With a Little Help From My Friends

Coming to movie theaters August 3 is a story of hope, determination, and (as the posters so eloquently state) smacking destiny in the face. The movie, aptly titled Hot Rod, stars Andy Samberg as Rod Kimble, an aspiring stuntman. Convinced he is the love-child of Evel Knievel’s test-rider, he is following in his father’s footsteps. Unfortunately, Rod is less than mediocre in his execution of even amateur stunts. He pretty much sucks at it. But with his always optimistic team – Dave the mechanic (Bill Hader), Rico the ramp builder (Danny McBride), the girl next door, Denise (Isla Fisher) and his younger stepbrother Kevin (Jorma Taccone) — Rod continues to dream.

Enter the conflict: Rod’s stepfather Frank (Ian McShane) is a total jerk. Despite Rod’s mother’s (Sissy Spacek) efforts to maintain peace, Rod and Frank have regular knock-down brawls in the family’s basement in which Rod inevitably gets womped. Only when he beats Frank will he be a man. Rod trains and trains, but tragedy strikes: Frank gets sick and needs a $50,000 operation. Rod raises the money by undertaking the ultimate stunt: jumping 15 buses.

Hot Rod isn’t your average inspirational comedy (for one, the stunts were handled by Nick Powell, the stunt coordinator from Gladiator and The Bourne Identity), if such genres actually exist. But the journey of the three “dudes,” Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone (collectively known as The Lonely Island) is, with all corniness aside, inspirational in itself.

Samberg, Schaffer, and Taccone met in junior high in Berkeley, California and have been friends ever since. The three went their separate ways for college: Samberg to NYU, Taccone to UCLA, and Schaffer to UC Santa Cruz. Reuniting after graduation, the three decided to collaborate on sketch comedy.

“Literally, there was a day when the three of us had just graduated from college, and we were talking about moving to L.A. together,” Samberg reminisced. “We went over to Jorm’s mom’s house, and there’s a picture of us out on the front porch, which is the moment we said, ‘So we’re going to move to L.A. and do comedy for a living!'”

Before The Lonely Island made it to SNL, they produced a plethora of material (all of which can be viewed at www.thelonelyisland.com) which they wrote, shot and acted in, such as “The ‘Bu” (a parody of “The O.C.”) and a sketch comedy pilot for Fox entitled “Awesometown.” The guys landed a writing gig for the MTV Music Awards, catching Jimmy Fallon’s attention, who contacted SNL’s Lorne Michaels with news of a very talented trio. The rest is history: Samberg, who wanted to be on SNL since he was eight, is now a cast member; Schaffer (who recently received a Writers Guild Award for his work on the 2005/2006 season) directs and along with Taccone is a frequent writer for the show. They are a powerhouse on SNL, their products being ridiculously hilarious skits and digital shorts (“D**k in a Box,” anyone?).

After the success of the digital short “Lazy Sunday,” Paramount Pictures contacted Samberg to play the part of Rod (which was originally written for Will Ferrell).

Samberg was attracted to the na’ve optimism of his character. “I liked the underlying theme of that, this dude who’s not really well equipped but is doing the best he can,” said Samberg. “And honestly, it was just goofy.” Samberg agreed to take the role, but only if Taccone and Schaffer could be involved as well.

The process of movie-making proved a challenge for the dudes. Balancing the movie and SNL got stressful at times. “But it’s such an awesome thing to be complaining about,” said Schaffer, who directed Hot Rod. “I’m just thankful that I get to be that stressed out.”

When asked what advice he had for aspiring young filmmakers, Taccone stressed the importance of product. “Once you go out and make something, whether you do it poorly or not, you will always have it. It’s being motivated enough to go out and make something. You get better and better and people do take notice eventually. Sometimes it takes a really long time. It took us five years,” said Taccone. “Hopefully this movie will be successful and let major studios know that people on the internet are talented and can make the transition into mainstream.”