The Lonely Island

The Lonely Island (Willard 1990s)

Jorma Taccone, Andy Samberg, and Akiva Schaffer in 2014. Photo by Mark Coplan/BUSD.
Jorma Taccone, Andy Samberg, and Akiva Schaffer pose by their portraits outside Berkeley High in 2014. Photo by Mark Coplan/BUSD.

Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone met in 7th grade Spanish class at Willard in 1990, and each recognized in the other a kindred spirit. Besides a mutual love of skateboarding, the two were incorrigible clowns. When Andy Samberg arrived at Willard a year later his natural comic flair soon made him part of a trio. The three boys remained fast friends through high school, and stayed in touch as they went off to different colleges.

It was after college graduation that they all moved to Los Angeles, sharing a low-rent apartment (the original “lonely island”) while trying to break into show business. They were among the first performers to post their material on the Internet, mostly short comic skits and rap songs. While working various odd jobs, the friends became involved with the nonprofit monthly short film festival Channel 101, which brought them to the attention of major TV personalities including talk-show host Jimmy Fallon. In 2005, all three were hired as writers for Saturday Night Live, with Samberg also featured as a performer. They had their first viral hit that year with the comic video short “Lazy Sunday,” featuring Samberg and Chris Parnell as a couple of hardcore rappers on a quest to achieve their “ultimate goal” of attending a matinee screening of The Chronicles of Narnia. The group soon developed a large following with parody songs such as “Dick in a Box,” in which Samberg and Justin Timberlake crooned a syrupy (and off-color) romantic ballad in the style of early 90s R&B ballad singers.

While Schaffer, Taccone, and Samberg all have individual careers as actors, writers, and producers, they continue to work together and have so far produced four comedy films: Hot Rod (2007), Extreme Movie (2008), Neighbors (2014) and Popstar (2016). They remain inseparable friends and devoted to their hometown, where Jorma’s father, Tony Taccone, is the artistic director at Berkeley Repertory Theater and Andy’s mother, Margie Samberg, teaches at John Muir Elementary. The group has made several generous gifts to the school district, including funding a scoreboard for the playing field named for Tim Moellering. In January 2012, after working with Frito-Lay on a Super Bowl commercial contest, The Lonely Island donated a cash prize of $250,000 to the Berkeley Unified School District—the largest donation to BUSD in history. The bulk of the money went to Berkeley High School’s theater program, but the comedy trio did not forget the place where their friendship was forged: they made a gift of $75,000 to the Metal Shop Theater at Willard Middle School.