This weekend marks the release of Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, the first feature entirely written by, directed, and starring The Lonely Island. The comedy crew of lifelong friends previously collaborated ten years ago on the goofball opus, Hot Rod, but that movie was written by South Park vet Pam Brady. Popstar is a cinematic confection all their own, under the aegis of producer Judd Apatow, and informed by the team’s many years of Saturday Night Live, three hilarious fake-rap albums, and various side projects. While Popstar is proof-positive that these guys have made an evolutionary leap since Hot Rod, The Lonely Island have showed glimmers of their current level of comedic mastery from the very beginning. In honor of Throwback Thursday, let’s take a look back at the trio’s earliest videos.
Long before Andy Samberg was cast on Saturday Night Live–and Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone were hired as writers–the three had been slowly cultivating a reputation for making short videos. Even though they didn’t stick strictly with the fake-rap that would eventually fuel their big breakthrough, “Lazy Sunday,” the group’s first video was indeed musical: 2001’s “Ka-blamo!” which they recorded under the name Incredibad.
Although not as sharp as The Lonely Island’s songs would eventually become, this early effort shows that their style and playfulness was intact from the get-go. Later that year, they created their first longform with the TV pilot, simply named The Lonely Island. (It’s what they called the post-college apartment they all shared while broke and scrounging.)
The ideas in the pilot are solid, including a commercial parody for a whitening toothpaste called White Power. However, the timing that became such a signature element of the group’s approach to digital comedy still had a lot of kinks to work out. Also, Schaffer had not yet found his footing as a director. A couple years later, the three would go on to make another pilot, this one for Comedy Central.
This second pilot, whose episode was entitled “Regarding Andy,” hung together better conceptually and featured guest turns from Brooke Shields and Kal Penn. The three clearly know their strengths already, and play them up liberally. Samberg and Taccone are particularly adept here at exaggerated aggravation, which would prove a recurring theme. The cable channel picked up the pilot, but ultimately did not bring it to series.
Around this time, The Lonely Island began making videos for Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab’s pre-YouTube comedy video hub, Channel 101. One of these that made a splash at the time was The O.C. parody, “The Bu.” It was a chance to show off their burgeoning gifts as deadpan parodists. The three would go on to make seven episodes with Scrubs’ Sarah Chalke before abandoning the project due to a new time commitment. Eventually, however, they would take the opportunity to parody a very specific moment from The O.C. on SNL.
Another music video from this era, the almost entirely Samberg-free “Just 2 Guyz,” is such a subtle parody of dudebro-ness that a legion of dudebros likely glommed onto it, mistake the target for something else. The dadaist deconstruction of machismo proved so popular, the guys ended up making several sequels, including, most recently, 2013’s “We Need Love.”
Finally, there’s Awesometown, the final pilot the group made before getting hired on SNL–this one for Fox. With a bigger budget and the presence of a post-School of Rock Jack Black, this sketch series looks like more than just a shorter cousin of Fox’s MadTV. It included both “The Bu” and “Just 2 Guyz,” blending the digital video aesthetic the trio would bring to SNL with the stage show-style of other sketch shows. Overall, it gives a hint at how ab alt-universe Lonely Island’s career might have looked. Thankfully, after writing for the MTV Movie Awards that year, the guys so impressed host Jimmy Fallon that they earned a recommendation to Lorne Michaels. The rest is history.