With the world coming to a total standstill in the pandemic, Andy Samberg’s quirky time-loop rom-com genre mashup Palm Springs became a representation of everyone’s emotional isolation, and a blueprint for us to find our redemptive souls in the process. “All of a sudden, it morphed from this movie that blended genres and was really fun conceptually for us,” Samberg says, “to people saying this movie is boiling down what we’re all going through.” It’s no wonder really that Palm Springs has been lauded as the comedy of the year. With that success, and then the return of his Golden Globe-winning performance in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Samberg has much to celebrate. Here, he picks out some onscreen favorites, from his early days experimenting with The Lonely Island, to working on Saturday Night Live, with guilty pleasures and life lessons along the way.
Probably during film school at NYU, I was struck by how few people actually made stuff and finished it. When I left school and linked up with Akiva [Schaffer] and Jorma [Taccone]— together we are The Lonely Island—we moved to LA and just made things. It sounds so simple, but there were three of us to help motivate one another. The best part about making a ton of things is you can get a lot of bad habits and ideas out of your system and see what works. A lot of people wait for permission to make something, and the truth is you really don’t need it.
I was an assistant at the late Gary Goldberg’s Ubu Productions (Family Ties, Spin City), and one of the pieces of advice he gave me was, “Always bet on yourself. If you know you’re going to do the work and you believe in what you’re doing, just get it made.” And I really took that to heart.
I remember I read the script for The Social Network, and it wasn’t like anyone ever asked if I wanted to audition or anything. I just had heard that it had been written. I was like, “I would do anything to be any of these parts.” They were like, “It’s cast. It’s Jesse [Eisenberg] and Justin [Timberlake].” I was like, “Oh yeah. That makes sense.” It always struck me from the first page that there was a different kind of writing that exists and that was the first time I was seeing it for real.
The last one that made me cry really hard was Portrait of a Lady on Fire. The ending of that movie, even thinking about it now I get teary. That ending is a real gut punch. All those Daniel Day-Lewis movies from the ’90s. Pretty much every single Daniel Day-Lewis movie from the ’90s makes me cry. Oh, and every Hallmark Christmas movie that came out this year.
Probably Bill Hader because we kept asking him to be in the digital shorts, and they would shoot until five in the morning. He’d be so bummed. He’d be like, “I love that you guys put me in these, but I don’t want to do it anymore. Do we really need to shoot this many scenes for a laser cat?” In his defense, he had a kid, so I get it.
Probably just making it through SNL. The schedule is so gruelling and mentally also gruelling. I say that while also acknowledging that it was everything I had ever wanted to happen in my life. It was my childhood dream. You read about how it’s hard, you still just want it. If you love SNL, you love it. That’s it. It’s where you want to be. I felt like I was just young enough to be OK with how hard it was. We were on such an opposite schedule from the rest of the world. I would just stay up all night and sleep all day, every Saturday get completely trashed, and then start over again.
It was doing Scott Aukerman’s Comedy Bang! Bang!. Basically, it’s four comedy people and all they want to do is do comedy stuff. You show up, and there’s no goal other than goofiness. They just hand you bit after bit after bit, and they’re all funny. You just sit there and rattle off weird, surreal bits, and laugh. Then they go, “Great. Now we’re going to edit it.” Anytime you’re working on something that makes you laugh while you’re shooting, that’s usually a good sign.
Probably Jake Peralta on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I’ve been shooting the show for so many years, it’s inevitable that things about you start to permeate the character. A lot of his mannerisms are my own. I’ve shot 150-something episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, so I think there’s a little bit of all of the cast in all of those characters.
For a while, it was just, “Dick in a Box.” A lot of, “I’m on a boat.” Now, with Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a lot of, “Cool, cool, cool, cool”, which I’ve also noticed that people say for real now. It’s really neat, because it came out of a take that me and Terry [Crews] did, where we were just improvising. He was like, “Right, right, right.” I’m like, “Cool, cool, cool, cool.” Then, the writers just kept popping it in, and it became a thing for Jake. For “Dick in a Box”, people didn’t even know my name. They just knew I was the guy with Justin Timberlake. If you make songs, people just say the song stuff. It’s a lot easier to make something a little hooky when you’re actually writing hooks.
Oh, this is slightly humiliating. I’ve started listening to Kidz Bop versions of music with my daughter. A few times, I found myself being like, “This kind of slaps.” My daughter loves that song “Sunflower” by Swae Lee and Post [Malone]. There’s some pretty uncool stuff said in it, so I’ll turn up Kidz Bop and really bump it. I wonder, is there going to be a Kidz Bop version of “WAP”? AKA Wet Astute Penguin.
It’s got to be Meryl Streep, right? If you’re going to do it, go for the best. I would be so amped to see her take.
On My Screen: ‘Palm Springs’ Andy Samberg On His TV & Film Favorites, His Secret Love Of Kidz Bop & How He Tortured Bill Hader The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ Deadline.