The Lonely Island Talk 'Bash Brothers' Netflix Special: 'The Ultimate Joke Is That the Whole Thing Exists'
'It turns out, what the world really was craving was, Major League Baseball having a baby with "The Tree of Life" and "Lemonade."'
The Lonely Island (Akiva Schaffer, Andy Samberg and Jorma Taccone) Lemonade-d fans last week (May 22), releasing a surprise “visual poem” on Netflix, along with an album and standalone music videos. But what’s the twist, you ask?
The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience is all about famed Oakland A's duo Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, natch. Indeed, the Netflix special is presented as a rap album created and performed by the home run-smashing bad boys in the 1980s, at the height of their MLB fame. Samberg stars as the swag-on-100 Canseco, and Schaffer as the more sedate McGwire, while Taccone pulls triple duty as a reporter, former baseball player Walt Weiss and legendary 49ers quarterback Joe Montana. There are songs about butts, bikini babes, and daddy issues, and, of course, endless jokes about the pair's notorious use of performance enhancers.
Once again for those in the back: The Lonely Island made a hip-hopera about baseball, and it is, at the very least, art.
The Lonely Island began planning the ambitious project in 2018; they debuted a Bash Brothers sketch at an intimate show in May, then reprised it at the Clusterfest comedy festival in San Francisco the next month. By then, it was too big too fail.
Below, Schaffer and Samberg talk to Billboard about how it all came together.
How did you come up with the concept for The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience?
Akiva Schaffer: It kind of started at Clusterfest. We had never done concerts before -- for 10 years of having made comedy music, we had never actually never done it live, except for on TV shows, and then last summer we did our first concert at Clusterfest. Since we're from the Bay, we wanted to do something special. So Andy and I dressed up like them, and Jorma dressed up as Joe Montana, and we started making music and did, like, three minutes of it there.
Andy Samberg: After that, me and Kiv, who both live on the West Coast, kept coming back to the idea of it, like, "Maybe there's more here? I don't know why I keep wanting to make songs about the Bash Brothers." We started fucking around with it and continued doing it, and then it blossomed out from there.
Schaffer: It's the same reason people make Sasha Fierce and Chris Gaines type of albums, it's very freeing as an artist to lose yourself in an alter ego. [Laughs]
After the special came out, you got the seal of approval from Jose, which is cool.
Samberg: Not to be overly dramatic, but when I was shown that he had tweeted about it, I misted up a little bit. 'Cause I was so worried that he'd be bummed out by it. We love him so much. It was a genuine experience for me.
What was the timeline like for Bash Brothers?
Schaffer: This was such an odd little project that we were paid no money to make. So we didn't stop our lives to do it, we fit it into the cracks in our schedule. Andy was full time on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and I was helping on Tim Robinson's I Think You Should Leave sketch show. It would be the afternoon or something, and Andy would say, "I just got off work," and I'd be like, "Come to the office." We made it when we could, and it truly is a labor of love.
Samberg: To date, we lost money on it. It was really to make hashtag art.
Schaffer: Everybody that worked on this made a very small percentage or zero dollars.
The consensus seems to be, "We're not sure why this is a thing, but we're so glad it is."
Schaffer: We realized we had these 10 songs made, and were like, "What are we going to do with ten songs that are a concept album from the perspective of these baseball players?" To us, it got funnier, each new song we did. It's funny to do one song as them, but that's just a sketch. To do three or four songs is funny, but then why did you make three or four? To do 10 songs, a very pretentious, artsy visual album? The ultimate joke is that the whole thing exists.
Samberg: We were describing it to our friends the whole time as, "We're working on this thing for no one." It turns out, what the world really was craving was, Major League Baseball having a baby with The Tree of Life and Lemonade.
Of course, there are... profound moments. I laughed at the line, "Where will we hide from the sun when all the trees are dead?"
Samberg: It's a valid question.
Schaffer: We're deep thinkers.
Still, there's genuine heart to this.
Schaffer: Really, we're very happy with how people seem to understand it.
Samberg: It has been very satisfying that it's reaching people who have the same Venn diagram of cultural experiences as us. Even though it's so bizarre, it was actually very personal, because we grew up in the Bay Area and because McGwire and Conseco were our heroes, and we had the Bash Brothers poster on our walls. There was something incredibly fun and nostalgic in dealing with those images. The fact that anyone is responding to it is a bonus.
Schaffer: Yeah, and we were not trying to be mean or anything, we love those guys.
How did Netflix get involved?
Samberg: They were the only place that would give us, like, $25.
Schaffer: We were already working with Robbie Praw, who does all of the comedy and standup specials [for Netflix], for I Think You Should Leave. I mentioned it in passing that this was a goof-off we were doing. No expectations, it was not a pitch. And he's also a big Bash Brothers/Oakland A's fan fan, it turns out. So he just kept asking me more, like, "I know you think we won't do it, but just tell me a little bit more about this." We made it for so cheap that there really didn't have to be many expectations, there wasn't a lot on the line.
Did they pay you in a free Netflix subscription?
Samberg: We wish! [Laughs]
Schaffer: That's a good point. They should give us the three Blu-Rays for free.
Haim, Maya Rudolph, Hannah Simone, Jenny Slate, Jim O’Heir and Sia were all involved, which is just so fantastic. Talk to me about this laundry list of celebrity guests.
Schaffer: We're very grateful that they put their trust in us when we told them about the weird idea...
Samberg: Sia is incredible, we're obsessed with her music. We had friends in common and were like, "Think she'd ever do it? Ask her!" We got super lucky that she would, and we knew she doesn't really like appearing on camera, so I reached out to Sterling. I knew him because he did an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which was incredible and he was nominated for an Emmy for it, so I think he felt like he owed me one. Just kidding. He was also nice about it, and drove out to some weird studio that we could afford for like $17, and shot with us in the daytime before going and shooting This Is Us.
I’m glad it worked out. Sterling K. Brown in the Sia wig during “Oakland Nights” is too good.
Schaffer: For the wig, I pulled images of DeBarge and a little bit Lionel Richie, a little bit Prince, but we wanted the wig colored like Sia's.
Samberg: [Laughs] The whole thing is a lot of stuff you never knew you wanted until it happened. We were in the same boat, along for the ride, throwing paint at the wall and seeing what kind of Pollock we could make.
Haim also got to bust out some dance moves for “IHOP Parking Lot.”
Samberg: Haim and Maya and Stephanie [Beatriz] were the dream team to harass us in a parking lot.
Schaffer: Yeah, we needed a gang in a parking lot, listening to tunes and dancing.
Samberg: Very "Rhythm Nation," that was our goal. Maya is our old bud, so she didn't really have a choice. We ask her to be in literally everything we make and we get her like a third of the time. For us, it's a win. Jenny Slate and Hannah Simone are both the homies, so we just asked them if they'd goof around. It turns out they were indeed down to clown.
Schaffer: We tried to dress them [Slate and Simone] as Sigourney Weaver and Melanie Griffith in the film Working Girl.
Samberg: Yeah, that was the pitch. We were like, "Want to get in working girl outfits? ...We mean Working Girl the movie!"
And you even got Jerry!
Samberg: Yeah, there's Jim O'Heir. Keeping it in the Mike Schur family.
Schaffer: When Andy hosted the Emmys [in 2015], we did a little thing with Jim, so we knew he was a super nice dude.
Samberg: I guess you could say he's, I don't know, I'm just thinking of this now, down to clown.
Schaffer: Yeah, that guy's down to clown. Down to Clown is the name of the book he's writing, I think. Jim O'Heir: Down to Clown.
If I could interject, "Down to Clown" has already been said, like, three times in this interview.
Samberg: That's way under par for us. Should we aim for 25?
Schaffer: We've got to get one "down to clown" per minute. Nothing less.
Besides the special, there’s an accompanying soundtrack album and music videos. Basically, who allowed this?
Schaffer: I think by refusing payment -- here's the thing, if nobody's paying you, they can't tell you what to do. No one's your boss.
Samberg: It's a really good formula that we're learning about. It's technically our first release on Lonely Island Records, or I don't know, we haven't thought of a name for it yet.
Schaffer: It's a hot new label. Listen, there's art or there's commerce [Andy laughing] and we made sure this wasn't commerce. Then by default, it was art.
Samberg [Laughing]: You can definitely say this project was, by default, art.
Schaffer: If Spotify or Apple are reading this, give Bash Brothers songs some good placement on your apps.
Samberg: Yeah, get some playlists going. That's what's up, streaming services.
Lonely Island is about to go on tour for the first time. What can we expect?
Samberg: We're gonna be spitting hot fire on the M-I-C, obviously.
Schaffer: We'll probably be sarcastic. Speakers are going to be pretty loud.
Samberg: People at the other show we did said the speakers were very loud. They could really hear the bass and the treble.
Schaffer: No, we just crank up the mids at our shows. That's what makes our shows unique. Very little bass, very little highs, very little treble. Lot of mids.
What about the setlist?
Schaffer: Just all hits.
Samberg: It's a little tricky. When we got down to trying to put together the setlist, we realized we've made more songs than we thought. You can look at what's the most popular on varying places, your YouTubes and your streaming services and what kind of stuff. You cross-reference those, and think, "What are the eight songs that everyone is expecting to hear, and outside of that, what do we want to do?"
Schaffer: It's a really good show. People are gonna be glad. It sold out and we were... relieved.
Will there be any special guests?
Schaffer: This is an open invitation to anyone we've worked with, or anybody we haven't, to feel free to show up and do a song with us.
Samberg: If there's anyone out there reading this, who is a musician and wants to be a special guest, let us know. Hit us in the DMs. As long as you're in ASCAP.
Schaffer: [Laughs] Yeah, we are big union guys.
This is more of a self-indulgent demand then a question, but will you please tour with Weird Al one day?
Samberg: Ugh, that would be so fun. We somehow have managed to convince him to be friends with us. There is not a single time, ever, where I get an email or a text from him and my heart [doesn't] flutter. He's just the best.
Finally, is there an update on the Fyre Festival parody you’re working on?
Schaffer: No new news, but we are continuing -- we're literally meeting with Seth [Rogen] and Evan [Goldberg] later today to talk more.
Samberg: Mmm hm. That's real. Realer than Real Deal Holyfield.