Will Arnett in ‘PopStar’ (Universal)
Lonely Island’s PopStar: Never Stop Never Stopping lampoons much more than just pop stars. The ex-Saturday Night Live gang comprised of Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone satirize social media, celebrity culture, and corporate sponsorships. The film essentially spoofs the year 2016.
One of PopStar’s biggest targets is the celeb gossip empire TMZ, reborn in the film’s universe as “CMZ” and gleefully mocked via Will Arnett (perfectly cast as a Harvey Levin surrogate) and comedians Mike Birbiglia, Chelsea Peretti, and Eric Andre (as the TV show’s cackling reporters mercilessly tracking Samberg’s character, Conner4Real).
Lonely Island had initially planned to use Arnett and company — among PopStar’s slew of cameos — in a more limited capacity, but their roles were expanded as the filmmakers realized the CMZ crew could serve a valuable function while also delivering comedic fireworks.
“We wrote it in as one moment, and [producer] Judd [Apatow] suggested and we immediately agreed that since we have those four really funny comedians coming in that we could spread it out over the course of the entire story and kind of have them act as a Greek chorus of sorts, to sort of keep you plugged in to how the rest of the world was viewing what was happening in the story of the movie,” Samberg told Yahoo Movies. “And man they delivered, because those are some funny, funny peeps.”
Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Trainwreck) and Samberg say TMZ made an obvious target because of its piranha-ish relationship with Hollywood. “It’s such an awful aspect of our business,” Apatow said. “I mean, every time you walk down the street someone’s yelling ridiculous questions at you. It wallows in the dark side of life, so it’s fun to mock them.” Added Samberg: “It toes the line between entertaining and hateful, so I think it’s something that’s ripe for parody.”
Of course, the film’s brain trust recognizes TMZ probably won’t mind the publicity. “They won’t care, because it only feeds their machine and makes them more popular,” said Apatow. "I just hope that they put it on TMZ, and critique those clips for half-an-hour,“ quipped Taccone. "Because they really like to drag out their footage on that show.”
Arnett is especially amusing in the CMZ sequences, as he leans over an office cubicle in Levin-esque fashion and barks out sarcasm while sucking down Big Gulps. In a gag straight out of the Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker playbook, the size of Arnett’s beverage gets larger each time he pops up on screen. “It is amazing how you notice how hydrated Harvey stays,” said Schaffer. “He’s really always got a bottle of water with him. Or whatever he’s drinking. It could be vodka, who knows?”
Arnett is so fiercely funny in the role of Levin’s clownish clone that audiences might be left clamoring for a CMZ spin-off. That’s unlikely, but Apatow and Lonely Island said there are plenty more CMZ shenanigans filmed that didn’t make the final cut that we could see on the Blu-ray release. “There was so much material of them improvising as the CMZ guys,” Apatow said. “There were a few bits that they didn’t use that, watching on set, were some of the funniest moments I’ve ever witnessed being shot. Will Arnett did this very funny improvisation where as he was talking about this story [and] standing behind this office-divider, and we slowly realize he’s been masturbating the entire time.”
Apatow admitted he took a special delight in sending up TMZ, even if he’s rarely on the receiving end of their paparazzi snaps. “None of those shows hound me, they just happen to see me when they’re waiting for other people,” he said. “So I’ll go the airport and they’re waiting for Angelina Jolie, and then I’ll walk by and maybe there might be 30 photographers there and maybe one guy will click once. Just in case I do something horrible and murder someone that evening they might have a good photo of me right before I did it.”
PopStar: Never Stop Never Stopping is now in theaters. Watch the trailer: