It was fitting how Andy Samberg decided to leave Saturday Night Live. His castmate Kristen Wiig's departure had been talked about for months, the anticipation heightened by her Bridesmaids success and Oscar nomination, and she was given an unprecedented sendoff on the season's final episode to reflect her impact on the show. Meanwhile, Samberg (whose own exit had been rumored for a while) simply had a spokeswoman make an announcement a few weeks after season's end without much hoopla. In fact, it generated less buzz than whether Jason Sudeikis would come back to SNL. Despite his popularity and long run on the show—he was a cast member for seven seasons—Samberg always seemed a bit on the periphery. Yes, his digital shorts made him a star, earning him Grammy nominations and an Emmy win, but he didn't dominate the show like Wiig and Sudeikis did. Samberg just stayed in his own little corner and did his thing.
Next week, he's going to be starring in his biggest film to date, That's My Boy, and no doubt his people are hoping it'll help launch his movie career in a way that, say, Hot Rod didn't. But assuming it's a hit—which is no given, considering this is Adam Sandler's first mainstream R-rated comedy—what kind of post-SNL film star is Samberg going to be? I decided to stack him up against some different models of former SNL cast member types to figure out which is the most likely scenario.
The Chris Farley
SNL Type: Giddy, larger-than-life force of nature.
Is It a Good Fit for Samberg? Not at all. With the possible exception of his Blizzard Man rapper character, Samberg doesn't do over-the-top all that well. (Even when he's impersonating Nicolas Cage, he avoids the sort of manic, berserk behavior others would jump all over.) Plus, he doesn't have the amiable sweetness or rotundity that made Farley the heir to his idol, fellow SNL alum John Belushi. Samberg is just never going to be able to play the big, dumb, lovable idiot like Farley was. Let's move on.
The Eddie Murphy
SNL Type: Dangerous live-wire.
Is It a Good Fit for Samberg? The digital shorts allowed Samberg to try on many different guises, but most of them were along the lines of goofballs and fools. It's notable that his biggest digital short hits with his comedic/musical team the Lonely Island (which includes Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone) were "Lazy Sunday," "Dick in a Box," and "I'm on a Boat," which satirized hip-hop and R&B in dead-on but affectionate ways. Samberg could never be a Murphy, whose humor often butted up against social and racial faultlines, something SNL cast member Chris Rock would do as well. Of course, Murphy lost considerable edge as he became a Hollywood star, turning into that guy who shows up in really bad family comedies. Samberg has a better chance of becoming that Murphy than the one we all love.
The Robert Downey Jr.
SNL Type: The wild card.
Is It a Good Fit for Samberg? No one remembers it, but Downey was on SNL for one season, and he did impressions of folks like Paul Simon and George Michael. As for his film career, it really has been all over the map, moving from smart indies (Short Cuts) to Oscar-courting biopics (Chaplin) to his current role as super-big action star. Honestly, you really can't come up with a strategy to follow Downey Jr.'s career path, so it's best if Samberg forget all about this option ... although it is amusing to think about a future world in which Samberg is a Marvel superhero.
The Mike Myers
SNL Type: Master of impressions.
Is It a Good Fit for Samberg? If you're feeling uncharitable—and with Myers, I always am—you could say that his film stardom is built on three characters with funny accents: Midwestern teen metal-head (Wayne's World); horny British spy (Austin Powers); and gruff Scottish ogre (Shrek). Myers has the film career his Wayne's World costar Dana Carvey desperately wanted, playing one-note characters that consist of showy, mannered bits of theatricality. (Even when Myers was in Inglourious Basterds, he was doing an impression of a British officer from World War II movies.) Being on SNL required Samberg to do a ton of impressions, but he's no Bill Hader, who's made frighteningly accurate impressions of everyone from Al Pacino to Alan Alda his forte. But maybe this is a good thing for Samberg. Cast members who are known for their impressions—like Carvey or Billy Crystal—can sometimes struggle in their transition to film when they have to actually play a real person. Myers is the exception.
The Rob Schneider
SNL Type: Lecherous slimeball.
Is It a Good Fit for Samberg? Thank god, no. Even at the Lonely Island's crassest—say, the hilarious title track off its debut album, Incredibad—Samberg projects such sweetness that he never comes across as a creep. By comparison, Rob Schneider (or, on occasion, his SNL castmate David Spade) exuded all of the charm of a venereal disease in the Deuce Bigalow films. Part of Sandler's posse who consistently shows up in his films, Schneider always felt like that one embarrassing, uncouth friend you can't invite to polite gatherings. Samberg's too smart to stoop to stuff like The Hot Chick, right?
The Chevy Chase
SNL Type: Smart guy playing dumb.
Is It a Good Fit for Samberg? Chase made his name on SNL as the first cast member to jump to film. (Well, that and being the guy everybody else on the show seemed to hate.) In most of his roles, Chase tended toward the smug, perpetually wised-up type—a guy on the cusp of getting his comeuppance. Samberg was never much for playing the insufferable jerk. That's more the terrain of the next guy on this list.
The Will Ferrell
SNL Type: Overgrown, ironic frat-boy.
Is It a Good Fit for Samberg? Several current SNL cast members have built on the non-sequitur comic weirdness that Ferrell has helped popularize, particularly Wiig, but Samberg's digital shorts might be the best distillation of that style. (I'm not thinking about the song-centric shorts but, rather, enjoyable bizarre entries like "People Getting Punched Right Before Eating.") Samberg doesn't have Ferrell's outsized personality, which has helped make the fools at the center of Anchorman and Talladega Nights all the more appealing. But that could help distinguish Samberg. And while it's not great, Hot Rod did suggest that Samberg had an interest in absurdist comedy. Plus, Samberg has something of the everyman appeal that Ferrell has. The challenge for Samberg is that when Ferrell exited SNL, he really was the show's biggest star, which helped make his transition into film a bit easier. To a lot of people, Samberg is just "that 'Dick in a Box' guy." That's My Boy will boost his visibility, but who knows if that will end up being a good or bad thing. (Seriously, that film doesn't look so great.)
The Bill Murray
SNL Type: Comic's comic.
Is It a Good Fit for Samberg? Whenever Saturday Night Live eventually closes up shop, it's very possible that we'll look back and pick Bill Murray as the series's greatest star. He was terrific on the show, and he's had an impressively diverse film career, starring in big hits (Ghostbusters) and acclaimed indies (Lost in Translation, just about every Wes Anderson film). And of course, there's his aura as everyone's cool uncle, which was captured quite nicely in Scott Raab's recent Murray profile in Esquire. Murray's appeal goes beyond box office, awards, or the other ways that Hollywood measures such a thing. Samberg could aspire to such heights, but it seems unlikely he—or really, just about anyone else—will ever reach that peak.
The Adam Sandler
SNL Type: Goofy, lovable regular guy.
Is It a Good Fit for Samberg? Sandler has helped several of his buddies become film stars: Spade, Rock, Schneider, Nick Swardson, Kevin James. The fact that Samberg is going to be in next summer's Grown Ups 2 suggests that Sandler liked the kid enough on That's My Boy to bring him into the fold for this new film. But the truth is, Samberg and Sandler do have certain similarities. Samberg's SNL work might have been brainier than Sandler's, but they both possess that regular-schmo aura about them. (Plus, they both were good at combining music with comedy.) Sandler helped broaden his film appeal after doing guy-centric movies like Happy Gilmore by starring in the romantic comedy The Wedding Singer, which revealed his sweeter, sensitive side. Later this summer, Samberg will star in Celeste and Jesse Forever, an indie romantic comedy-drama with Rashida Jones that, while not as good as The Wedding Singer, does the same thing for him. Sandler's career has been a depressing descent into laziness—work like Punch-Drunk Love and Funny People are clearly aberrations—but his commercial success has stretched longer than any SNL star outside of Murphy, who's had far more peaks and valleys. Samberg has the right sort of juvenile spirit to be the next Sandler. But I hope he aims a little higher.
Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.