Out-weird Kanye and Bieber? The Lonely Island trio tries in their parody ‘Popstar’

Lonely Island team Jorma Taccone, left, Akiva Schaffer and Andy Samberg at Studio 1444 in Hollywood on April 10, 2016.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Writing their movie, “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping,” the members of the Lonely Island comedy trio — Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone — aimed to create a celebrity musician who’d embody the current over-sharing, entourage-loving, humble-bragging state of pop culture. Problem was, no matter how weird they made their hero, singer-rapper Conner4Real (played by Samberg), they couldn’t keep pace with the real-life antics of the likes of Kanye West and Justin Bieber.

Case in point: The movie once sported a song, now cut, called “King Zuck,” performed by Conner at Mark Zuckerberg’s birthday party. Conner’s performance began as a tribute and ended with him begging the Facebook co-founder for money, a scenario mirrored in real life two months ago when West took to Twitter, asking Zuckerberg (on his birthday, no less) to “invest 1 billion dollars into Kanye West ideas.”

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“I’d say, ‘You couldn’t make this ... up,’ but we literally did, last year,” Schaffer says. “No matter how much we raised the stakes, we found the world gets weird really quickly. You wake up and Justin Bieber’s mooning a Mayan ruin. That’s setting the bar high for misbehavior.”

No matter how much we raised the stakes, we found the world gets weird really quickly. Justin Bieber’s mooning a Mayan ruin. That’s setting the bar high for misbehavior.

— Akiva Schaffer


But the Loney Island guys — best known for their stellar run creating musical videos on “Saturday Night Live” celebrating, with the likes of Justin Timberlake and T-Pain, the art of romantic gift-giving (".... in a Box”) and the pleasures found on the high seas (“I’m on a Boat”) — have always enjoyed a challenge. With “Popstar,” they’ve fashioned a funny, knowing, behind-the-scenes look at celebrity in an age where fans are quick to move on to the next thing, ratcheting up the pressure on artists to do something big to remain relevant.

Talking about the movie on a lazy Sunday at the House of Pies in Los Feliz, the trio remembered the last time they’d visited the restaurant. They were sharing an apartment in Los Angeles, working temp jobs, making their own videos and trying to catch a break.

“Basically, just hoping to get asked to do any one of the things we’re doing now,” Samberg says. “And if we were eating pie, it was one slice, dry, no whipped cream.”

Today, in addition to “Popstar,” the Lonely Island group produces Fox’s late-night sketch series “Party Over Here” and has a comedy starring Elizabeth Banks in development at Freeform (formerly ABC Family). And they’re ordering fancy pie for the whole table. (For the record: fresh strawberry, raspberry marble, coconut cream and apple pie a la mode. The strawberry was the consensus favorite.)

“Popstar,” which opens June 3, has consumed their lives for the last year as they wrote and produced it, with Schaffer and Taccone directing and taking supporting roles, playing members of Conner’s original band. They’re mixing the soundtrack, which will be released alongside the film.

The film’s songs parody both prevailing hubris (“I’m so humble/ I say that with no ego”) and wobbly celebrity politics (a pro-gay marriage song, “Equal Rights,” has Conner declaring he’s not gay in about every other line) and feature numerous celebrity cameos, best left as surprises. At least a couple of the numbers figure to cross over into the culture in ways unforeseen, as has been the case with other Lonely Island songs.

“‘I’m on a Boat’ is played a lot at Lake Havasu, which was definitely not our intention,” Taccone says. “And there are videos of people in the Navy singing that song on aircraft carriers, which is something we could have never predicted. But it’s really beautiful.”

“Basically, we want people to listen to anything we make as much as possible, whatever the context,” Samberg adds, polishing off the whipped cream and strawberries. “We can’t go back to dry pie.”


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