Comedy Central has struck gold with Digman!, its upcoming adult animated adventure comedy series created by Andy Samberg and Neil Campbell. Digman! appears at first glance to be a blend of Indiana Jones and Andy Samberg’s iconic SNL Nicolas Cage impression, and while those sources were certainly mined for the series, viewers are quickly transported into the unique world Samberg and Campbell have created. The world of Digman! is also populated by a winning cast of characters and a stunning list of guest talent that includes Jane Lynch, Daniel Radcliffe, and more.
Digman! is also the first series created from the ground up by Samberg and Campbell. The pair have a strong working relationship, however, as they previously collaborated on the beloved comedy series Brooklyn Nine-Nine. In Digman!, the pair have created a hilarious world in which archeologists are top celebrities, and have used the endless possibilities provided by animation to make the most of the concept. As over-the-top as the show itself is, the writing team has also done an excellent job rounding out its protagonist Rip Digman (Samberg), so much so that the inevitable comparisons to Nic Cage and Indiana Jones quickly take a backseat to the audience’s investment in Digman himself.
Andy Samberg and Neil Campbell spoke with Screen Rant about creating the world of Digman!, guest stars they’d like to see on the show, and the Nic Cage of it all.
Andy Samberg and Neil Campbell on Digman!
Screen Rant: How did this idea come together? Were you looking for a vehicle for Andy’s amazing Nic Cage voice, or did that come after the concept and the character?
Andy Samberg: It was kind of all at once. We had talked about how it would be fun for me to be able to do a character that was sort of based on that so that I wasn’t spending my whole life doing an impression of another person, especially because he had come on SNL and done it with me. It felt like this beautiful full-circle closure moment. It was also just Neil and I working together on Brooklyn Nine-Nine and wanting to do something together that was super joke heavy. We kept veering towards adult animation because we were such fans of it and because we knew we could push things even further in that realm.
Neil Campbell: And sometimes, just standing on the set of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, you’re like, “It would be funny if we could do this, but we just can’t because of standards, or budget, or physical production.” [We thought] it would be nice to get an animated show, where you go, “It’d be funny if we could do this, and we can!”
As much as you both have done, this is kind of a bigger step in a way, right? You’re creating, and producing, and writing, and showrunning this thing. How has that experience been, and have there been a lot of surprises along the way?
Andy Samberg: It’s a lot of work, which we knew it would be.
Neil Campbell: We explained [the situation] to people as we were meeting with producers and directors and stuff, and we have a great line producer, great producers, [and a] great director Mike Mayfield, who knew this is our first real foray into this process from start to finish. They had some patience with us, and they guided us through, and sort of let us know like, “No, you can still change something here,” or, “If you want to change something, now’s the time where you’re not going to have many more opportunities.” We learned a lot about the process, but we had an awesome staff who really kind of guided us through it and knew that’s what we needed.
Andy Samberg: Yeah, and we’re doing it with Titmouse. Obviously they have a ton of experience making super rad stuff, so we were set up to do something good, I think.
Obviously, you’re taking inspiration from Indiana Jones, but you both point to it in the funniest ways and expand on it. These archeologists are the celebrities of this world. What’s it like to both draw inspiration from something like Indiana Jones and then build your own world around it?
Andy Samberg: I think when we hatched that part of it was when we felt actually confident that we had a show that we felt was worth making. “Oh, what if the whole universe of this is a world where archeologists are huge celebrities?” That, all of a sudden, opened it up to so many new ideas where it suddenly became beyond, like, “Oh, we have this funny character study and a few meta jokes.” [They’re jokes] that I like, and are addressing elephants in the room, but when we cracked the thing about the world being populated by archie celebrities, that was when I think we were like, “That feels like it’s its own thing, and that’s our show.”
Neil Campbell: We’d honestly probably been talking for a couple of years, even, about what characters can be, and what jokes could be, and what Rip Digman would be like. Then, once we landed on that, we were like, “This really starts to feel like a whole world to explore in a show now.” That’s when we really got into outlining the pilot more. We wrote the whole thing before we pitched it, so it was just purely like, “Here’s the show we want to make. This is something new.”
Andy Samberg: Not to brag, but we wrote it on spec.
Andy, you mentioned you wanted to do more than an impression with this, but did you have any moment of “Maybe I should run this by Nic Cage,” or “I wonder what he’ll think about this?”
Andy Samberg: I don’t know. I feel like he’s such an entity. Even with [the] movie he just did, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, you [know] he’s already in on his own lore. So, I didn’t think of it in that sense.
The thing that I did want to stay really aware of and make sure that we did was make this feel like its own thing, and expand that world, and bring in other characters, and not have it feel like we’re making it actually about him, because it’s not.
When he came on SNL, he even said a thing which actually was very astute, which was that I’m not actually playing him. I’m actually playing a psychotic character that me and my friend Rob Klein came up with. That was almost a lightbulb moment of, like, “Right, I want to keep playing that character; I don’t want to keep just doing an impression.” There’s definitely some intermingling, just the way the voice sounds, obviously. But I also think even that starts to change and evolve as the series goes on.
Neil, I know you’ve been a huge contributor to the UCB improv scene. Is there something specific about your background in improv that you think helps you when you’re writing, or producing, or running a show?
Neil Campbell: I used to be the artistic director of the UCB Theatre in Los Angeles, like, during Obama’s first term. I think doing stuff like that, you work with a bunch of different comedians, and there are people [who] just make you laugh. Sometimes it’s someone who is coming up in classes, and sometimes you’re having, like, Adam Sandler test out his character’s material for Funny People or something at the theater. Or, you know, [you’d have] Will Ferrell test out a show we did on Broadway; the Bush show. You get all levels, and you just try to treat everyone with respect and learn how to talk with everybody, and how to get the most out of it. I’m just sitting in the background when the big guys are there, but [I was] working with people coming up, and I would direct a lot of shows.
I think it would help [me in], as we were working with writers, just making sure people get their ideas out, and that we’re hearing them. We hired them because we know they’re super funny, and we want to hear what they think is funny about an idea, and not just bulldoze people. Then, [it’s the same when actors are] getting in the booth, too. Andy and Mitra would record together at times, improvising and coming up with stuff that isn’t just on the page, and being loose and free with things when [possible]. That was really fun.
How much do you think changes when you get in the booth, and start recording with people and feeding off that energy?
Andy Samberg: It changes episode to episode. Part of the fun of this for me is, since I am playing the main character, we can keep changing it the entire way through the post process. You write the script, the scripts all come in super funny, and then, as Neil said, we’re kind of learning about what does and doesn’t play in an animated setting. Sometimes, things that are funny on the page aren’t working for some reason, and it’s as simple as us going like, “Well, what do we want it to be?” Then we try like ten new ideas, and audition them, and listen to them with a still frame and an animatic, and then we go, like, “Oh, no, that’s funny. That’s the one. That’ll work.” You can keep chipping away at it, basically.
That’s something I’ve had experience with [in] working with Akiva (Schaffer) on Rescue Rangers, and even when we made Popstar, because there are so many phone videos that he takes for social media. It’s so nice and freeing to have a format that you can just keep writing all the way through, and hopefully get it to a place where, by the time it’s done, you’re happy with all the moments.
Neil Campbell: [It’s similar with] the animators and our director, too. As the voice of the show gets established, and they’re part of that collaboration, they’re adding [so much]. There are moments that I’m thinking about right now that were not on the page at all. Or [there moments where] even just the way they animated the acting really makes me laugh.
Your principal cast is amazing, and you have this incredible list of guest performers. When you’re writing characters, are you doing so with specific actors in mind?
Andy Samberg: Obviously primary cast, yes. [Laughs] It varies, right, Neil? Sometimes we’re like, “Someone like…” and then you ask them first.
Neil Campbell: Exactly. Yeah. I think at a certain point writing, like, Jane Lynch’s character, we were like, “Jane Lynch would be so funny doing this.” [It was the] same with Daniel Radcliffe for his character, and so there’s stuff like that where you’re like, “I hope they would do it. I think they’d be so funny doing it,” and hopefully, they agree. There was a little bit of that, but it would evolve. It wasn’t always like, “Here’s the voice, now let’s craft a character around it.” As the character emerged in the outlining and the writing, [you would] have a dream performer in your mind.
And is there someone that maybe you didn’t get this time, or somebody that you really want to reach out to when season two rolls around?
Andy Samberg: I know Neil has one.
Neil Campbell: Daniel Day-Lewis. We’ve got to get Day-Lewis out of retirement for this show.
Andy Samberg: We’re dangling the carrot.
Neil Campbell: He can do any character he wants. We’ll come up with a big Archie for him. And Andy has a good one, too.
Andy Samberg: I’m trying to peer pressure Kate Winslet into doing it, because I did a movie with her and she kept pretending like she wanted to do it. She was like, “I’m funny. I could be in it.” I’m like, “Okay. I’l call you,” and she was like, “I’ll do it! I’ll do it!” I was like, “You’re not gonna do it.”
You can get Daniel Day-Lewis to be Sean Connery’s character from Last Crusade.
Neil Campbell: Exactly. We haven’t met Rip’s family yet, so –
Andy Samberg: We’re only gonna put people in from this point that have won Best Actor.
Neil Campbell: Multiple times.
Andy Samberg: Multiple times, yeah.
When we started talking, you mentioned packing this show full of jokes. Something that I noticed that you do I think uniquely well is, every joke you set up is paid off two or three times in different ways. How much work is it in the writer’s room to build something that’s not only hilarious immediately, but then also more and more rewarding as the show goes on?
Neil Campbell: Part of that is the editing, because there were probably some jokes that we thought would get called back a few times, then maybe they didn’t make it in at all. Or they come in once, and then the callback is like, “That was sort of diminishing returns, let’s just stick with the one time.” The ones that do come back, or get called back, are the ones [where] we felt like each time we added something new, or [put] a new spin to them, and we’re not just replaying the same joke. But yeah, it’s a lot of trial and error.
You two have the shared history of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Melissa Fumero is on this from that show. Does it make it easier for you guys to write these characters, having those relationships already? This may be more for Neil, because Andy, you’re writing for yourself, too.
Andy Samberg: I mean, we’re writing for everyone. I’ll say [for] some of them, too… I’ve watched so much of Tim Robinson, but I’ve never written for him until now. We produce I Think You Should Leave, I’ve seen every second of that, I’ve loved him on SNL [and] Detroiters. So, when you sit down and you’re like, “Okay, Tim Robinson is playing Super,” there’s no, like, “How would Super say this?” The same goes for (Tim) Meadows.
We’re very blessed that we have a real comedy cast. There’s no question how Guz (Khan) is going to crush a joke. There’s no question how Mitra is going to crush a joke. Dale (Soules) – her voice is so specific, and so funny. It makes it really easy that you can already hear them in your head when you sit down to write, and to have that right out of the gate on a show is really lucky.
Neil Campbell: A lot of that was like, before the show began, before we recorded anybody, we kind of go, “Well, what makes this character funny? Is there a thing? Do they need to always sort of talk about this topic? Do they do this?” Once you start recording with people, [for example], Dale just says a line, maybe this particular type of line, and then you just go, like, “Oh, what do I want to hear her saying?” That helps create the character more than just coming up with their biography or something.
The half-hour animated series Digman! is set in a world where archaeologists are massive celebrities and the coolest people on the planet, with Andy Samberg providing the voice of the protagonist, Rip Digman. In addition to the previously announced principal cast, the show will feature guest performances from Clancy Brown, Andy Daly, Cole Escola, Harvey Guillén, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, Marc Evan Jackson, Rachel Kaly, Kerri Kenney, Lauren Lapkus, Jane Lynch, Mike Mitchell, Kyle Mooney, Claudia O’Doherty, Lennon Parham, Daniel Radcliffe, Maya Rudolph, Paul Rust, Jason Schwartzman, Carl Tart, Joe Lo Truglio, and Edgar Wright.
Digman! premieres March 22nd on Comedy Central.