Q&A: Fred Armisen
Updated: Oct 8, 2021
You probably know him from SNL, Portlandia, or HBO's Los Espookys -- Drummer. Actor. Comedian. Incredibly nice guy -- Fred Armisen!
You come from a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural background: does your taste in food reflect that? Do you enjoy cooking? If so, what’s your favorite meal to cook?
It kind of doesn’t in that we grew up eating all kinds of food. American, Japanese, Brazilian, Italian, etc. I don’t really cook. A little here and there. Mostly just breakfast. I can’t think of a good example of what I like to cook. It’s more perfunctory.
When I was eight years old, I watched Nirvana live on SNL, and I think I knew then that I wanted to play music. Did that ever happen to you growing up?
Oh my god, yes. Blondie on SNL (Clem Burke on drums), Devo on Fridays. Talking Heads on David Letterman. The Specials on SNL.
At least once a month, my wife and I will randomly say, “Hey, Cool Cat! I’m going to smoke a cigarette!” Did you write the “I Did it in My Style: The Story of Frank Sinatra” sketch? Is Aki Hanenrud based on someone you’ve encountered in real life?
I did write that. It was just something I have always enjoyed. Europeans trying their best to do an accurate American accent. I like hearing how they hear it.
I’ve heard a lot about the stressful late-night writing sessions at SNL. Was there a ritual meal, or snack, that helped get you through those long nights?
The late-night writing sessions went so late, way into the next day. I tried to make my environment cold. My office was barely decorated and had no windows. It helped me concentrate. When I wrote with other writers in their offices, I really enjoyed that. I remember a lot of laughing. Snacks I had to re-think because I discovered that sweets made me feel sleepier. I thought it would do the opposite. I craved them but had to stop. Especially chocolate.
Your fake punk band, Crisis of Conformity, might be one of my favorite things you’ve ever done. What made you do it? And did you really record all of the parts yourself? Will we ever get more CoC?!
The single for Fist Fight is all me. It was easy to record. Three instruments and vocals. Thanks about that. The sketch was a love letter to my high school days.
See also: Punk Band Reunion at the Wedding (SNL)
You’ve said you approach comedy with a drummer’s mindset — after all, comedy is all about timing — is it the same with writing? Or with cooking?
Writing for me is less from a drummer’s mindset. That one is from a doing homework mindset. I just want it to already be on the page, but then I have to actually do it. For cooking, it’s from a drummer’s mindset because it’s all circles. Pan, plate, stove burner, etc. They look like a drum kit from above.
If someone wants to start writing or performing, what advice do you have — if any?
My advice is to give yourself room to not be great. It’s okay to stumble while you’re trying to make something. Keep making lots of content. Be around people who make you laugh. Or who inspire you to keep going.
Top 5 influential-to-you albums:
Computer World - Kraftwerk
Sign O’The Times - Prince
The Hot Rock - Sleater Kinney
Ram - Paul and Linda McCartney
Strawberries - The Damned
Have you ever had Cincinnati-style Chili? If so, what did you think?
I have not had that chili. Someday? I’m guessing it’s great.
What’s next? Where can my three readers see or hear you? Will there be another season of Moonbase 8? Congrats on your success with Los Espookys, by the way.
Thank you! I worked on a show in December. Something for Apple TV. A few other fun things here and there. I always try to stay busy.
If I could add one final question: what is it about old school punks, yourself included, that make you respond to weirdos like me? Is it some DIY ethos thing? I’ve reached out to a lot of folks for interviews, and I’ve had the best luck with punks. Why is that?
It’s the coolest club.
Punk rock forever.
Oh, and for that list, of course:
Zen Arcade - Hüsker Dü
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