Andy Samberg Reflects on the ‘Heavy Toll’ of Saturday Night Live

Andy Samberg had what many would consider a dream run on Saturday Night Live, but it was also so grueling that he ultimately had to call it quits.

Sitting down with Kevin Hart for an interview on the comedian’s Peacock talk show, Hart to Heart, Samberg offered a rare glimpse into his decision to leave SNL.

Samberg, who joined the show as a cast member in 2005, was one-third of the comedy group The Lonely Island alongside writers Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone. The group changed SNL with their Digital Shorts, which brought the show into a new era of viral videos with classic bits like “Dick in a Box.” 

But as Samberg and his The Lonely Island colleagues have explained, that success was a double-edged sword.

“They started asking us to do [Digital Shorts] every week, whether we had an idea we liked or not. Which we were grateful for—most weeks,” Samberg told Hart.

That weekly demand required a schedule that allowed for little sleep. “We were writing stuff for the live show Tuesday night all night, [for] the table read Wednesday, then being told ‘Now come up with a Digital Short,’” he explained. “So [we would] write all Thursday, all Thursday night. Don’t sleep, get up, shoot Friday, edit all night Friday night and into Saturday.”

“Physically, it was taking a heavy toll on me,” Samberg said of the pace. “And I got to a place where… It’s basically like four days a week you’re not sleeping, for seven years. So I just kind of, like, fell apart physically.”

Samberg’s final years at SNL grew even more difficult as he stayed with the show even after the departure of Schaffer and Taccone, who left SNL to tackle other projects when their five-year contracts were up.

“I was basically left in charge of making the shorts,” Samberg said. While he notes that the staff was full of other “insanely talented” writers and directors, it just wasn’t the same for Samberg without Schaffer and Taccone, as the three have been friends since childhood.

“We made stuff I’m really proud of in my last two years,” he said, “but there’s something about the songs that I could only do with Akiva and Jorma. It’s just how it is. We’re just a band in that way.”

Samberg recounted talking to Amy Poehler, who left the show in 2008, about whether or not it was time for him to leave. While she suggested he transition to the less intense pace of a sitcom, Samberg remained uneasy about giving up the opportunity that SNL provided to fast-track comedy ideas.

“The craziest thing about working there is… if you’re just in the shower and you have an idea, that sh*t can be on television in three days,” Samberg told Hart. “Which is the most intoxicating feeling.”

Still, the grueling workload overshadowed Samberg’s fears of what he’d be leaving behind. “It was a big choice. For me, it was like I couldn’t actually endure it anymore. But I didn’t want to leave,” Samberg said. “Physically and emotionally, I was falling apart in my life.”

Samberg’s exit grew even more difficult when the show lobbied for him to stay. “They told me straight-up: We would prefer you stay.”

“But to get back to a feeling of, like, mental and physical health,” Samberg concluded, “I [had] to do it.”

Samberg ultimately left Saturday Night Live in 2012, after seven years on the show. At the time, he already had another musical comedy album in the works with The Lonely Island plus That’s My Boy, a starring vehicle with Adam Sandler, ready to make its premiere.

The following year, Samberg began starring in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a comedy series from Parks and Recreation creatives Dan Goor and Michael Schur that grew out of Samberg guesting on Parks. Brooklyn Nine-Nine ran for eight seasons—so Poehler’s suggestion of a sitcom worked out.

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