Goodbye, Andy: SNL’s Digital Short Auteur Heads to That Big Happy Madison Production in the Sky

The writing was on the wall, but like invisible ink, you can’t really read the writing until it’s illuminated under the special black-light glow of a publicist’s confirmation. And so we learned, on Friday, that Andy Samberg was officially on Lazy Saturday Night Leave, moving on to the Sandlier pastures of the upcoming Adam Sandler vehicle That’s My Boy, which also, bizarrely, features Vanilla Ice and James Caan (and, less bizarrely, Rachel Dratch and Will Forte). Comparing his seven-year tenure at SNL to a war, and the aftermath to being (“nicely”) shell-shocked, comedian Septimus Smith joked that he will now be peddling his wares on the straight-to-YouTube circuit. See you in the hall of fame, comrade.

The digital short became the creamy center of Saturday Night Live &#8212 a creamy center sometimes shot through with chunks of unsavory matter, sure, but something to look forward to, a textural surprise after a heavy snack of dense cake. It was, maybe, the best incarnation of Web content in mainstream media: Short-form comedy tends to suffer when it’s nurtured into something more substantial, and though Adam McKay was the pioneer of the digital short before partnering with Will Ferrell to found Funny or Die, it was Samberg (along with Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone) who calibrated the right amount of vinegar, baking soda, and Timberlake to make them explode. Like some of the best college term papers, most of the digital shorts took fewer than five days to produce, and some of the best seemed as though they were conceived, gestated, and birthed in bong water over the course of two and a half hours.

The idea market has always been tantalizing, obviously (you can steal that for your college term paper due tomorrow &#8212 it’s gonna be great, just add an epigraph!), but perhaps never more so than during a depression, recession, era of six-figure Tumblr book deals, or in the historic period known as “the months surrounding the Mega Millions jackpot fever of March, 2012”. Dick Whitman, in a war fought not on late-night television but in the Korea of Matthew Weiner’s re-creations, is the ultimate analog YouTube sensation: After Draperizing himself, he sold the eggs of products, unhatched ideas that were even more magical under the heat lamp of his boardroom pitches than they were when they’d grown feathers and nested in the pages of grandpa’s old glossies. Dick was a lonely island, and Don the powerful force of a Dick in a box. The question is, after Samberg’s departure, who will become the Pete Campbell (or, hopefully, the Ginsberg) of the SNL Digital Short?

Ideas, and viral videos, sour quickly. That’s why Saturday Night Live is the perfect platform for them, a real-time happening that Ziplocs them against becoming stale. Nobody laughed as hard at Fuds “sea sucklers” than the lucky people who were handed menus at the festival the name of which gives me too many willies to mention. Maybe the creators (Arthur Meyer, Dan Klein, and Kelly Hudson) should be nominated as heirs to the digital short crown, just on the basis of having written the words “Dead Dog, co-plated with yam clippings and a leafy sage dumping ($23)” in that particular order. In a saturated and competitive marketplace, selling thoughts can seem like a woefully uncrackable code, and the harder you try, the more you seem like a regrettably pathetic SEO slug, sliming your way across the WLAN. Maybe the only way to keep the digital short alive in a post-Samberg era is to reinvent it, to tear it down and rebuild it in 3-D. Being stationed in a war zone turned James Gatz into Gatsby, Dick into Don, and Andy Samberg into … well, Adam Sandlerberg Jr. It’ll be interesting to see what brave souls, armed with boom mics and dirty backpacks filled with little plastic doodads, we send into the front lines to battle in the pre-taped trenches of Lorneageddon.

Filed Under: Andy Samberg, Saturday Night Live, SNL