Andy Samberg’s comedic sensibility isn’t exactly what one would label as mainstream. From the epic Laser Cats series, the Lonely Island sketches, to the overlooked Hot Rod, his brand of humor can be somewhat of an acquired taste. Since leaving SNL, it’ll be interesting to see if he’ll stick with that tone or, as he says he hopes to, give a grounded Apatowian performance someday.
In the latest Happy Madison Picture, That’s My Boy, Samberg doesn’t give that realistic performance he’s talking about. When you’re acting with Vanilla Ice or going one-on-one with James Caan, realism certainly isn’t the goal. But, as Samberg explains, the film also features the sentimental side Sandler’s broad comedies usually play up.
Here’s what That’s My Boy star Andy Samberg had to say about his knack for taking a beating, over thinking comedy, and why an even more bizarre cut of Hot Rod deserves a Criterion release:
You’re surprisingly playing the straight man here. How does that compare to playing a character like Rod Kimble?
Oh, yeah, it’s definitely a different vibe and you show up with a different energy. Although, it does feel like I start off more straight and reactionary and, as the movie wears on, I become like how I am in real life, which is a little crazier.
I talked to Rob Riggle a while ago, and when I mentioned the idea of finding humor in a nice guy, he made it sound almost impossible. What to you makes that type of role work?
[Laughs] Well, they were helpful for me in the writing, with writing a lot of strange phobias, quirks, and such. There were also a lot of physical things, where my guy takes a beating. The physical stuff can bail you out if you’re the nice dude. Audiences enjoy me taking a hit, apparently. They like seeing my face, neck, or body smashed. I worked out for my floppy body falls and I did a good chunk of my stunts, especially in the James Caan scene. I still have the bruises on my body to prove it.
[Laughs] I’m sure you always knew you’d get a fight scene with James Caan.
I wouldn’t say I knew since I was a kid, but I certainly knew when he got cast in the movie [Laughs]. The whole day of shooting with him was, like, “I can’t believe I’m doing this scene with James Caan!” It was insane.
And you win the fight.
No, not technically. I’m about to lose, but then fate intervenes. I am clearly loser.
[Laughs] I’d say you won. You mentioned the quirks of the character, and they’re obviously quirks he doesn’t see as funny. Is that how you approach the odder side of things, just playing oblivious to them?
So far that’s been the majority of the roles that I’ve played. I wouldn’t mind playing a more realistic, grounded thing at some point. You know, a more “Apatowian” role, if you will, with friends joking with friends, where they’re aware they’re trying to be funny. I like that stuff, too.
When you have a scene with Vanilla Ice, do you still try to play it as straight as you can?
No, not necessarily [Laughs]. It depends on the scene, and there are certainly scenes in this movie more grounded than others. Like, there are scenes where it gets real, when you explore the father-son dynamic, and the complications of it. For the most part, it’s just a big, crazy party.
That’s always been an interesting part of Sandler’s broader comedies ‐ how they have an odd sentimental side to them.
Without a doubt. Obviously I’m on the inside, so I just might be drinking the Kool-Aid, but I feel like there are actually some sweet moments in it, where he is trying to be a good dad.
Is it pretty apparent when a collaboration, like this time with Sandler, is working? What stands out?
I would say yes. It’s much easier to tell when it’s working than to know when it’s not working. Sometimes you think in your head something’s not happening, and then you do a screening, something kills, and then you realize you were just over thinking. Definitely pretty early on, as far as Sandler and I were concerned, we were having fun pretty quickly. We were definitely enjoying the Vanilla Ice stuff, which was some of the first stuff we shot. It was a good way to kick it off.
Do you usually tend to over think what’s working or what isn’t?
Yeah. So many times I’ll make something where I forget the initial premise is funny and I try to pile stuff on, and then people laugh through the thing I thought was the joke and they’ll just laugh at the set up. It’s, like, “Ah, right, not everybody spends their days toiling over comedy.” It’s usually just, “Ah, that’s a funny premise! I’ll laugh at that!” I came to think, “Alright, people are nicer than I expected!” [Laughs]
[Laughs] Was that different from making the Lonely Island videos, seeing how people reacted?
On SNL, it was always very fast, because it has to happen so fast. We would certainly spend a full day locked in our office until we came up with something we believed in shooting. You know, it’s nothing like getting ready to make a feature film.
How does that process compare to just shooting a short? When making Hot Rod I’m sure you had to think more about an audience and take notes.
There’s no freedom, in any job, more than when we’re making our albums, because there’s no one in charge but us. We’re creating it, we’re the ones choosing the beats, writing the concepts, writing the lyrics, deciding which songs should go on the album, deciding which songs shouldn’t go on the album, and deciding on the album art work. We have full control [Laughs]. On a movie it definitely does shift, where you are thinking about appeasing the studio, because they have a vision for what the movie should or shouldn’t represent. You definitely have to answer to people anytime money is being spent that’s not yours [Laughs]. You give up some freedom, but you’re given the opportunity to do something bigger and slicker; and that can also be fun and rewarding. You know, I enjoy all of them, in their own way.
You mentioned appeasing some people, but Hot Rod is still willfully weird.
It is, but, I will say, I think it would’ve been weirder if we were left to our own devices [Laughs].
[Laughs] Do you have a specific example?
There is definitely stuff that was cut, for ratings reasons. Like, for no reason, my character tells Jorma, who played my brother, to bust out his little baby wiener. You know, stuff like that [Laughs].
[Laughs] Was there an Unrated cut released?
No, because they rushed the DVD out. They were just kind of dumping it, at that point. Someday I’d like to release the Criterion Hot Rod.
[Laughs] I’m sure they’re chomping at the bit to release that.
[Laughs] Oh, yeah! The phone is ringing off the hook from Paramount to get that one going.
[Laughs] I hope that happens. It’s interesting looking at movies like Hot Rod and MacGruber. They didn’t take off right away, but they eventually found their audience.
Without a doubt. I mean, when we were making Hot Rod, we were saying that was the kind of movie we wanted to make. In a lot of ways, it’s been satisfying that it’s come to fruition, where people who are really into offbeat comedy have found it and appreciate it. MacGruber is one of my favorite comedies ever made, and I think it’s definitely finding its audience.
You brought up how you, Akiva, and Jorma will sit in an office all day trying to come up with an idea. When a sketch or song isn’t coming together, what do you do?
If it’s not on a time budget we’ll bail on it for the day, and then try to come back to it fresh and with a new angle for it. At other times you scrap it and start over. You know, if you feel like you’re pushing too hard on something, that generally means it’s not going to work. There’s not a lot of comedy that is willed into money; it just is or isn’t. That’s been the case in my experience.
When you were on a time budget and had to put something out there you didn’t think worked, was the response to it ever the opposite from your own?
One of the ones we thought wasn’t going to work because we were so exhausted and did it so fast was the first Shy Ronnie. We had all these big plans and sets for it, but thought it was too simple and we ran out of time. Akiva and I were pouting and telling everyone how much it sucked, but, at dress rehearsal, they played it and the audience went fucking crazy. We quit trying to guess after that. You never know if it’s going to work or not. We had ones we swore were going to kill, but bombed, and vice-versa.
What about Laser Cats? I’m sure you think something like that is going to be divisive.
Absolutely. When you do something intentionally shitty that is a joke not everyone is going to get. It’s not a coincidence the most watched things we make cost the most. People like production value. Audiences want something they feel has been really worked on. Like, some people understand the subtlety of it, with how we shot it like when you’re a kid with a camera.
Bringing Spielberg in kind of shed more light on that joke, when it comes to the production value of it.
The bigger the people you get to partake in the stupider thing, the more satisfying it becomes.
[Laughs] Since you poked fun at it, I have to ask, did you talk to Spielberg about the Close Encounters ending?
[Laughs] Apparently, in interviews, he says he wouldn’t have done it that way, since he has kids now. He loved that joke. It made us laugh so hard. “What about your wife and kids?” “Fuck’m.”
That’s My Boy is now in theaters.