The Lonely Island Recall Early Growing Pains at SNL

Although their digital shorts are now the stuff of Saturday Night Live legend, The Lonely Island’s early days at the show were not without struggle. 

The comedy trio is sitting down with Seth Meyers in a new podcast series where they’re diving deep into the backstories of each of their SNL Digital Shorts. But in the show’s just-released premiere episode, The Lonely Island—Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, who formed the comedy group before getting hired on SNL—recall the early months of the group’s time on the show, before Digital Shorts came to fruition.

Meyers brings up a commercial parody, “J.J. Casuals,” which served as something of a precursor to what would become The Lonely Island’s signature musical bits on the show. In it,  Samberg plays musician Jack Johnson advertising a line of shoes that look like bare feet, complete with a Jack Johnson-esque acoustic jingle. As Samberg describes it, “The writing was on the wall. There were some tunes coming.”

But the group wasn’t thrilled with how it came together. As Meyers recalls, “I remember [Schaffer] saying ‘I want to shoot my own stuff,’ based on how this went.” The SNL alums agree the sketch didn’t fully land, with Meyers feeling the root of the issue was a difference of comedy sensibilities between The Lonely Island and those tasked with shooting and editing the video at the show. 

In the podcast, the comedy trio recall wanting to be more involved in the production process, and being disappointed when their edit notes weren’t taken seriously. “When you’re not at the show… the real world, and especially comedians, talk a lot of shit about the show. And we had been defenders of the show as people who would watch it religiously every week… But after defending it from people who thought the show was lazy… and then having somebody who worked at the show essentially say exactly what all those people always are imagining… We were like, “Oh no. Are they right?’”

“I remember you came back… after shooting that… and you were a little bit more heated than you are now,” Seth recalls to Schaffer. “And I remember the way I responded to you… I felt like that scene in Chinatown where the cop takes Nicholson and goes, ‘It’s Chinatown, Jake.’ Where I was like, ‘this is just how it is.’” 

Feeling “embittered” by that experience and their general sense that they were “failing at the live portion of this show,” Taccone and Schaffer used an off-week from SNL to shoot something of their own: “Bing Bong Brothers” — a sendup of the Ying Yang Twins. After the short gained some attention outside SNL, the show’s producers encouraged them to bring their workflow to the show.

“[Steve] Higgins and [Mike] Shoemaker sat us down and told the three of us, ‘If you guys want to make something like that, but using Andy or using the cast or both, that would be great,” Samberg recalls.”

Not long after, The Lonely Island’s first Digital Short made it to air—“Lettuce,” which the podcast will cover next week.

Since The Lonely Island’s tenure on the show, SNL has gone on to embrace the auteurist work of existing sketch groups. Cast members Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney, along with segment director Dave McCary and writer Nick Rutherford, originated as members of the sketch group Good Neighbor, and later brought that sensibility to the show in pre-taped sketches they worked on together.

Currently, the sketch group Please Don’t Destroy—comprised of writers Ben Marshall, John Higgins, and Martin Herlihy—serves as the show’s de facto digital-comedy-troupe-in-residence. The writers are not considered cast members despite appearing in each short–but in a move that marks the continuing evolution of SNL’s relationship with existing comedy groups, Please Don’t Destroy gets its own billing in SNL’s opening credits during episodes in which their videos appear. 

Announced last week, the “Lonely Island and Seth Meyers Podcast” will recap the group’s 107 Digital Shorts during their time on SNL. Episodes are set to drop weekly on Mondays.

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