Racing from crummy temp jobs to the big screen

Andy Samberg may not be a household name, but his face should be familiar to anyone who’s ever surfed the Web.

Samberg, 28, a two-season veteran of “Saturday Night Live” and two-time writer for the MTV Movie Awards, could be on the verge of yet another breakthrough with the offbeat comedy “Hot Rod,” in which he stars alongside fellow “SNL” player Jorma Taccone, 30, as an aspiring stuntman. But Samberg’s rapid ascent to the big screen might never have been possible were it not for the unprecedented success of two short films, including “Lazy Sunday,” which became overnight Internet sensations.

“Without ‘Lazy Sunday,’ the movie wouldn’t have happened as quickly as it did,” he says. “The attention it got from the press and the great timing, with YouTube technology coming into its own just when we had the clip that people wanted to see, validated us in the eyes of the public. It made Paramount think we were legit enough to give us a shot.”

While “Lazy Sunday” put the Berkeley native on the fast track at “SNL,” it also helped to ensure that his work with his friends and longtime writing partners, Taccone and Akiva Schaffer, would proceed unabated.

“The three of us went to Willard Junior High in Berkeley, but Andy was a year behind us, so there wasn’t much interaction,” says Schaffer, 29. “We used to take his lunch money. Then we went to Berkeley High, and we became total jerks. So Andy fit right in.”

Although the trio was separated during their college years, they remained steadfast in their determination to translate their common interest in film and their affinity for comedy into full-time jobs. So they did what any aspiring performers would do — they moved to L.A.

“Everybody has friends that they goof off with, and we wanted to get paid to do it. So we moved to L.A. to trick people into paying us,” says Schaffer. “We made a pact that we would be making short films within a year, and it took us 10 or 11 months before we could afford a computer. We worked crappy temp jobs, and we all got fired. We got fired as a threesome once, working in a sweatshop on the Fox lot for $7 an hour.”

Undeterred, they began shooting short films in their spare time, assembling the footage into a demo reel of sketches that eventually landed them agents and, soon thereafter, short-lived writing gigs at Comedy Central and Fox. And then, as fate would have it, they crossed paths with Jimmy Fallon at the MTV Movie Awards.

“We were hanging out, writing movie spoofs, and we hit it off,” explains Samberg. “Jimmy called [‘SNL’ producer] Lorne Michaels and told him, ‘You should check these guys out, they’re pretty funny.’ That was in June [of 2005]. At that point, I’d done stand-up, we had a pilot for a show called ‘Awesometown,’ and we had the films we’d done for our Web site.”

The rest, as they say, is history. Hired in a package deal to work at “Saturday Night Live,” they earned their first measure of massive exposure six months later when “Lazy Sunday,” a two-minute clip about tough-talking kids on their way to see “The Chronicles of Narnia,” became one of the most popular clips in Internet history. Then came the deal to make “Hot Rod” with Paramount, with Samberg slated to fill a role originally conceived for another “SNL” standout, Will Ferrell.

“WhenI first read it, it was very obviously written for Ferrell,” says Samberg. “My major regret in taking the film is that I’m never going to get to see his version. That said, once it all locked into place, we tailored it in a way that suited me, and from that point on it became ours.”

“The exciting part is getting to come back home so that our families can read about us in the papers we grew up reading,” adds Schaffer, who, thanks to his work on “SNL,” was hand-picked by Michaels to direct “Hot Rod.” “We always said we’d be putting out our own comedy by the time we reached 30, and we did even better than that.”

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