle of shooting a scene and they’re like “Blah blah can come for a half hour” and we’re like, “Alright, stop everything.” And even when we were editing the movie, down to a month before we locked picture we still shot a couple. You have to be very flexible.
Taccone: When we came out to New York to shoot Jimmy Fallon we shot Questlove. It was just whatever we could fit in.
The soundtrack has songs that aren’t in the movie. Are there more offensive songs that didn’t make the cut?
Taccone: We kept all the offensive ones. Made sure those got in.
Schaffer: “F--- Off” is pretty –
Taccone: That’s maybe offensive.
Schaffer: Nothing was cut or left in for that reason, for offensive reasons. It was more just for story because ultimately it is a musical. So we would have a song like, did you listen all the way to the end credits and hear the reggae one?
I missed that.
Schaffer: At the end of the credits there’s a reggae song that’s one of my personal favorites of any of the songs, but we never could find the place where it matched the story. Not exactly matched in a My Fair Lady way where they’re literally about it, but they still have to match the emotional place you’re at and what you’re feeling. It’s kind of a weird reggae – it’s a little bit of a negative vibe.
Taccone: Yeah, it felt a bit like a sidebar and it diverts you from the story.
Schaffer: We just never found a place for it. So there are a few of those on the soundtrack that I would say are at the upper end of the better songs we’ve made.
Samberg: Some of our favorites aren’t in the movie. Which bodes well for the soundtrack, would you agree gentlemen?
Taccone: Yeah, which comes out on the same day, June 3rd!
Schaffer: So everyone’s gonna stream that and those fractions of a penny are just gonna pile up.
Samberg: We’ve got to do an Aquaspin tie-in.
Taccone: We should start a company that makes large kitchen appliances.
Was writing this like writing a musical at all?
Samberg: It was more like writing a movie and writing an album at the same time. And then once we got the story more in place we started writing songs towards the script.
Schaffer: There was a few, like the “2 Banditos” song, which is the montage of Conner and [opening act] Hunter the Hungry’s friendship. That was written the way you’d truly write the musical, where we got to that point in the script, we went, “OK, we’re going to have this little montage of them becoming friends, it’d be great if there was a song that fit that. It should be a song the two of them are on so it can match with a friendship.” Like, truly written the way you’d write a musical. But then other things like “I’m So Humble” came up just in the writing process of the movie where we we’re like, “Oh a song about how I’m bragging would also be a funny idea.” Eventually we wrote the song. We didn’t know if it’d be the first song, if it’s be the end credits, we didn’t know where it would fit. We just knew it was in character and made sense.
Samberg: And there’s definitely some musical chairs with the song throughout the editing. There were versions of the movie that started with a different song or had a different musical number two-thirds of the way through and then we would swap them and see what played better.
Would you guys ever perform the soundtrack live or do an actual musical?
Taccone: I think we’re destined for Broadway, right?
The new Hamilton?
Schaffer: This is definitely –
Samberg: We’ve been saying this is the Hamilton of movies.
Taccone: The Hamilton of movies, but more crazy.
Samberg: Or did you say that?
Schaffer: Did you say that in the article?
Taccone: Seems like it was you that said it.
Samberg: I can’t remember now!
[Laughs] Maybe I planted the idea.
Taccone: I’m willing to check the tapes, but it seems that you said it.
Schaffer: It seems like it might be the headline of your article now that I think about it.
Good idea, thank you!
Samberg: Maybe you Inception-ed us.
I dunno… [laughs]
Schaffer: I think Lin[-Manuel Miranda] said that.
Taccone: It was Lin!
Samberg: It must have been Lin.
Taccone: We’re definitely going to win a Peabody as well.
Samberg: We’ve won a Peabody for SNL.
Taccone: We did, but –
Schaffer: Everybody won.
Taccone: Everyone won one, so
Samberg: Yeah, but we did too. We were part of everyone.
Schaffer: It’s at my house.
Taccone: Fun fact! Peabody, you can write whatever you want on it. You can just say whatever your title is. You can write whatever you want. And mine says “Genius,” but I really wish that I had misspelled it. I blew it. [To Schaffer] What’s yours say? Writer? Something really boring?
Schaffer: Mine just says whatever – I don’t even remember choosing.
Is there a character count or can you fill it with a long title?
Schaffer: Mm, there must be.
Samberg: Like a Tweet.
Schaffer: They’ll just keep making the font smaller.
Samberg: Mine just says, “Who farted?” [Laughs]
Taccone: In quotes, or just who farted?
Samberg: Just who farted. One word. [Laughs] No punctuation.
Do you guys see a sequel happening for this movie?
Schaffer: We’re not sure, but Universal’s begging for one.
Taccone: Another quote from Lin Miranda.
Samberg: Not at present.
Taccone: Um, yeah honestly, we just completed working on the soundtrack last week. We’re just focused on right now.
Are you guys releasing any more music videos or SNL digital shorts for the movie?
Samberg: SNL‘s season is over, but if it wasn’t we would be begging to do more.
Schaffer: We might make another music video, but we don’t know yet.
Samberg: No plan at present.
Why do you think it took this long for there to be a Lonely Island movie since you guys have been together for so long?
Taccone: Mostly just our own schedules honestly.
Taccone: To make this we really had to look at each other and be like, “Nobody’s gonna take anything else, this is what we’re working on. We’re dedicated to this project.”
Samberg: A combination of that and having an idea we felt we were excited about and were willing to put everything on hold to pursue.
Last question, if you had to write a song title about your love lives right now, what would it be?
Taccone: Like a pre-existing song or our own thing?
Your own song.
Samberg: Mine would probably be “Super Lucky Guy.”
Schaffer: I don’t know, it’d just be like normal songs that anybody would write who was married.
Samberg: Would yours be like, “Floppy Wang Guy”?
Schaffer: It would be like the theme song to Married with Children. [Sings the theme song in a whiny voice.]
Samberg: That’s romantic.
Taccone: [sings in a deep voice to Schaffer] Pushing 40, but still super pumped.
Schaffer: Yeah, that’s a great song.
Taccone: Crazy into you still. Seventeen more years isn’t enough. They’ve been together 17 years. Long time.
Is this how the writing process goes?
Samberg: It’s always this good. It generally crackles like this.