Saturday Night Live sparked a debate last week that has set the internet on fire. Weezer: Still good? Matt Damon and Leslie Jones carried a spirited debate as to whether there are any even serviceable Weezer albums past Pinkerton. Leslie says no, Matt says yes, and everyone else in the world says who cares? Eli Coyote Mandel (who also wrote Adam Driver’s oil-baron sketch) cares very much. His passion for Weezer, and his inner torment over whether or not they in fact still slap, was the seed of this sketch. Vulture spoke with Mandel and his co-writers Steven Castillo and Alan Linic about passion, the fear of peaking, and the enigma that is Rivers Cuomo’s Twitter.
I am a real journalist, and as such did my research. So I listened to the first half of Pacific Daydream before this.
Alan Linic: Oh, I’m sorry.
Yeah. It was unpleasant.
Eli Coyote Mandel: Well, I don’t think that’s fair to say. It’s not unpleasant, but the first half is the best half.
It gets worse?
Alan: Yeah, it slides down pretty fast. Which is saying something because it started out low.
How did this sketch come about? I assume one of you cares very much about Weezer.
Eli: Over the break I had thought, It would be fun if Leslie [Jones] was, like, a true-blue Weezer fan. So Steven, when we got back from break, asked if there was anything I wanted to work on, and I told him about that. Like a week after that, Steven came to my office and suggested it’d be funny if the host also had an opportunity to freak out. I thought it could be that Leslie was an only Blue and Pinkerton type of person, and the host was a “new Weezer is good too” type of person.
Steven Castillo: The year before, I had done a sketch with Will Stephen called “Shrek Family Dinner,” where Sterling K. Brown is defending Shrek to his in-laws. I really wanted to write something similar to that. And then I found out that Eli is like obsessed with Weezer and wanted to write something Weezer-related. It’s borderline disgusting how much Eli is into Weezer.
Alan: Yeah, Eli basically is Matt Damon’s character in that sketch. We let him go HAM and then we wrote down all the insane bullshit he was saying.
Eli: I truly believe every word that is said in that thing. I believe everything Leslie Jones says and I believe everything Matt Damon says. As an American, I think it’s my right to believe two contradictory opinions. I truly believe that Weezer died in 1998, and also that it didn’t really get going until about 2004.
Steven: I don’t know if that’s 100 percent true, Eli. Because I honestly think when we wrote the line “‘Pork and Beans’ is better than ‘Buddy Holly,’” none of us believed that. I was watching interviews of people actually debating that, and I just want to apologize to America, because we wrote that …
Alan: As a joke!
Steven: Yeah, as a joke, to get a reaction from people.
Alan: We sat in that room trying to think of what the most absurd statement to make about Weezer was, and that was the one that we made.
Steven: When I saw people debating that, I wanted to throw up because I felt terrible.
Alan: Oh, it feels bad! When Matt says it, it feels bad. We made a man with an Academy Award say those words.
Steven, I was planning to ask you about Shrek, actually. What is it about niche passions that makes you laugh?
Steven: I’m actually that person. I get very adamant about certain things. I don’t know why. For example, at the office people bully me because I say that the best rap song of all time is “Wild Wild West” by Will Smith. With the Shrek sketch, I went to London with my friend Gary Richardson, and I saw all these advertisements for Paddington 2, and it made me so angry because they were treating him like he was Shrek. And no one’s better than Shrek. I’ve had arguments like that in real life, so we’re basically just transcribing things that I’ve said to other people before.
Alan, is there anything that gets you as heated as Weezer and Shrek do for these two?
Alan: Yes, basically anything that I care about. If you razzle me, I’ll razz you back. The thing that interests me about writing sketches like this one is that if you replace “the movie Shrek” or “Weezer” with any other movie or band, it still makes sense. I think everyone has had some version of this argument before. I’ve definitely gone slathering, froth-mouthed mad over which edition of Dungeons & Dragons is better.
Okay, which one?
Alan: Okay, here’s the thing: Is 5th Edition the most accessible? Yes. Does that make it the best? Maybe. But if you want to get down to brass tacks and do a meat grinder, and roll 50 characters in a day and really play with stats and do some freaking number-crunching, then you go 2e all day.
So you’re prioritizing the mechanics and statistics over a chance for interactive storytelling.
Alan: Just because 2nd Edition has more number-crunching doesn’t necessitate playing the game in a less narrative style.
How do you get a chance to play the characters, fill out their backstory, if they die like three moves in?
Alan: Okay, wow. I get it. I get that everyone wants to cosplay their favorite Game of Thrones characters in 5th Edition, but here’s the thing …
Eli: This is a nightmare.
Alan: We’re here to roll dice and hit trolls!
We need to talk about the Rivers Cuomo Twitter situation. He tweeted that he was excited it happened, and then it turned out he hadn’t even seen it, and then that his manager was at the taping. Did you know that Weezer’s manager was at the taping? How does that fact, and his response, make you feel?
Eli: Well, I know that Rivers does this thing sometimes where he’ll just copy a tweet and then just have it be his own tweet. I think? It’s a rumor that I’ve heard. Truly, all I wanted was a Rivers Cuomo tweet out of this sketch. Matt Sharp tweeted, very soon [after]. I was at the after-party, and someone texted me it. And I stopped Matt Damon and was like, “OH MY GOD, MATT SHARP TWEETED ABOUT THE SKETCH.” And he was like, “Oh. Cool.” So that’s all I wanted, but oh boy, that’s a huge blow to my ego to hear that Rivers didn’t actually see it.
Steven: We got a shout-out from Yellowcard, too, which is sort of random.
Eli: For some reason, I don’t know why, I feel like Yellowcard is the anti-Weezer. Even though I kind of like them.
The other thing that Twitter was noticing is that Leslie didn’t break, even when it took her two tries to smash that Champagne flute. Your idea, Eli, at its heart was making Leslie a die-hard Weezer fan?
How did she feel about that character choice for her?
Eli: She loved it. She didn’t know anything about Weezer, but she was very much onboard. I think she was kind of a champion of this thing. It gives her a chance to have a big, crazy acting comedy moment on the show. She was super into it. Before the table read, we went in and talked to her about it and went through the script with her, which is more than we usually do for that kind of thing. We usually kind of give a general idea of what the script is. But she wanted to go over it, make sure she got the names right, because she doesn’t know what the fuck Pinkerton even means.
Alan: She was like “Raditude? What is that?”
A valid question.
Steven: I love writing for Leslie. She will commit so hard. Even at the table when we were doing it, it looked like she was going to kill Matt Damon. She looked like she was about to Beat. His. Ass. It was awesome.
Do you guys ever worry about “peaking,” or worrying that your later stuff is a parody of your earlier stuff?
Alan: Maybe I speak only for writers with low self-esteem, but I worry that everything I’ve done was the peak. I think back on things I did eight years ago and think, Oh God, was that the funniest thing I’ll ever do? The hope is that it’s not true. I think the truth is that at some point in your life you’ll do objectively the best thing you’ve ever done, and you just never get to know where that is unless you quit. So as long as we don’t quit, we can have hope that there will be something else that’s good.
Steven: I hope that this is not like our Pinkerton. I hope that we do better stuff after this. But who knows?
Eli: I’ll say two things. One is that I peaked when Matt Sharp tweeted about my comedy skit. Two is that one of my sketches went on week one this year, and then I didn’t get another thing on the show until this. So for those other several weeks I was like, Oh fuck. Was that my one thing? ‘Oh, Eli had one funny sketch and then he never did another thing on SNL??’ So this was great.
Steven: Maybe this is kind of like a Full House moment, but me and Eli and Alan had never written together. And that first night we wrote together, I felt like was the first night we became friends?
Steven: And we had so much fun writing it. That’s always the goal. I feel like the sketches I have the most fun writing are usually my best ones. And that night was so fun because it was 20 percent writing, 80 percent Eli showing us obscure Weezer songs on his computer. It was a fucking blast.
Alan: To pile onto that, it kind of shocked me how quickly [we wrote it]. There were drafts and revisions of stuff that we did, but that first draft came out so fast because we were just riffing on each other. It felt easy. It was definitely the easiest thing I’ve written this season.
Eli: Both of the things that have gotten on for me took the least amount of time to write the first draft of. It was truly just banging it out, because it just comes so easily. It was also so much fun thinking of things for Matt Damon to say. “No offense, but drink my blood” was my favorite line on TV, and that came all because we can’t say “Eat my ass.”
Steven: Right, we had to write around “Eat my ass,” and that’s how “Burn in hell” and “Drink my blood” were born.
What song do you want Weezer to cover next?
Steven: I’m gonna say Will Smith’s “Wild Wild West.”
Eli: Oh man, you know what I would love to see? I would love to hear Weezer cover some sort of country-western tune like Gram Parsons’s “Return of the Grievous Angel.” It’s a phenomenal song that I think Rivers could just blow out of the water. That or one of the Beatles’s country songs, like “What Goes On.” I think they could do really well on that.
Alan: Damn. Deep cut.
Eli: Yeah, I’m actually pretty cool and into music in case anyone can’t tell.