Over seven years ago, The Lonely Island—Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone—were working on their sophomore album Turtleneck and Chain when they got the idea for the song, "Jack Sparrow," an ode to the universal appeal of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. After Schaffer suggested they get Michael Bolton to sing the hook, "We decided, in that moment, that we wouldn’t rest until we got him to do it."
The song blew up, and the group started a working relationship with Bolton (who showed up in their excellent and underrated 2016 film Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping) that has now led to Michael Bolton's Big, Sexy Valentine's Day Special, which is available to watch on Netflix now. The surreal and hilarious show is the rare holiday special that is as fun for the audience as it is for the people who made it—and that illustrious list includes the likes of Sarah Silverman, Fred Armisen, Maya Rudolph, Casey Wilson, Chris Parnell, Eric Andre, Michael Sheen and Randall Park.
We sat down with Bolton and co-director/writers Schaffer and Scott Aukerman to talk about the genesis for the project and their real plans for Valentine's Day. Along the way, Bolton performed his impeccable Scarface impression and Gothamist got to introduce all three to the Danish concept of Hygge (even if we didn't quite explain it correctly).
Did you guys grow up listening to Michael's music?
Scott Aukerman: Yeah, I mean...
Akiva Schaffer: They were such smash hits that there was no avoiding them.
Scott Aukerman: It was the first sound that I heard when I came out of what I like to call the womb. I'm always calling it that, to my mother. And she's quite frankly very annoyed by it, and wishes I'd stop referring to it as her womb.
Akiva Schaffer: But you're not gonna anytime soon.
Scott Aukerman: I don't listen to what she has to say.
Akiva Schaffer: You're a grown ass man. If you want to talk about your mother's internal organs, you could do it all you want.
Scott Aukerman: The damn guts!
Is this what it's always like?
Michael Bolton: Pretty much. Then they're directing me to say things.
Akiva Schaffer: Like, 'You say it! Now you say the words. Now you say it on camera!'
Michael Bolton: Was 'womb' strong enough? Did I pronounce the W? 'No Michael, now we have to do the whole thing again.' But what you see is what we do. This is the process, these are the geniuses, and I'm like the—
Akiva Schaffer: The puppet, the meat puppet.
Well you're the muse, aren't you?
Akiva Schaffer: That's what I said earlier. I agree.
How did you guys all meet, and how did the special come together initially?
Michael Bolton: It started with "Jack Sparrow."
Akiva Schaffer: We [The Lonely Island] wrote that never having met him. But we just were like, that would be the funniest. His voice would sound so amazing on it, and it'd sound so earnest and sincere and huge, and it's epic. We didn't know if he'd say yes or not, and it took about a year of us going back and forth to figure out the lyrics. He said yes right away.
Michael Bolton: I really wanted to work with them. I love their work.
Oh so you already were familiar with their stuff?
Michael Bolton: Yeah, from SNL.
Akiva Schaffer: He said yes right away, but then there were about seven months of us going back and forth on lyrics because there was some really dirty stuff.
Michael Bolton: There were things I thought were funny, but I knew that a lot of my fans would find disgusting to begin with. We could use other adjectives.
Akiva Schaffer: I think any human would have found them disgusting, it's just whether or not you like disgusting stuff. They were undeniably disgusting.
Scott Aukerman: I have a question. I've heard this story several times over the past couple days, and the question I always want to ask is: was "Jack Sparrow" part of it at that point, or was the joke—was the game of the scene—just that it was Michael saying dirty stuff?
Akiva Schaffer: No the "Jack Sparrow" stuff was always as is. All the debate is in the final chorus. Constantly, it's always that our guys are being like, "c'mon get on track, get on track," we're doing our fake "In Da Club" tough guy raps, very generic like, "C'mon get into the club"-style rapping. And finally he, in the original, agrees in a way like, "Oh you want me to be gangster, alright here's something gangster." So he's getting on board and doing our style but taking it way too far.
Scott Aukerman: So then you guys go, "Hey, rein it back."
Akiva Schaffer: Like Jesus, be careful what you ask for kind-of-situation. And then that slowly, gratefully—it's much better now—became this cinephile-type thing. Mostly because he kept doing a Scarface impression. He just kept doing it.
Michael Bolton (does perfect Scarface impression): You need a bad guy like me.
Scott Aukerman: In the print of this, put in parenthesis, "does perfect Scarface impression."
Of course, I have to. I have to report the truth accurately as it comes. This is all that I'm responsible for.
Scott Aukerman: If it doesn't say that, Fake News. Hashtag Fake News. But yeah, then smash cut to Akiva asking me if I wanted to do this, and I said yes. Which is the greatest epilogue to that story that you just told.
Akiva Schaffer: It couldn't have ended any other way.
How long ago was this?
Akiva Schaffer: This project we did fast. Because of the Valentine's Day connection, as soon as we kind of zeroed in on it, we were like, oh if we were going to do it, we would actually need to start a writer's room like next Monday. So even when we called to pitch it to Netflix, we were like, "if you do want to do this, you have to decide this week." So that in the next week we can actually get to work.
Scott Aukerman: To their credit, they immediately said yes and got a deal going. And we shot it. We started talking about it in September and we shot it in November and Akiva and I have been working like non-stop to get it done.
Akiva Schaffer: Like December, January, and now it's now. So it was just straight through.
Michael Bolton: It was the fastest I've ever seen a project this size come together.
Akiva Schaffer: And it was definitely the fastest for Netflix too. They were happy to adjust their expectations of deliverables and stuff like that.
Michael Bolton: They've been a complete freakin' pleasure to work with, in every aspect. For me, I mean these guys are a lot closer to that.
Akiva Schaffer: No, I agree. It's been one of the most smooth and easy processes, like we could just worry about creative stuff.
Like Rob Thomas-smooth?
Akiva Schaffer: Yeah, I would say Rob Thomas.
Scott Aukerman: If I had to to equate it to any kind of...
Akiva Schaffer: But not Rob Thomas alone smooth.
Scott Aukerman: I would say Carlos Santana featuring Rob Thomas smooth.
Akiva Schaffer: Yes, that's how I would do it. Not to tell you how to do your job. But that's more what was I thinking.
So there was no material in this project that you had to double check, that you were too nervous about?
Michael Bolton: No, I don't think so this time around. I think "Jack Sparrow" prepared me and also prepared my audience, my fans, because after Saturday Night Live aired...it was perfectly acceptable.
Akiva Schaffer: It's also very late at night.
Michael Bolton: After everybody got used to it, we saw three or four generations embracing it, I think they were ready to go to the next level. I wasn't quite ready for Sarah Silverman, which is perfect for my acting—sitting there and being kind of grossed out.
Akiva Schaffer: There's very little acting involved. For most of it, we would just put the camera in front of Michael and have comedians do disgusting things and just watch his reaction, and go, 'Oh we got it!'
Michael Bolton: We did. She definitely was the most...pushy.
Scott Aukerman: Also Eric Andre, I think. You can see a point where Michael starts to laugh at something Eric Andre did. I mean Eric basically came and had a structure, but improvised for half an hour just doing crazy stuff. I think we got to see a little bit, you can kind of see Michael break a little bit and smile. It was an interesting process. It was very much: let comedians come in and be funny in the way that they're funny and, you know, Michael is the glue holding it altogether.
Michael Bolton: There you go again with the glue.
So you didn't know necessarily what to expect from the other comedians and guests?
Michael Bolton: Not from everybody. And there was a little bit of improvising.
Akiva Schaffer: We did a table read that had about 80% of the show as a whole at that reading. But people show up, and you always want to riff and stuff.
Michael Bolton: I'm just sitting there knowing I was gonna have a man's head around my waist area, singing into my private parts.
Akiva Schaffer: That's Eric Andre.
But to your credit, you were game for it?
Michael Bolton: Oh yeah!
Akiva Schaffer: More than that, he loved it. He was like, 'More please. Can everyone do that?'
Scott Aukerman: He said, 'Daddy, may I call you daddy, may I have more?'
Akiva Schaffer: He just kept thanking us. 'Thank you for today, guys. Thank you so much, today was a dream come true.'
Scott Aukerman: I got a thank you card and a fresh booq (Note: their slang for 'bouquet') from Michael, just saying, 'Thank you for putting Eric Andre so close to my testicles.'
Michael Bolton: Honestly, I learned to trust, I really did. I learned the first time around to trust. And having them barking stuff out at me suddenly was phenomenal for "Jack Sparrow," and Scott yelling things over music, and whatever else was written, just suddenly coming up with an idea while we were still filming, and you just go into it. And a lot of that just turned out to be great. Very spontaneous, funny stuff.
In your everyday life do you ever sing to yourself about your normal activities—mowing the lawn, walking the dog, anything like that?
Michael Bolton: What is mow? Mowing the dog? Very violent. No, I do not sing.
Scott Aukerman: Do you ever go (sings with Bolton-esque aplomb), 'I'm going to get the mail now, I'm Michael Bolton.'
Michael Bolton: I've not done that.
Akiva Schaffer: Weird, I would do that all the time.
This could open up a new creative space for you.
Michael Bolton: And you could also find me some good help for self-exploration.
I want to run through a few quick questions before we're done. What's the most romantic song that's not already a Bolton classic?
Scott Aukerman: There's a song that I love, "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You," that I think is amazing.
Akiva Schaffer: That's like a deep album cut?
Scott Aukerman: Oh wait, you do sing that. It's hard to think of a song that's great that Michael hasn't sung.
Michael Bolton: Oh, I see what you just did. I get where you're trying to go. Wow. You know it's funny cause, I know we're kidding around of course, but I'm dead serious that "Nessun Dorma," a Puccini masterpiece, is life or death.
Akiva Schaffer: But you have sung that, he's saying a song that you haven't. I think one of his favorites is called "Pregnant Pussy." It's by UGK. That's a very romantic song, it's about how making love—
Scott Aukerman: UGK, of course, did the rap in "Big Pimpin'."
Akiva Schaffer: Yeah, sorry, you should say, Academy Award winning rap group UGK have a song called "Pregnant Pussy." And I think it kinda says what we've all been trying to say this whole time. It's very nice. I'm not making it up—you can go look it up. Put a link right in the article for people to go listen to "Pregnant Pussy." It's about, I mean I don't want to misquote...
We can embed, don't worry.
Scott Aukerman: We don't wanna spoil it, but it's right there in the title.
Akiva Schaffer: Let's just say, the pussy's hotter, it's got an extra kick, it's like sweet potato pie wrapped around your dick. And that's just one of the reasons to make love to a woman who's pregnant.
Michael Bolton: And I'm so surprised they didn't yell out that lyric for me to repeat...
Akiva Schaffer: Well, I can't plagiarize it. That's UGK, either Bun B or Pimp C doing their thing. So yeah, I encourage people to look up that song.
Michael Bolton: Serious enough answer for you?
Yeah that's definitely serious enough.
Scott Aukerman: These are the rapid fire questions right?
What are you guys doing for the real Valentine's Day?
Akiva Schaffer: Oh, real Valentine's Day. I have my honest answer, which is that I've planned nothing, and that my wife is going to be pretty stoked, probably, by whatever last minute reservation I can get—if I can find a babysitter. So, it might just be at home. But I wanna hit up Trader Joe's, pick up a classy booq of flowers, and whatever's left on Valentine's Day around 6:30 p.m. at the Trader's Joe. Or maybe the Chevron station near my house.
Scott Aukerman: I'm gonna have what I call 'sex.'
Michael Bolton: I gotta move [away from Scott]. Every time he says, 'what he calls sex' is...
Scott Aukerman: It's not what other people call sex.
Michael Bolton: It's a solo act, for sure.
It is a form of sex.
Michael Bolton: Sex with someone he loves.
Maybe the truest form of sex.
Scott Aukerman: That's right, exactly!
Akiva Schaffer: That's what I always say: now THIS is the truest form.
Michael Bolton: Let us know if this is going too deep for you.
This is just on the level I want to be. And what are you going to do for Valentine's Day?
Michael Bolton: I am not certain. Because I have a concert in Hawaii.
So you're going to perform, make other people's lives better—
Michael Bolton: At night I'm gonna be on stage for about 3 hours, or about 2 hours and change. And then a meet & greet.
Scott Aukerman: By the way, he spells it m-e-a-t.
Akiva Schaffer: They greet the meat, you know what I mean.
Scott Aukerman: Nice to meat you.
Michael Bolton: Nothing's sacred with these guys.
Akiva Schaffer: This is gonna be quiet a luau.
Michael Bolton: Thankfully for me, there's nothing sacred.
Akiva Schaffer: He'll probably smoke a little bit of the pakalolo.
Scott Aukerman: Maui wowie.
Akiva Schaffer: Just watch the waves crashing and see what happens.
Scott Aukerman: So if you're in Hawaii on Valentine's Day, and you just like go out there into the surf, Michael may be out there just raging, talking to the moon.
Michael Bolton: Or whale hunting
Scott Aukerman: Whale tail hunting.
Is Valentine's Day your favorite holiday?
Scott Aukerman: Say yes Michael, you're going to ruin this for us!
Michael Bolton: Well, this year for sure.
Akiva Schaffer: Otherwise what, Hitler's birthday?
Are you guys familiar with Hygge?
Scott Aukerman: Of course.
Michael Bolton: Is it like sideways yoga?
It's the Danish art of appreciating the ordinary.
Scott Aukerman: Yes, of course. I'm glad that you said it, for your reader, who obviously...
Yes, that's right, singular reader.
Michael Bolton: How do you pronounce it?
It's HUE-gah. It's spelled H-Y-G-G-E.
Scott Aukerman: Of course it is. Where are the umlauts my dear boy?
I don't know if there even is one.
Akiva Schaffer: It's the Danish art of appreciating the ordinary, of looking at like, oh look at this brick, it's beautiful. Like that?
It's because things are so depressing in terms of the weather much of the time, they've come up with this whole artistic—
Scott Aukerman: Like, way to trick their minds into thinking that they have good lives?
Akiva Schaffer: You're talking like Copenhagen?
Michael Bolton: Have you spent anytime there?
Akiva Schaffer: It's beautiful, and it's one of the happiest places, every time they do those happiness tests, it comes up as like the happiest place on Earth.
I think this is one of the big reasons why.
Scott Aukerman: Because of Hygge!
Akiva Schaffer: What's the name—Tivoli Gardens. You can find me there twice a year, like clockwork. You know what it is?
What is it?
Akiva Schaffer: It's based on Hans Christian Anderson's Copenhagen. Disneyland was based off it. It's an amusement park with a lot of weird old Danish animatronics. I don't know what year it was built but it's still of that time. So like, "It's a Small World After All," just picture that but even older than that, and just that. And there's games you can do that are more carnival style, where like you walk up and for a dollar they give you three baseballs and all it is a kitchen with tons of ceramic plates and vases and stuff, and you can't win. The game is just throw balls and break stuff. And that's the prize. There's nothing better to break or worse to break. There's no prize. You just want to break stuff. They're on to something with that.
Scott Aukerman: That's not bad. Hey can I ask you a question—why'd you bring up Hygge? [Entire room, including several publicists I was not even aware up to this point were in the room, start laughing]
That's a good question. It's partially because my editor said I should, because I guess she thought you guys might be familiar with it. And also we're just trying to understand it better, because it's blown up, there was a New Yorker piece on it recently.
Akiva Schaffer: Is it like, they might make a piece of art out of like that telephone. Just take that phone and put it into a case and be like, "Appreciate that this thing was made."
I feel like that could be an extrapolation of what it is. My understanding of it is that it's appreciating the mundane and the ordinary around you, so that you can find the beauty amidst a lot of chaos. I think in the face of Trump and a lot of things going on—
Scott Aukerman: WHOA. Hey, fuck you man.
Akiva Schaffer: You're talking to three Trumpers here.
Scott Aukerman: Get the fuck outta here.
Well my other question I was going to ask was if Trump had asked you to play the inauguration, what you would have said.
Michael Bolton: I was busy.
What if he moved it so that it was on your schedule?
[We are interrupted by a publicist telling us we have to wrap it up because we've gone nearly 10 minutes over schedule]
Michael Bolton: Oh shucks, I didn't get to answer that question. Just, as long nobody grabs our possums, we're fine.
Akiva Schaffer: I feel like I already practice Hygge.
Michael Bolton: I think it's a really great, really great concept.
Akiva Schaffer: It doesn't just have to be physical concepts, it could be like appreciating a bus ride.
Michael Bolton: That was as deep as we've gone today, in my opinion.
Scott Aukerman: I think your wife practices Hygge.
Well I'm happy to have brought it into your life.