Career Corner: Career Tips from The Lonely Island’s Jorma Taccone
November 18, 2022
Student Takeover: This month Lisa Wong ‘25 (Broadcast Journalism and Documentary major and Visual Journalism/Chinese minors) attended Art Professor Lia Halloran’s conversation with The Lonely Island’s Jorma Taccone on creativity. Listening to Jorma’s career advice and getting the chance to interview him gave Lisa insight on starting a creative career. Lisa shared what she took away from Jorma’s talk.
We had an opportunity to host Jorma Taccone, a producer, director, actor, and author to discuss his career and creativity experiences. He discussed the start of his career, his time at Saturday Night Live (SNL), and the grand opportunities that sprouted along the way to where he is now. Here are the highlights of my biggest career takeaways from his talk.
Takeaway 1: Build a community with colleagues who have similar goals
Taccone is one-third of the Emmy award winning comedy trio, The Lonely Island. Its counterparts include Akiva Schaffer and Andy Samberg. The three met each other in middle school in Berkeley, California, and stayed connected throughout college. During his time at UCLA, Jorma studied theater and made stylistic short films. Schaffer and Samberg also accumulated their own film reels during their undergrad years at other universities. While watching each others’ projects when they reunited, the group realized they all loved filmmaking and comedy. Deciding to team up and stick together, they moved to Los Angeles with ultimate goals to make a movie and a television show. In his talk, Taccone emphasized how he and his friends reminded each other of their visions all throughout the different stages in their careers.
During their time in LA, the trio supported themselves by working temporary jobs to consistently make short films, sketches, and comedic hip hop inspired music videos. Since their start, The Lonely Island has been recognized for their music career, gaining a Grammy nomination, winning an Emmy, performing at The Oscars, and racking up millions of supporters. The trio also fulfilled their goals of creating a movie, with Hot Rod and Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, along with several other projects. In the midst of an industry susceptible to the game of comparison, he emphasized the importance of finding a supportive community just as he did in the world of comedy production. Keeping a strong network of people to work with on various endeavors has allowed him to accumulate connections with talented cinematographers, writers, actors, and other creatives.
Takeaway 2: Think outside the box: what can make you stand out?
When the trio formed, they took advantage of the start of the digital age by making a personal website (aptly named the lonely island) and sent VHS tapes with their content to production companies, eventually landing industry jobs. Deciding to keep sticking together, Taccone and Schaffer joined SNL as writers and Samberg in the cast. They continued doing what they’d always done, making content inspired by their niche comedy style. “Our goal was to do stuff for us. [We wanted to] write something and shoot it ourselves, edit it ourselves. We didn’t take the normal writers’ path. We wanted to make our own stuff. We need each other,” Taccone explained. Their low-budget and at times spontaneous shorts contrasted the other highly polished segments in SNL broadcasts. This distinction made their work stand out, and with the dawn of the digital age, audiences discovered a way to share these digital shorts through YouTube. Lazy Sunday is often credited as one of the first viral videos to draw attention to YouTube, establishing it as the premier online media sharing platform.
Sophomore screenwriting major and sociology minor Madie Manalo shares her admiration for The Lonely Island’s confidence in their personal visions that have led them to break into the industry, “I admire how unapologetic every single thing they make is, and the courage that comes along with that. It’s easy to get pulled under the current of just making projects that fill a quota, but if you’re able to stay true to your voice and create something that ends up successful, it’s all the more rewarding– and I believe The Lonely Island have been able to do that.,” she noted.
Takeaway 3: Remember your goals
Throughout his career, Taccone continued to reach into creative endeavors with producing and directing projects such as MacGruber, a movie extension of the viral SNL skits. Now obtaining secure status and a steady footing in the industry, with dozens of experiences under his belt, Taccone encouraged young filmmakers and creatives to find their focus. To be able to remind yourself of what you want to focus on in a field where there’s so much going on all at once is vital. Taccone left students with an important note to stay true to your vision, and to remind yourself of them often.
It’s easy to second guess your role in content creation and filmmaking, questioning whether or not your work is valuable. But, continue to stick to what you’re passionate about, work on them, and flesh it out. Surround yourself with people who inspire you, work well with you, and keep you grounded. And, if what you want to do hasn’t been done before, pave your own way. Taccone summed it up well, “If people can’t see the vision, just do it…and lean on each other.”