Breakthrough musical act, The Lonely Island (Saturday Night Live's Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone), may appear to be expanding their digital domain with their 2009 Universal Republic Records' debut album, Incredibad, but according to Samberg, becoming a "3 man musical wrecking crew" (MTV News' description of the debut CD) was never on their to-do list. "Well, we don't actually have a to-do list," says Samberg. "But we have always wanted to do an album."
What they have delivered is an indescribably hilarious effort packed with brand new satirical offerings and signature musical versions of groundbreaking digital shorts that have transformed sketch comedy and the internet. Among the breakout gems included on Incredibad is the Emmy winning YouTube sensation "D*** In A Box," featuring superstar Justin Timberlake, which snagged a record-breaking 28 million views before being permanently housed at NBCs online destinations NBC.com and Hulu, and the more recent follow-up "J**z In My Pants," which had 15 million views in it's first month on YouTube.
Incredibad's generous helping of never released surprises will also please followers of The Lonely Island's video and musical escapades. Audio renditions of past webisodes and SNL shorts round out the Universal Republic release, including fan-favorites such as "Lazy Sunday (The Chronicles of Narnia Rap)," which first aired on SNL in December of 2005, becoming a YouTube phenomenon and helping to brand the fledgling site as the internet's premiere must-watch online destination. Other Lonely Island classics rocking Incredibad include "Natalie's Rap" (featuring actress Natalie Portman and Chris Parnell), "Space Olympics," the Rasta-wannabe track, "Ras Trent," and the deadpan "We Like Sportz." The trio's inspired new musical creations feature a diverse arsenal of guest-artists including hip hop impresario T-Pain, Grammy winning superstar Norah Jones, The Strokes' Julian Casablancas, Bay area rapper and The Click founder E-40, and comedy hellion and Tenacious D-veteran Jack Black.
Friends since childhood (they hail from Berkeley, California) – The Lonely Island coined their name from the cramped west coast apartment they shared as comic start-ups. Their story of why they no longer have to share the same physical address has always been fueled by their love of music and, well, their incredible funniness. "The three of us have been friends forever," says Samberg. "Since junior high and high school, and then we all eventually moved in together, starting out, basically, doing joke music. Our first projects were always about mixing music with comedy."
Their willingness to embrace the digital possibilities of comedy was christened by the launch of their own website in 2001, thelonelyisland.com, which was very much in sync with a growing internet fan base that eagerly followed their online antics. The group forged a unique creative partnership, rolling amid the chaos with what Jorma Taccone has called "4:00 AM in the morning bursts of inspiration." "We all had very bad assistant and reception jobs, so we wouldn't care about being late and tired. We would just stay up and work on silly stuff." The group honed their timing and writing skills via cut-and-paste webisodes, often featuring hip hop inspired verse and their singularly cockeyed world view. Their keen understanding of the been-there-done-that impatience of the online audience hummed in perfect step with comedy fans' increasing appetite for quickly-staged humor served up in bite-sized helpings.
The Lonely Island also became a mainstay of the L.A. short-comedy film culture launched by Channel 101, a constantly evolving webisode/film contest where attendees could vote for their favorite five-minute comedy video, and whose alumnus includes Jack Black, Drew Carey, Sarah Silverman and even Flavor Flav. The triumvirate's breakout skits and experimental embeds would eventually snag them pilot deals with more established comedy holding companies like Comedy Central and Fox, as well as a plumb writing gig for the MTV Movie Awards that would lead to a successful audition with Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels.
The roots of their music-influenced skits - what Samberg likes to call their ‘incredibadibleness' - can definitely be gleamed in Lonely Island's early musical offerings: Pre-SNL gems such as "Just Two Guyz," "Bing Bong Brothers," (both on the new DVD), "Stork Patrol," and others, including an mp3 called "The Heist," which Samberg says served as the template for future YouTube sensations like "Lazy Sunday." Jorma pointed out that, "Back then, we were just recording on a cheap microphone in our bedroom. Now we're recording on a slightly more expensive microphone in an office, that's pretty much the only difference." In 2006 the New York Times credited The Lonely Island with reinventing SNL as a digital go-to destination. Suddenly, the versatile twenty-somethings found themselves being lauded as the internet's most innovative and successful pop culture satirists. In 2007 Wired Magazine awarded them their annual Rave Award as "Viral TV Vidiots," citing their breakthrough efforts to re-energize and remix the comedy medium by combining "the attitude of hip hop, the styling of MTV, and the juvenile humor of cartoons." Their instincts for creating cutting-edge/laugh-out-loud digital shorts by the seat of their pants was also honored that year with a surprise Emmy win for Outstanding Music and Lyrics for the hilarious "D*** In A Box."
Jorma has guided most of the beats on previous Lonely Island efforts like "D*** In A Box," and "Lazy Sunday", capturing more-than believable music efforts in the midst of the group's frenzied comedic tempo. Jorma noted, "The more realistic musically we are, the funnier the song will be. It's like trying to do a good impression, the little details are what counts." Samberg says the group also relishes working with the featured musical guests. "We've always been thrilled to work with such great people on our stuff," he says. "I think they know they are in on the joke and not the butt of it. We have always been big hip hop and music fans all the way back to high school. Growing up in the Bay Area, hip hop and R&B was what informed us musically.
We've always loved E-40. And of course, working with Jack (Jack Black) is a dream because we've definitely been influenced by Tenacious D. When the first episodes of that show came out I was obsessed with them. One of the keys to their success is that Jack is incredibly funny, but there are also these great parts where the music holds up as well. We always viewed that as a lesson for us. Everything that comes out of The Lonely Island camp goes through a 3-man filter."
All the trademark Lonely Island sensibilities are intact on their debut album, their comedic quality control even reflected in the artwork and packaging of Incredibad. Theirs has always been an unforgiving editing process. They write, record, shoot and edit their projects together, with Akiva handling most of the directing duties. "A comedy song can be really funny, but you need the video with it to really drive it home. Plus, I love bossing Jorma and Andy around when we shoot them," says Akiva.
With TV and movie offers continuing to pile up, as well as a myriad of other creative possibilities on the horizon for 2009, the group is fairly realistic about The Lonely Island's much anticipated pivot toward the music industry. "The mission statement of this album is to be funny - period! For us, the comedy always has to come first." For three comedians whose viral vision and left-of-center musical instincts helped re-establish Saturday Night Live as a groundbreaking comedic force - or as online cultural tome Salon.com put it: "SNL found its 'way' again because of the 2005 breakout hit 'Lazy Sunday" - The Lonely Island guys are certain they're not harboring any loftier musical expectations. "Our only criteria throughout our careers have really been 'Does it make us laugh,'" says Andy. "We never concern ourselves with what happens after. We're grateful for all the success. We jumped at this opportunity because music has always been a big part of what we do. In a way, this album is our thank you for all that great musical inspiration."