When Vulture interviewed Seth Meyers about the SNL writers’ quest to pick the best Lonely Island digital short a couple years ago, he kept coming back to Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer’s ability to shoot sequels that actually topped their original sketches. This might seem like a small thing, but to comedy writers at a show where they are often asked to go back to a well, it’s an impressive feat. Justin Timberlake’s return to SNL brought us “Motherlover” three years after “Dick in a Box,” and “3-Way (The Golden Rule)” two years after that. When Rihanna was the musical guest in 2009 and 2010, poor Shy Ronnie had to try to rap twice. The biggest gap between Lonely Island installments, of course, was 2005’s “Lazy Sunday” and 2012’s “Lazy Sunday 2.”
Until this past weekend. Almost 12 years after Natalie Portman’s first rap, we got “Natalie’s Rap 2.” The difference is, unlike the previous sequels, the guys don’t work at the show anymore. In fact, if you discount the videos they play on the show to promote other projects, this is their first short since Samberg left SNL in 2012. And, as he tells Vulture, it almost didn’t happen. We talked to Samberg about how “Natalie’s Rap 2” came together in three days, what he misses about working on SNL, and whether Jar Jar Binks having 17 dicks is canon.
Let’s back up, what inspired you to do “Natalie’s Rap” the first time?
She had seen “Lazy Sunday” and wanted to do a rap. We were skeptical, but then she told us she was a big Lil’ Kim fan and spit an entire verse for us. It was hilarious and convincing, so we said, Great! Her public persona was so squeaky clean that it was fun to rip it apart with her.
What makes Natalie so good at comedy rapping?
She commits, hard. And she actually loves the music.
Can you walk me through what happened once you found out Natalie was hosting again? When and how did you work on it together?
We got the call from SNL on Wednesday evening saying they really wanted to do another one. We weren’t sure how to get it done from L.A., plus I was shooting Brooklyn Nine-Nine all week. But we love Natalie and SNL and wanted to figure it out.
On Thursday, the three of us — Akiva, Jorma, and I — brainstormed over the phone a bunch during my shooting breaks and then Akiva started to record a rough demo. Then we wrote the rest late into the night. On Friday morning, we FaceTimed with Natalie as she recorded her vocals. We got through about half before she had to go block sketches.
SNL was going to have to shoot and edit the video in NYC without us, which was a first. So we gave them our thoughts and let them run with it. They started shooting the video before the song was done, so Natalie had to lip sync to our voices on parts of the track. Back in L.A., we had about an hour to write my part of the song, and then run outside to a rooftop/parking garage and shoot the footage and send it to New York.
Saturday morning, we FaceTimed with Natalie again, while she recorded the rest of her parts. Then Akiva worked like crazy to put the song together. They sent us a cut in the afternoon and we gave thoughts. It was tricky because they wanted to do right by us, but also they really had to take control because there just wasn’t time to go back and forth a lot. The director, Paul Briganti, and the editor, Jeremiah Shuff, did a great job, especially under the rushed circumstances.
I will say, I wish they had called us on Monday! There were many things we would have done differently, but that’s SNL. In the end, it seems like it came out pretty good. As long as the audience laughs, it’s a win.
You three are still working on projects together, but how often have you worked on music since Popstar? What is it like getting the band back together?
We’ve been working on a few ideas, but nothing concrete. We are always working on music, at least a little bit.
What from the first one did you know you wanted to bring back?
Again, we got asked so late, it wasn’t really a conscious choice. I think our preference might have been to rethink the format even more, but given the schedule, we went with the same basic structure but updated.
What did you want to change up or add to this one?
We hoped to make the style of music more modern, and for the lyrics to reflect the changes Natalie has gone through since the last one.
Did you try to get Chris Parnell to play the interviewer?
Yes, but he wasn’t in New York. But we love Beck [Bennett] and he killed it. He has a similar ability to Parnell to play smarmy, but still be funny and likable. We love them both.
How much was Natalie involved? Was she telling you about things that happened in her life?
Ha, not a ton. Again, because there wasn’t any time, we just went and made a bunch of stuff up. But she told us a few things she DIDN’T want in there after they’d been written. Which I will not disclose. I will say, she was in the right for wanting them changed. We are disgusting.
Did the Kool Moe Dee allusion come after you had the idea for the joke about Natalie drowning the doctor when her water breaks?
It was all at once. But we always have Kool Moe Dee on the brain. Doesn’t everyone?
Do you remember coming up with the Star Wars parts?
Yes, we had written a different breakdown, but it bumped with something else in the show so I just thought about what other iconic characters she’s played, and that Amidala look is great. Then we just started laughing about her going cold-blooded about the prequels.
… and that Jar Jar Binks has 17 dicks?
That I think we got from George Lucas. It’s canon, right? I feel like it’s canon and we just had her say a normal line that makes sense for that world. Once you’re aware of this and go back and watch the prequels, everything makes way more sense. We HIGHLY recommend people do that.
Rap music has obviously changed since the last one. Sonically, what were you all hoping for?
Honestly, we were just hoping to have a song with jokes in it ready by air. But we also thought it would be fun for her to come with some more Cardi B, Drake, Migos, Nicki-style flow, or our terrible approximation of that. And we do love that beat! It’s made by JMIKE, who we’ve done a few songs with before. He came by and spent his entire Friday and Saturday with us in L.A. getting it ready for the show.
How did it feel to have to get this down for Saturday night? Did you miss that rush? If, for some reason, you were tasked with knocking out digital shorts every week again, do you think you could do it?
I think we could do it. I will always miss the rush, but also, there’s a lot about the schedule that we definitely don’t miss. We will always try to be there for the show when we can. We still have so many friends there and will always love it and watch it.