Professional athletics have long been a rich vein for Hollywood laughs, and nearly every sport can point to a classic comedy taking aim at its myriad flaws. Hockey has Slap Shot, the 70s-era look at minor league hockey starring Paul Newman. Car racing got Talladega Nights, a hilariously meta take on the sport’s ubiquitous product placement. Baseball has Major League and Bull Durham. Skiing has Hot Dog, with its infamous Chinese Downhill scene. Dodgeball has, well, Dodgeball. Even climbing has one. Sylvester Stallone’s Cliffhanger wasn’t going for intentional laughs, but the movie is nonetheless comedy gold.
Andy Samberg's Tour de Farce
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Now cycling’s time has come: HBO’s Tour de Pharmacy, premiering on July 8, features executive producer Andy Samberg and a laundry list of A-List celebrities too long to catalog. And it’s about damn time. After all, is any sport more ripe for parody? Besides the rampant doping—the film’s most consistent target—there’s the leg shaving, the spandex, the team names, the whiteness, the stuffy British commentators, and, of course, the curiously misshapen bodies. (“Cyclists are hot,” says one of the mockumentary’s faux pundits, played by Saturday Night Live veteran Maya Rudolph. “They have the upper body of an alien and the lower body of a horse.”) Tour de Pharmacy nails all the absurdity of bike racing with a gonzo storyline that clocks in at a breezy 38 minutes and features—spoiler alert—no less than four moments of full frontal male nudity. And as one might expect, Lance Armstrong has a part. He plays an “anonymous” source spilling the beans on the rampant scandals that plagued the fictional 1982 Tour de France. Outside editor Christopher Keyes caught up with Samberg to find out how Tour de Pharmacy came about, why he chose to pick on cycling, and his fetish for penis gags.
OUTSIDE: So, for starters, why so much male nudity in this film. What was the goal with that?
ANDY SAMBERG: It’s becoming a trend in my work. You know, this is the second sports mockumentary we’ve done with HBO—we being, Murray Miller, myself and also our director, Jake Szymanski. The first one was 7 Days in Hell, about a Wimbledon tennis match. That also had full frontal male nudity. And then I made Pop Star with my Lonely Island bros and we had full frontal male nudity in that. I’m starting to realize that I might have a thing for wangs.
Well it takes some bravery. I’m not sure who the actor was that had to wear the see-through spandex in Tour de Pharmacy. But, my heart goes out to him. Not only does he have to go through that, but then he gets ridiculed by Lance.
He is a comedian named Chris Romano. He’s an old friend of ours. He sort of carved out that niche for himself because he is constantly getting naked unprompted socially. So anytime we write something where we need somebody to get naked, he’s the first name that pops to mind. He was also naked in 7 Days of Hell.
It’s not a tough ask for him.
No. He’s the only recurring character in the two films. Or, I guess his junk is.
Why did you guys turn to cycling? Were you already a fan of the sport? Or, was it just an easy target?
A little bit of both. We really go on instinct. And obviously, we’re not taking these things seriously. We’re thinking, What’s a good platform to do something really crazy? The fact that cycling has much spandex and fun visual stuff happening with it, combined with its history of, you know, sort of nefarious behavior. The long history of cyclists doing whatever it takes to get ahead. It just seemed like a fun thing to blow up.
What’s your process? Because it sure seems like you guys did sure your research. You hit on all the easy targets like shaved legs, but some of the details were spot on. I loved that one of the racing characters was named Ju Ju Pepe. That that couldn’t be anything but a cyclist.
I have to give credit to Murray Miller on that one, he wrote it. We loved all the names. Dirk McClerkin is another one that makes us laugh a lot. But, yeah, there’s a lot of stuff that’s not that far from the truth. Like we had the bit about a motor in a bicycle. That was written before the 60 Minutes story about it. All that stuff feels larger than life, it feels crazier than what reality could possibly be. It was a fun place to start because we know we’re going to go even crazier. It was good source material.
How important is it, when you are doing a sendup like this, to have some of those trappings be real?
I don’t think it’s a priority necessarily, but it does lend authenticity. It’s nice for people who know the references. And it’s always fun to have a little bit of knowledge of what you’re dealing in. But, also, you pick and choose because there’s tons of stuff about cycling that’s not funny, or weird, or surprising—like, they’re on bikes and racing, and all the minutia of that. So you just sift through everything and go, “Oh, that’s funny, we can do something with that.” And, sort of pin it all into an outline.
Had you ever worn a full spandex road racing kit before this film?
I feel I must have on SNL. I used to wear biker shorts under my soccer shorts.
Did the project turned you into a closet roady at all?
You know I rode a bike, around town, when I was a kid with my friends, but I never got into cycling as a sport or activity. But, it is really pleasant. It’s really nice to hit the mountains with all the trees and everything. I get it.
I imagine that as soon as you decided to take on cycling, you figured you were going to find a spot for Lance Armstrong. How did you guys get him involved?
It started with Murray just writing a part for him in the script and we read it and it was making us laugh really hard. We were like, “Do you think he’d ever do that? I don’t know.” We figured it couldn’t hurt to ask, so we reached out and sent the script. We got on the phone and I told him what we were making. He’d watched 7 Days in Hell and thought it was funny. I think he was just like, Screw it, yeah it seems funny, let’s do it. He was very receptive. Then we went down to Austin and hung out with him and shot it. We threw a lot of new stuff at him while we were shooting and he was super into it and went a whole bunch of different places.
Are you anticipating any blowback from the cycling community because they are so touchy about the doping subject?
I certainly hope not, you know? It’s more that we just thought it was a funny world to do something crazy in. It’s not like we had any personal dog in the fight. It was more just like, “Oh man that would be a really fun look, for comedy.” Like we said, there is a lot of funny historical stuff to play around with and take to another level. But I think anyone who watches it will see that it’s so goofy that it’s not an indictment of a lifestyle or anything
You’ve now done two of these sports comedies HBO. Is there another one in the pipeline? Do you know which sport you’ll take on next?
Yeah, I think we know what we’re going to do next. But I’m not going to say in case we change our mind.
Listen to our conversation with Andy Samberg on the Outside Podcast.