Where were you when you first saw the video for “Lazy Sunday?”
Although it first aired Dec. 17, 2005 on “Saturday Night Live,” it’s likely you first encountered the video on your computer, either by downloading it from the iTunes Music Store, through a random Myspace post or by tracking it down on the then brand-new video sharing service YouTube. In fact, if you’re over the age of 30, there’s a decent chance “Lazy Sunday” was the first video you ever watched on YouTube (it was eventually pulled, then reuploaded, by NBC but not before amassing over 5 million views, a huge number at the time).
The skit was one of the internet’s first “viral videos” and its literal overnight success turned Andy Samberg and his Lonely Island collaborators Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer into internet darlings. With Feb. 10 marking the 10-year-anniversary of the trio’s debut album Incredibad, it’s a good time to reflect on the group’s profound influence across comedy, film, music and internet culture.
‘Like A Boss’
A lot changed in the three years between the release of “Lazy Sunday” and the launch of Incredibad. For starters, YouTube fully emerged as a cultural force, allowing aspiring musicians and comedians to chase their own dreams of internet success. In this respect, “Lazy Sunday” was something like the “Citizen Kane” of viral videos: A flawlessly articulated vision that established the visual and thematic vocabulary of an emerging medium. Having honed their skills in the infancy of the internet with Channel 101, The Lonely Island were uniquely prepared to be these pioneers (“Lazy Sunday” was written, shot and edited in three days).
Meanwhile, the “Digital Shorts” the group had been making for SNL quickly became one of the best things about the show. Mostly directed by Schaffer, these pre-recorded skits were regularly the highlight of the episode during Samberg’s run from 2005-2012. While the most famous of the early shorts – “Natalie’s Rap,” “Dick in a Box” and “Jizz in My Pants,” – were music parodies, their larger motif was best illustrated in the “Laser Cats” series.
In many ways, this has become the default style of internet comedy: Equal parts knowing parody, bewildering absurdism and DIY charm (“Laser Cats” also breaks the fourth wall, a common feature in The Lonely Island’s best sketches). As the SNL “Digital Shorts” grew more polished and elaborate, they proved to be an ideal training ground for crew’s future filmmaking endeavors.
‘Who Said We’re Wack?’
The Lonely Island won an Emmy for “Dick in a Box” and have been nominated for Grammys and an Oscar (for “Everything is Awesome,” a song so contagiously catchy, mere mention of its title gets it lodged in your head). Unfortunately, the box office Gods have not been kind to the trio.
“Hot Rod,” “Macgruber” (which was directed and co-written by Taccone, who also worked on many of the character’s SNL skits) and “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” all failed to make their money back in theaters. They’re also amazingly funny, which has earned them one of film’s most prestigious distinctions: The Cult Classic.
“Hot Rod” is about a wannabe daredevil who organizes a charity stunt to save the life of his step-father….so Rod can defeat him in physical combat and finally earn his respect. “Macgruber” is a hilariously crude and violent sendup of 80s action movies. And “Popstar” is easily the funniest and most observant satire of the music business since “This is Spinal Tap.”
All of these movies are abundant in belly laughs, but it’s also easy to see why they didn’t connect in theaters. The homespun charm of their style plays much better on the smaller screens like TVs, phones and computers. Here, they’ve found their audience: Taccone recently told The Daily Beast he’s been pitching a “Macgruber” TV series, with all of the principal cast on board.
‘Punch You In The Jeans’
Now that we’ve established their internet influence and cult film bonafides, it’s time to talk about The Lonely Island’s music. They are, simply put, the greatest comedy rap group of all time. Depending on if you consider Insane Clown Posse comedy rap, they might not have much competition, but still, facts are facts.
Take “I’m On a Boat.” A rap song about being on a boat, it might have been funny regardless of the production. But over Wyshmaster’s absolutely titanic beat, their mundane boasts about wearing flip-flops sounds like the height of stunting, their disdain for earth-bound objects like trees scans as the coldest of disses. And T-Pain crooning in full autotune mode about engaging in sexual congress with a mermaid is never not funny.
The Lonely Island love and understand hip-hop with a sincerity that makes all of their comedy possible. Going all the way back to “Lazy Sunday,” the appeal of their humor was less about the irony of white dudes rapping about “Narnia” than the contrast of talented rappers using the cadences, slang and flow of hip-hop to describe the excitement of catching a children’s film.
Samberg, Taccone and Schaffer are all good-to-great rappers, but they truly shine as songwriters. Two of their videos, “I Just Had Sex” and “Jack Sparrow” (both from the sophomore masterpiece Turtleneck & Chain) have nearly half-a-billion combined views on YouTube; people don’t return to videos in those numbers unless they’re singing along. Even slow jams like “Dick in a Box” and the reggae “Ras Trent” betray an authenticity to their styles, thanks to collaborators Justin Timberlake and Sly & Robbie, respectively.
As their careers have branched off, we don’t hear as much from the Lonely Island as much as we used to. But their legacy is widespread: consider the recent viral success of “Baby Shark Dance,” which began as a meme before making its way onto the actual Billboard charts. It’s hard to imagine this happening had The Lonely Island not chummed the waters of Funny-Plus-Catchy-Plus-Absurd Bay long ago.
The Lonely Island also returned last week, dropping a new song for “The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part.” A team up with past collaborators Beck and Robyn, “Super Cool” runs over the end credits and features The Lonely Island rapping about how the credits are the best part of the movies.
10 years after Incredibad, everything is still awesome.
Listen to ‘Incredibad’ below, via Spotify: