On December 16, 2006, Saturday Night Live aired a digital short starring guest host Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg, who, tricked out as ’90s-style R&B singers, serenaded their ladies about a unique Christmas surprise: ”A gift real special, so take off the top/ Take a look inside — it’s my d— in a box.” The music video spoof quickly became a viral sensation, and even won a statue for Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics at the Sept. 8 Creative Arts Emmy Awards. Here, Timberlake and Samberg tell EW senior writer Clark Collis how the idea for ”D— in a Box” came about.
JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE: I think that a lot of times when people host Saturday Night Live, they got talked into it by the studio to promote some romantic comedy or whatever. And you can tell when people are tired and don’t feel like it. But the first time I hosted Saturday Night Live [in October 2003] I didn’t have anything else to do. They just asked. I came up with all these ideas. I think at first they were kind of like, ”Huh?” They were thrown off a bit. And then it went really well. I just had fun. I was really into it.
ANDY SAMBERG: Justin was born to do Saturday Night Live. I think he’s in the same league as Alec Baldwin or Steve Martin or Tom Hanks ? hosts who could have been cast members. The talent is there and the enthusiasm is the other half if it. And it’s infectious with the cast and the writers. When somebody shows up and you can tell they’re excited to be there and they’re putting their all into it, it makes everyone else a lot more excited. He’s easy to write for. Because he’s got charm and ability ? with the acting ? but he also has comic timing. And then, when you start throwing singing into the mix it’s, like, oh man, you can make the dumbest joke sounds great. And he has no problem looking like an ass. None whatsoever. It’s amazing how self-aware he is, for all the success he’s had.
TIMBERLAKE: When I came back to host again I said to Andy, ”I think I’m going to urge you to do a digital short again.”
SAMBERG: Since ”Lazy Sunday” we’re ever aware, subconsciously, that it’s a possibility a digital short could blow up on the Internet.
TIMBERLAKE: We started thinking of what we could do. And we came up with, Well, what if we did an R&B song, circa ‘91? They came up with ”D— in a Box.”
SAMBERG: I work with these two other guys, Akiva [Schaffer] and Jorma [Taccone]. I think it was Jorma who said, ”What about giving a gift where you take off the top and your d—‘s through a hole?” And we said, yes! Justin was down on the floor blocking and I came down and was, like, ”Okay, here’s the idea.” He didn’t even blink. He was just, like, ”Yes! That’s the one! We’re doing that!” He had no qualms. No, no, no, no. That dude is ready to mess around. He’s a silly man. We wrote out most of the lyrics and I came up with an idea of the melody. But once we started recording, Justin completely took the reins and kind of schooled us and made it a much, much better song. The dude is a hitmaker, that’s what he does. But you don’t really understand until you’re in the room with him and he’s just really effortlessly ripping through takes over and over again with perfect consistency. I feel like Color Me Badd has been brought up more [as an inspiration] just because we were doing early ’90s R&B and we’re white. But, to be totally honest, we were drawing a lot on Jodeci and R Kelly ? with significantly less alleged urination. We got up really early and shot the first half Friday morning and I guess we started shooting again at 10 or 11 at night and shot til 1 or 2.
TIMBERLAKE: I knew that it was going to be well received on the show because we were laughing when we were making it. We had trouble shooting it. There were so many takes where we were just cracking up. You realize how ridiculous you look and you just start cracking up. I remember Andy on set saying, ”No, we need bigger boxes!” I’ve noticed that people laugh before we get to the punchline at the end of the chorus because we just look ridiculous. But I didn’t know it was going to become this huge Internet file-sharing phenomenon.
SAMBERG: ”This one was able to take off even more [than ”Lazy Sunday”] because NBC posted it themselves on YouTube. ”Lazy Sunday” was the first time something had really gotten a lot of attention and everyone was, like, Oh my God, it was watched over 5 million times! But 6 million people-plus watch the show, so that’s not really that impressive. But this one is going and going.
TIMBERLAKE: Guys in fake beards and weird wigs and ‘90-era short double-breasted suits with herringbone chains. It’s just funny!