Q&A: Andy Samberg

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The other day, my brother and I were discussing whether Andy Samberg was funny. I've laughed heartily and repeatedly at several of his sketches ("Lazy Sunday," of course, and the gonzo "Taco Town"), but is he just another shaggy-haired ironist? A self-regarding purveyor of cheap absurdities? Said discussion ended with my brother's obvious answer: "Dude. He's hilarious. Look at his face."

Yes, the subtleties of funniness can be hard to pinpoint, and talking to me, Samberg's in no hurry to try. But if anything, he's a shaggy-haired sincere-ist, and impossible not to like — he greets me with a duderiffic "Pedro!" and comes off as completely unaffected, humble and most of all grateful, eager to throw props in every direction. As one grows older, it can be hard not to resent young, giddy success. Samberg makes you happy for him. — Peter Smith

So, I haven't gotten to see Hot Rod yet.
Well, let me just help you out: it's great.

That's good to hear. Actually, you sounded a little equivocal about it in that New York profile. You weren't sure the movie had gotten weird enough for you.
Akiva and I talked about that after that article came out. We don't actually feel like it's not weird enough. It's plenty crazy. We talked about specific scenes with that guy because we were in the editing process. And it came across like we were disgruntled. But actually, the studio gave us a lot of creative freedom. Lorne protected us really nicely. He made us look cooler, which we appreciated. The truth of the matter is, the movie's plenty strange, especially for a studio film.

The script was written for Will Ferrell, and you retrofitted it. What were some specific changes you made?
It was so well-written, you couldn't read it and not envision Ferrell doing it. It was so clearly his voice. So the first thing we had to do, unfortunately, was take a lot of that stuff away. We didn't want it to seem like I was doing a Ferrell impression. Then you start layering back in stuff that we find funny, that's really more comfortable for me to perform. I don't know exactly how to describe our own kind of humor, but you can track through the stuff we've done for the Lonely Island, the digital shorts — that's all in the movie now.

SNL and your comic style are a weird match. The show tends to go for traditional stuff, and you've got this surreal, absurd style, more like Stella or Mr. Show. Would you rather being doing your own stuff?
Well. . . I'm flattered to be compared to Mr. Show and Stella. At the same time, political or not, I do love SNL and have my whole life. And I feel like when SNL's at it's best, it's more that way. When I look back on it, stuff that I always loved was pretty surreal and strange.

So what are your favorite sketches from the past?
Oh, there's a lot! I used to love Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer. And then when Sandler and Farley and Spade got there, it definitely got very strange. And then honestly, when Ferrell was there, with people like Adam McKay and Andrew Steele writing for him, some of that stuff was insane. And even TV Funhouse. That stuff's very surreal as well. So I feel like it's always been there. Hopefully we're just carrying on that tradition.

I guess there's always been Toonces the Driving Cat.
God, I love Toonces! So strange.

Speaking of SNL, why do you think Chris Parnell got fired after "Lazy Sunday" was like the biggest hit SNL had in years?
I. . . I wouldn't even begin to guess. I have no idea.

It seems strange to you?
Yes, in that I love him, and no, in that everything I've ever known about the show has been a little bit brutal — it's a little bit of a revolving door there. But at the same time, I think once you work at SNL and do well there as he did, you're okay.

You wore a National Organization of Women shirt to the Spike TV Awards —
I did! Thank you for noticing! I thought it would be funny, because obviously Spike TV is very in the opposite direction. You know, we were promoting the movie, and it was a good time with a lot of fun people we liked. We went and had fun, but you know, I'm from Berkeley, California, I can't go into that thing wholeheartedly. I had to put a little wink in somewhere to let everyone know back home that I hadn't gone all the way.

I was reading a feminism blog that was trying to decide whether you were being sincere or ironic.
[laughs] Totally sincere.

Do you worry about reviews?
Mmm. . . not really. If we think it's good, that's all that matters. And generally that's been supported by people's opinions. We've also tried to look at the way things we like were reviewed throughout our lives. If you look back, movies like Billy Madison, Ace Ventura, formative movies in our formative years, were panned. And now I think a lot of people from our generation consider them classics, and it doesn't matter that they got bad reviews.

Variety gave Hot Rod a mixed review, but it did say you had a sex appeal rare for a male comedian.
I never know how to respond to that. I don't consider myself like that, and certainly don't put myself in that category, and when I look in the mirror I don't see what they're saying. I've got a bit of a haircut, I guess, and maybe that puts me ahead of the pack or something.

Has your fame resulted in a lot of female attention?
Um. . . I don't think any more than anyone. I think fame's just something people are attracted to. Generally, that's not the way I want to be viewed. That's as shallow as it gets. I still see myself as a big dork; people just give me nicer clothes now.

Do you worry about "keeping it real?"
Yes and no. I feel like I don't have too much trouble with that. I've done all my work with the same two friends since junior high school. In comedy, it's a lot easier, too. We're just the next guys doing rubber dong jokes.

It's a proud lineage.
It is indeed!

©2007 Peter Smith & Nerve.com