Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone & Akiva Schaffer
SNL Vets Make a Music Mockumentary, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
by Brad Balfour
Maybe it’s simply an extended Saturday Night Live bit, but considering the state of the current pop music scene – with self-parodying musicians such as Justin Bieber, Kanye West and Ariana Grande – a film like Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping seems inevitable. Given that the trio of Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer – childhood friends once known as The Lonely Island – has such strong ties to both each other and pop scene, it was perfect that they would join up to do a comedy like this.
In Popstar…, Conner4real Friel (Samberg) goes into a major tailspin as his celebrity high life methodically and inevitably implodes once he releases a pathetic solo album after the painful collapse of his hit ‘80s old-school rap trio, The Style Boyz. In a panic, he tries anything to bounce back, except reuniting with his old crew. While former band mate/lyricist Lawrence (Schaffer) retreats to a hippie rural lifestyle, their other cohort deejay Owen (Taccone) remains with Conner but in a definitively underling position.
Loosely based on Bieber’s self-promoting concert doc, the film employs certain quirks Conner4Real has that aren’t unlike Bieber’s – Conner4Real has a turtle, and for a time, Bieber had a monkey – both odd pets. There’s an Anne Frank reference in this movie; Bieber stirred a controversy when in the Anne Frank house he proclaimed that he “hoped she would have been a belieber.”
The trailer also features Conner playing drums as an infant – exactly like a scene in Justin’s movie. Both have tattoos. Usher is promoting them and the slogan of this movie is “Never stop never stopping” is not unlike Bieber’s own movie slogan: “Never say never” – which was also the title of his film.
Throughout this mockumentary, the line between parody and popstar-dom blurs in revealing the documentation of Conner’s meltdown and redemption. There are some super-silly tracks that would easily fit on the contemporary pop charts; and there are so many cameos of big stars that no one is sure whether they think this whole thing is made up or not.
Those making appearances include Sarah Silverman (as their publicist), Tim Meadows (as the manager) and Imogen Poots (as girlfriend Ashley) as well a whole gang as themselves such as Adam Levine, Mariah Carey, Snoop Dogg, Simon Cowell, Carrie Underwood, Usher Raymond, DJ Khaled, Seal, Questlove, Jimmy Fallon, and “Weird Al” Yankovic, as well Andy’s wife Joanna Newsom.
What makes this movie feel organically solid is that the trio behind it, as stars, writers, and directors – with comedy godfather Judd Apatow producing – have known each other for such a long time. In fact, when they did this Q&A before a select group of journalists, it was hard to tell whose answer was whose since they completed each other sentences.
When you three were actually roommates in that tiny LA apartment, was it obvious that Andy was going to be the big star out of the group?
Andy Samberg: Thank you for asking that.
Jorma Taccone: The first question is very easy.
Akiva Schaffer: Absolutely, I mean, look at him, he’s gorgeous and multitalented.
Jorma Taccone: We couldn’t walk down the street without strangers stopping us and saying, “Who is your friend? Who is this Fabio-type, with that beautiful singing voice?”
Akiva Schaffer: Uhh, no, because we didn’t expect for anything to work out necessarily. We were what? 21 or 22 years old in LA like everybody else. We weren’t expecting anybody to be the star.
When you decided to do this movie about the music business and the contemporary music world, what did you want to do with it that you felt hadn’t been done before?
Andy Samberg: The thing that I think was at the forefront of what we felt like [doing] was fun – to play around with was how much social media and the media and the number of outlets that exist nowadays has changed the landscape of the music industry. [We wanted to touch on] what is expected of an artist. What they give up of their own personal life. How real that is. The sort of relationship that musicians in the pop world have with their fans now. How genuine [it is] for the sake of their career. How it affects their actual friendships and relationships in their lives.
Though we didn’t see shots of you modeling in your underwear, the Style Boyz – as you modeled them – seemed torn between being a New Kids on the Block or a Beasties facsimile. Who did you favor, and who you three personally favoring as a choice to listen to?
Akiva Schaffer: Well none of us can actually sing, so we’re always going to favor the Beastie Boys, but that’s our personal preference; that’s who we were growing up with.
Andy Samberg: That’s definitely what we listen to, also. Nothing against NKOTB. Joey McIntyre has got the voice of an angel. We all know that.
Ultimately do any of you want to do a documentary on a particular music star now? A real doc, not an ersatz doc…
Andy Samberg: Who would be a good…? I mean, we would never spend time making a real documentary. That’s so long. If we were forced to make a documentary, I think probably the most fascinating person in music is Kanye. I would like to watch that.
Akiva Schaffer: Yeah, a real documentary that really shows how his process is and stuff.
Jorma Taccone: But in a way, I wouldn’t want the mystery to be lessened with him and how his brain works. I don’t know if that’s possible, but…
Andy Samberg: Weird Al? That’s something we should actually look into.
What groups from that period did you actually listen to? Were they pop stars or old school hip hop? What was the actual music did you like from that period?
Andy Samberg: The Beastie Boys were huge for us. The Beasties and Run DMC, New Edition, Bell Biv DeVoe…
Jorma Taccone: But all the Native Tongues stuff for me, like De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Digital Underground…
Andy Samberg: Pharcyde…
Jorma Taccone: We listened to a lot of dancehall reggae as well, growing up. Cappelton. Sizzla. We could just keep going on.
What would you say is the key to such a long-lasting friendship?
Jorma Taccone: We’re going to let Kiv handle this one.
Akiva Schaffer: Honesty, communication, and…
All: [in unison] … “Keeping it interesting in the bedroom!”
Andy Samberg: Put on a wig. Put on a little teddy…
Jorma Taccone: Whatever works.
Akiva Schaffer: So to speak.
Jorma Taccone: And safe words are very important.
What’s the funniest thing that happened on set?
Jorma Taccone: Like, that’s not in the movie?
Andy Samberg: There’s a couple of times when everyone lost their shit and got the giggles. One of those scenes was… You all saw it? There’s the scene where Tim Meadow’s character Harry is telling Conner that the label thinks that he needs an opening act. We tried it a bunch of different ways but the end of that scene was like “I’ve got one idea, but you are gonna like it!” “Are, or Aren’t?” “Are!” And we did that one.
Jorma Taccone: Everyone in the room was spiraling out of control.
Andy Samberg: Tim Meadows makes people giggle, man. He’s just a funny, sweet man. When we were shooting the scene of us all on the side of the stage watching Hunter the Hungry for the first time, I would be like, “What do you think, Harry? I don’t know about this guy.” He just kept saying, “The kids love him! I don’t know. I think it’s a good call. The kids love him!” For some reason him saying, “The kids love him” for like the 15th time was probably my favorite moment.
Akiva Schaffer: Everybody else started improvising new lines. You go in a circle of different people taking their turns with new lines to get different reactions. Then every time we got to Tim, he’d say the same line, but with a new inflection. He didn’t bother to think of a new line, ever. For whatever reason that got everybody.
Obviously Justin Bieber comes to mind as someone that Conner is modeled after, so it surprised me that it actually almost gives you more empathy for someone like that. It was a more empathetic view of him, having to deal with fame even though he’s also a target of the movie. What do you think his impression will be if he sees this movie?
Andy Samberg: We would hope that he feels the way that you just described, because that is how we feel. We definitely empathize with Justin, and are friendly with him. We’ve worked with him a few times and think he’s a good guy, and actually we respect his music a lot. There are a couple direct references, obviously, to his documentary, because we just felt like they were funny jumping off points for a crazier joke. The title of the movie obviously feels like his title, which makes it seem like it’s a lot more about him than we intended, I think. We hope he likes it, and we feel like the character of Conner is really an amalgam of everything that’s going on in the world of pop music… and rap music for that matter.
What was it like working with Michael Bolton again?
Andy Samberg: It was wonderful, although that’s one of the few things left that we haven’t announced so I don’t know if… we care about that…
Akiva Schaffer: So it would be great to not ruin that surprise for people. Oh, you already wrote about that…
Jorma Taccone: It’s basically the only two surprises that are real surprises left, Justin Timberlake and Michael Bolton. Those are the things that people don’t…
Everything else is in the trailers…
Jorma Taccone: Not everything, but I mean, one way or another, through all the different outlets somebody’s talking about various things. But those are two nice things to leave out! It’s a request… it’s not… [laughs]
Do you guys feel like you share the personality traits that your characters have? Is Jorma kind of the mediator of the group; is Kiva like the serious writer, and Andy, more the diva type?
Jorma Taccone: A good way to look at it is: Alvin and the Chipmunks is basically the analogy. I’m the Theodore, Akiva’s Simon, and Andy’s Alvin. Only that we all wear glasses, that’s a major difference.
Andy Samberg: Yeah, we’ve been saying that Popstar is kind of an unofficial squeak-uel. [all laugh] It’s fine if you want to say that.
Akiva Schaffer: I think that’ll put butts in the seats.
Given how subjective comedy is, how challenging was it to figure out what to keep, what not to keep, what works, what doesn’t work, during the editing process?
Jorma Taccone: It was very challenging. We have an hour and a half of deleted and alt scenes for this movie. There was a ton of stuff that we loved that we had to leave on the cutting room floor. That just didn’t feel like it, for whatever reason, furthered the story.
Andy Samberg: Kiv, how did you approach it? What did you think? For you was it easy?
Akiva Schaffer: For me, it was very easy, but that’s just because I closed my eyes and would just hit buttons. Some scenes would disappear and some would be in and I’d be like: “How about that?”
Andy Samberg: Sort of a Russian roulette.
Akiva Schaffer: Yeah, I’d just play Russian roulette.
Jorma Taccone: And Kiv was more of a painter than anything. He was just like “Ughhh,” sort of feels it out.
Will the DVD have an hour and a half of deleted scenes?
All: [in unison] It will, yeah.
Andy Samberg: Including some musical stage performances of songs that are on the soundtrack but not in the movie.
Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer: [both laughing] And then there’s more stuff that we obviously just didn’t want people to see. That was the good stuff…
Andy Samberg: Some of that was just dog shit. We cut that.
Akiva Schaffer: Like any comedy that you play for an audience, you’re surprised. Sometimes they laugh at the thing that we thought, “Alright we’re putting this in but it’s really just for us.” It’s the thing we think is funny and the whole audience would laugh. Then other times we’d be like “Oh, this is the one that the audience is going to go crazy for.” Sometimes they would and sometimes they wouldn’t… I don’t think that’s unique to this project. That’s just true of any comedy. You have your guess of what everyone’s going to like and then you put it out there.
Andy Samberg: It’s definitely fun and fascinating to go through that process. Every time for us, where you put up a joke and it bombs and we all turn to each other and go “wow, I guess not!” Or one where, like he said, it feels very throw-away but the whole theater falls down laughing and we’re like, “Nice! I guess that one was way better than we thought.” We feel like we got the movie down to a length and a flow that felt right to us for that.
How did you go about finding and casting the musicians that made cameos in the movie?
Andy Samberg: All kinds of ways. Some of them were people we worked with before, so we would just call them, or email them. Some we did through reps. Some people, like Ringo Starr, Judd Apatow was the one who called. (laughs)
Jorma Taccone: We don’t have his number.
Andy Samberg: No. We don’t have Ringo on speed dial. But we cast a really wide net and had a huge list of people we would love to be a part of it. We actually were really fortunate, because a lot of them said yes. Clearly, a ton of people.
Do you have a favorite song in the movie?
Akiva Schaffer: Yes. (pause) I am partial to “The Finest Girl… aka Bin Laden.”
Andy Samberg: I think I might be too.
Did you guys know you were going to make that an SNL skit when you wrote it?
Andy Samberg: No. We certainly hoped [it would be]. But you know, we’ve got to get Lorne [Michael]’s permission.
Jorma Taccone: We just shot that on Thursday, and we really did it like an SNL skit…
What was your favorite?
Jorma Taccone: I think maybe, “I’m So Humble” – the one that starts the movie.
Andy Samberg: Musically, that might be my fave.
Akiva Schaffer: I really like this one that you maybe didn’t even hear, because it’s at the very end of the end credits called “Legalize It.” It’s like a reggae song, but you would have had to listen to the very end of the end credits to hear it.
Is that a cover of the Peter Tosh song?
Jorma Taccone: It’s kind of a spin.
Andy Samberg: It’s a new take.
Jorma Taccone: A new take on the classic.
Andy Samberg: [Actually] it’s a dumb comedy song.
Jorma Taccone: Not a straight cover of Peter Tosh.
What’s your process? Did the songs come first, or the storyline? How did that come together?
Andy Samberg: It varies. We are a lot like real rappers – even though we’re fake rappers – where we get sent a ton of really awesome beats from various producers. We’ll lock ourselves in the studio and listen to a ton of them. Oftentimes the beat itself will spark an idea. We’ll start writing to it, or we’ll just love the beat and star it and say, “Let’s make sure to come back to this and try to think of an idea for it.” Other times we’ll have an idea or premise for a song, and then we’ll search for a beat that matches it. Sometimes we’ll have an idea for a song and we’ll know it has to be a certain kind of beat and we’ll straight up ask a producer to craft a beat from scratch to match that idea.
Akiva Schaffer: Everything Andy said is accurate, yeah.
Jorma Taccone: That is true.
You’re also married to another wonderful musician, Joanna Newsom. Have you ever thought of doing a collaboration?
Jorma Taccone: Oh yeah, why don’t you ruin her career?
Andy Samberg: I think that her fan base would probably be pretty disappointed in that. Rightfully so.
Jorma Taccone: As fans of her work, I’d say that we would also be pretty disappointed.
Andy Samberg: I think we’ll make like the Offspring and Keep ‘Em Separated. Thank you.
Jorma Taccone: Oh yeah, very cool reference.
Akiva Schaffer: Timely.
Jorma Taccone: Timely, what a huge bummer that was.
Andy Samberg: Always wanted to get an Offspring ref in.
Chris Redd was very funny in the movie, but you had so many big names I didn’t know Chris Redd until this movie. How did you find him and pick him for the role?
Akiva Schaffer: We didn’t do either. He was brought to our attention by our casting…
Andy Samberg: Allison Jones.
Akiva Schaffer: Allison Jones, yeah…
Andy Samberg: The mythic casting director Allison Jones, who seems to find every awesome new person in comedy…
Jorma Taccone: He’s from Chicago, but he was also on Second City, not the main stage but the… What’s the other one? Maybe the ETC stage or whatever….
Andy Samberg: He just won the part with his audition. He auditioned a couple times and did, in his audition, a bunch of scenes. The one that really blew us away was the after the Naked on Stage thing, where he’s saying, “I didn’t do any work, did I?” We were watching it just being like, “I love this dude!” [We were] so captivated by his performance. We were really happy to get him.
Akiva Schaffer: He had made some comedy-type stuff himself as well…
Jorma Taccone: It’s his first movie.
Andy Samberg: That was a hard character to cast because it was a lot of comedy but also someone who had to sound convincing musically.
Was that based on any rapper?
Andy Samberg: Similar to Conner, it was sort of an amalgam of a lot of rappers. But any rapper or even like punk band whose thing is being anarchy and rebel…
Akiva Schaffer: Like early Eminem – to some degree. I just don’t give a fuck but…
Andy Samberg: There was a little odd Future vibe…
Akiva Schaffer: Yeah, little bit of Tyler the Creator stuff.
Andy Samberg: Which again, like all our stuff, we love all of those folks’ music. So it’s always fun for us to draw from the things that we’re fans of.
The TMZ parody seemed to be the only really vicious thing in the movie where you really present them as hyenas, cannibals, vultures. Is there a personal animosity there…
Jorma Taccone: No. We love Harvey and the gang!
Andy Samberg: We wrote a small piece of the “CMZ” stuff and then we cast those four comedians. It was Judd’s idea to say, “Let’s clear out half a day to shoot, shoot them sort of commenting on the whole movie, sort of like a Greek chorus.” We just kind of let them go and they took it from there – those four. They just went bananas.
Jorma Taccone: There’s some stuff on the DVD of them that is incredibly, they’re really funny.
Andy Samberg: It gets way crazier.
Jorma Taccone: That was another day that we were just doubled over, like Will Arnett’s a beast, he’s incredible.
Andy Samberg: But the “CMZ” stuff is another one where when we put it in test screenings, we were like, we really like this but we’ll see if it’s maybe too crazy… And it was not too crazy. The audience was all, “More of that!” We were like, “All right, we’ll put more in.” I’m thinking, “We have it.” So it was yet another case where Judd’s instinct was spot on.
Mariah Carey sort of had a meltdown after her big musical movie years ago, Glitter. Did she say anything about this while she was making her [appearance] to you like, “This seems a bit like my life.”
Akiva Schaffer: I didn’t even remember that.
Jorma Taccone: No, she was completely game with everything and was really, really funny.
Andy Samberg: I think her record-breaking number of #1 hits probably gave her solace.
Jorma Taccone: Yeah, she could always fall back on it. She’s all right.
Any other comedy discoveries in the casting?
Andy Samberg: Yeah, Edgar Blackmon who plays Eddie, he’s really funny.
Jorma Taccone: He’s one of those entourage kind of guys.
Andy Samberg: Yeah, and James Buckley…
Jorma Taccone: That’s not a comedy discovery, obviously, he’s incredible.
Andy Samberg: If you’ve seen The Inbetweeners, he’s incredible in it. But we were really happy to have him in it, obviously. And we’re breaking in a young talent in Maya Rudolph, [all laugh] You’ll be hearing from from her – she has a new show…
Jorma Taccone: Yes, she’s got a new show.
So is there going to be a follow-up movie?
Andy Samberg: We’ll see…
Akiva Schaffer: That’s up to America.
Copyright ©2016 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: June 2, 2016.
Photos 1-4 ©2016 Brad Balfour.
Photos 5-10 ©2016 Courtesy of Universal Pictures. All rights reserved.