Andy's Viral Effect on "SNL"

Samberg, who is leaving "Saturday Night Live" after seven seasons, helped get the long-running show out the TV box and onto the Web.

By Jere Hester
|  Sunday, Jun 3, 2012  |  Updated 6:00 PM CDT
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Andy's Viral Effect on "SNL"

NBC Universal, Inc.

Andy Samberg (with Justin Timberlake) gave "SNL" the gift of video.

Andy Samberg, who announced Friday that he's leaving "Saturday Night Live" after seven seasons, didn't get the kind of unique sendoff Kirsten Wiig received to a Rolling Stones soundtrack at the end of the show's season finale last month.

But Samberg threw himself a two-part musical farewell in the last two installments of the year – via an cameo-packed 100th "SNL Digital Short" video big on faux self-congratulations (and self-gratification) and a hilarious "Lazy Sunday" sequel (this time he and Chris Parnell rapped their way to "Sister Act: The Musical").

The videos marked a fitting going away for the boyishly goofy 33-year-old comic. While Wiig proved herself the show's standout sketch performer over the past seven years, Samberg emerged during that time as the “SNL” player who most helped change the culture of the show. More than anyone, he got the 37-year-old comedy program out of the TV, um, box, and onto the Web.

Samberg was an able skit player during his "SNL" tenure (his portrayal of Madonna's seemingly pain-resistant Super Bowl halftime show backup dancer/gymnast still cracks us up). But he became first regular to make his biggest mark on the show in the non-live TV realm, with the aid of his Lonely Island comedy team partners Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer – and a lot of help from their friends.

Sweet Natalie Portman came off as a "bad--- b----" of a foul-mouthed, violent psycho in "Natalie Raps" ("I never said I was a role model"). Steve Martin, James Cameron, Steven Spielberg and other luminaries lent their vision to the inanely funny "Laser Cats" series. And Justin Timberlake, of course, teamed with Samberg to give "SNL" its biggest online present in a certain gift-wrapped box.

The success of the videos, though, doesn't rest solely in recruiting big names. The best of them work on image-mocking set-ups, whether it's Pee-wee Herman cracking a chair over Anderson Cooper's head or Michael Bolton turning up variously as Captain Jack Sparrow, Erin Brockovich and Tony Montana. Samberg set the tone by projecting a certain sweetness that makes his and Parnell's hardcore rap about eating cupcakes and seeing "The Chronicles of Narnia" on a lazy Sunday a gut-busting exercise in comic juxtaposition.

Short films on "SNL" date to the debut season in 1975 when Albert Brooks got his first major exposure by producing celluloid segments (our favorite: a coming attraction of new TV season offerings that included an all-child version of "Death of a Salesman"). Samberg and his crew's rise, though, coincided with the Web's growing prevalence as a seemingly endless repository of entertainment, with a premium on the short and funny. The do-it-yourself feel to the videos at a time where anyone with a Smart Phone can be a filmmaker added to the appeal.

It's likely the videos, particularly those that went viral, helped draw new and presumably young viewers to "SNL," which has proven adept at reinvention and going on after losing talent like Wiig and Samberg. Like other "SNL" stars before him, Samberg is turning to the movies – his latest, "That's My Boy," with fellow alum Adam Sandler, is due out mid-month. But we hope he's closely watching two other “SNL” predecessors with comic sensibilities and personas similar to his: Will Ferrell and Jimmy Fallon, who embraced the Internet after leaving the show.

   

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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