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SXSW 2013: Fred Armisen on SXSW, “Out There” and “Portlandia”

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“This is Fred Armisen. I’m in a car right now with Melissa Locker. ” Thus started our chat with “Portlandia” star, writer and creator Fred Armisen who we cornered at SXSW 2013. We were going to talk about SXSW and his work on “Portlandia” and “Out There,” but Fred quickly took control of the interview and used it as a platform to cast unfair aspersions at one of IFC’s lovely and kind publicists. Please note, he was kidding and none of it is true. Comedians, man.

Hi Fred, you haven’t been to SXSW since …

1998

Were you sort of nervous about coming back or excited?

Excited really. I really liked it back then and I have very vivid memories of how nice it was. So yeah I’m excited! If I had more time I’d go look at more stuff, but I’ll take it. I’ll take this little time.

If you liked it so much, how come you didn’t come for 12 years?

There’s a very black and white answer in that every time I’ve wanted to go, it’s been a SNL week. Every single year, it’s been like, ‘oh maybe this would be a good year to go’ and then I always have to work. For some reason the timing worked out this year so I could go. And I’ve been on the show 11 years so that’s it.

Right, because the SXSW tape was your starting point.

Yeah, that tape was my entry point into comedy, into the life I have now. It was definitely my starting point.

Is this in some ways a victory lap?

A little bit. It’s funny, because when I came to SXSW originally I had this attitude that was very cynical. I was going to make fun of the idea that you had to come to a music festival to make it in music. There were all these panel discussions and I was like, what? I was kind of upset about how my music career had gone. But ironically it actually was the place I had to come to be successful, for lack of a better word. There’s success in everything even you haven’t quote-unquote made it. In my book, in the way that I see things, I really did have to come to Austin.

What are you going to do now that you’re back?

Well, Hallie, who is one of the publicists at IFC is very sadistic and I said to her, “I would like to walk around and do stuff,” and she said, “No, I am setting up back-to-back interviews.” I was like, “Well, it would be nice to walk around and do stuff.” And she was like, “NO. I’ve worked my whole life trying to get your show on the air.” And I was like, “You didn’t put my show on the air! You do publicity!” And she said, “You don’t even know how IFC works!” So I said, “I do know how IFC works! You don’t have the right to do that!” So she said, “Well if you’re not going to do anything then I’m not going.” So I said, “I want you to go to Austin, I want you to go and enjoy it.” And she was like, “Thank you.” and crying a little and I said, “Don’t cry!” and she said, “I’m not crying about you, I’m crying about other stuff in my life.” And I was like, “Okay okay let’s just go do these interviews.” And she said, “One of them is with Melissa Locker,” and I said “That’s fine. That’s good. I’ll do that.”

So what you’re going to do in Austin is back-to-back interviews.

Yes, back-to-back interviews.

Because Hallie made you.

The thing with Hallie I think is that it’s more about how she wants to be connected to me. I get that a lot actually. People want to be connected to me.

This is why you’re not on Facebook or Twitter, because your friend requests would be overwhelming.

That is one of the reasons. The other reason is that I can’t find it online.

Yes, Facebook is extremely hard to find online.

I’ve Googled it but then …nothing.

You were at the Prince tribute concert at Carnegie Hall the other night.

Yes, there were actually a couple of them. There was a sort of rehearsal for the show and then an actual show.

Rumor has it that Prince is going to be performing this Saturday for the first time ever at SXSW

Really?

So are you going to stay now?

God, how strong is the rumor?

Very strong. He’s reportedly going to be playing with a 22-piece backing band.

God, wow. You know they said he was going to be at the Carnegie Hall thing, they said he was going to be at the after-party and he wasn’t, which is what I like about him, that he’s a mystery. I’ve seen him a bunch of times and he’s amazing. He’s just amazing.

Have you met him?

Briefly at SNL. You know I’m always a Prince fan.

You are providing the voice of Terry on “Out There.” What has that been like?

That has been really really fun because they showed me what he looked like first and it was kind of like he had this hippie look to him instead of the stereotypical Latino character. Which I think is a good version of someone who is Latino. There are a bunch of people in the Southwest who are hippies as well as Latino. It’s been really fun and I go to the recording studio and they kind of guide me along. I’ve been watching it recently and I’m really happy with the way it all came out. They put a lot of love into it and that’s really cool. It’s just such a nice optimistic show and I’m really psyched about it. Then they asked me to voice a teacher and I did that too. It’s just the kind of stuff that I love to do.

Voice over work?

Yeah, there’s something very gratifying about doing a little bit of work and then everybody does the rest of the work. All the voices, all the animation.

So, you like getting the credit for other people’s work?

Yeah, it’s cool. It’s been really great. I think it’s nice that there is no cynicism on “Out There”

Because Portlandia isn’t cynical.

No, it’s not. And I think it’s kind of a nice thing for IFC where there is this kind of vibe where there isn’t very much anger. And I know Marc Maron seems that way, but he’s actually an optimist. He would never say that, but there’s something about Marc Maron that is really optimistic.

“Out There” is obviously based in high school, so what was your high school experience like?

High school was really good! I grew up in Long Island, in Valley Stream and it was really nice. We had physically a really nice school, good teachers. I had a good time with my friends. We were a bunch of weirdos. I was really into punk. We were close enough to New York City that we got to go to the City all the time. I had a really good time.

Did you have one high school experience that was awkward?

There was one junior high school experience, where we were given an assignment to write about what we would do if it was the last day on Earth. Everyone was writing about how they would go visit their grandma and I was like, ‘that is SO lame!” I don’t know if I was trying to be funny or what, but I said that I would go to the main street in Valley Stream and smash all the windows and light the buildings on fire. When you’re 14 or 15, that’s how teenagers think! But they sent me to the school psychologist and it sucked because my mother got worried and I had to do all these tests. They were these written tests and they made me feel crazy because I was alone taking these tests while class was going on. So that was sort of traumatic, but in retrospect it was the first time I started getting like studio notes on the work I was doing.

Want the latest news on IFC’s happenings at SXSW? Check the schedule here. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @IFCsxsw

Photo credit: Rebecca Brenneman/IFC

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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