The Lonely Island
The brains behind "Dick in a Box" on The Wack Album, Kanye, Kendrick, and taking their jokes seriously
Jun 11, 2013
The Lonely Island—comedians Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer—shot to fame in 2005 when they introduced the digital short format to Saturday Night Live. The first such video, "Lazy Sunday," wasn't just the highlight of the episode but a viral hit. It led to over 100 more of the pre-recorded digital shorts. Many were of the musical comedy variety and often featured the week's celebrity host or musical guest performing well outside of their comfort zone. Take Justin Timberlake's holiday favorite about gift-wrapped genitalia, Michael Bolton belting a ballad to Pirates of the Caribbean, or T-Pain singing about the joys of boating. All are considered classics of Saturday Night Live's modern era and have been watched tens of millions of times on YouTube.
The trio has released two successful comedy records as The Lonely Island; a third, dubbed The Wack Album, comes out on June 11th. The three have been writing raunchy jokes together since middle school.
"It's always funny when you're yelling at your friend, and you're like, 'No, you said "dick" in the last line, you can't say it in this line!'" laughs Taccone, explaining the occasional disagreements in their writing process.
Since their Grammy-nominated 2011-released sophomore album, Turtleneck & Chain, all three have left Saturday Night Live's staff. Although their digital shorts still make occasional appearances on the show, The Lonely Island has found new ways to get their songs in front of an audience. In the weeks leading up to the release of The Wack Album, the trio instituted "Wack Wednesdays." Every hump day, the band released a video clip previewing a track from their upcoming record.
"We're just taking a page out of Kanye West's old notebook," explains Taccone, referencing West's GOOD Fridays initiative. "[The notebook] he doesn't use anymore."
"We wanted to record a video of ourselves watching the projection of [Kanye's] video on a wall," Samberg jumps in. "And project the video of us watching it on a wall."
"And just commenting on how much we liked it," Taccone adds.
Taking cues from Yeezy's slick marketing chops also has a practical purpose.
"We're not on SNL anymore, and we wanted to make sure that people know we have a record," says Samberg. "We figured if we had a time and place that people knew they could check in for new stuff that it would be helpful."
Even without Saturday Night Live's help this time around, The Lonely Island didn't have any trouble roping in stars to make cameos on their record. The Wack Album features appearances from Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga, Solange, Robyn, Kendrick Lamar, Billie Joe Armstrong, Kristen Wiig, and Hugh Jackman. Occasionally their guests will contribute their own lyrics to a song.
"Generally when we work with a rapper, we give them talking points of what we think would be funny and then let them write it, because it's so much more specific to do a verse of rapping than it is to sing a hook," Samberg explains. "[For 'YOLO,' Kendrick Lamar] came into the studio and we were like, 'something like this, maybe like this,' and he sat there and wrote a verse really quickly on his iPhone and then went and dropped it. We didn't know what he was going to do until he was recording. So there's always this moment of, 'I hope it's funny!'"
When asked whether other artists or celebrities have ever approached them with their own comedy ideas, they laugh nervously.
"A couple times," says Samberg.
"When we were on SNL that happened a little more often. We won't say who, but they were all great ideas," Taccone says, putting extra emphasis on the word 'great.' "We couldn't get to them, but they were great ideas."
Though it may be hard to believe—these are the same guys who penned the songs "Dick in a Box," "Jizz in My Pants," "I'm On a Boat," and "I F***ed My Aunt"—The Lonely Island actually take what they do very seriously.
"The very notion of rapping for comedy is a really fine line, and we try to be really careful about how we walk it," Samberg explains. "Because when it's not done right, it's, like, the thing we hate the most in the world."
"By definition, it's a pretty lame thing," adds Schaffer.
"And it can get pretty insulting to the genre that we actually love so much," says Taccone.
"There are a lot of people who see what we do and lump it in with stuff we'd be insulted to be compared to," Samberg explains. "We always try to be careful about not doing ideas that we feel like are just, 'We're white nerds rapping!' There's got to be a joke and then rap, or R&B, or pop is the vessel with which we deliver the joke."
"If any of us could sing or play instruments we would be doing songs of other genres," says Taccone.
The Lonely Island would love to tour their musical comedy someday, but you won't see them sharing a bill with Nas or Wu-Tang Clan any time soon. They'd prefer to perform with other comedians.
"It'd be comedy first, for sure," says Taccone. "I think it'd feel inappropriate for us to be billed with a real hip-hop act."
"I think you'd also be like, 'Oooh, these guys aren't good at hip-hop!' if we were right next to one," adds Schaffer.
Taccone laughs and agrees.
"KRS would be sorely disappointed!"
The Wack Album is out June 11th. You can check out their Wack Wednesdays videos at TheLonelyIsland.com.