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The Music Man

Fred Armisen’s 15 Best Musical Moments

Portlandia Fred Armisen Band

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Thanks to Saturday Night Live and Portlandia, Fred Armisen has become one of the most influential comedians working today. But he started out on a very different path. When Fred dropped out of New York’s School of Visual Arts in 1988, it wasn’t to join Second City, or hit the stand-up circuit. No, he left to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a musician.

While his career has clearly evolved in unexpected ways, Fred’s never left his musical side behind. Here is a look at some of the most formative, and important musical moments of his varied career.

15. Trenchmouth

Fred Armisen first became known as the drummer for this post-hardcore band out of Chicago in the early 90s. While popular, Armisen saw too many other bands pass them by, and left to pursue other things in 1996.


14. Blue Man Group

Armisen credits Blue Man Group for giving him that first check as a professional musician. He toured with them for two years, but as a drummer. He never actually “blue himself,” in the immortal words of Tobias Funke.


13. Fred Armisen’s Guide to Music and South by Southwest

In 1998 Fred traveled to the South by Southwest Festival, recording a travelogue as he went. While his comedy was still in its infancy here, the variety of eccentric characters he inhabits made for a memorable video. This is probably the moment he transitioned from a funny musician to a comedian who can play the drums.


12. Chevelle’s Point #1 

Armisen knack for characters pop up again in this “electronic press kit” for alternative metal band Chevelle’s debut album, Point #1. Fred can be seen making legendary record producer Steve Albini vaguely uncomfortable while interviewing him in character. These bits soon turned into a career of comedy characters for HBO Zone and Bob Odenkirk’s sketch comedy show Next!


11. Saturday Night Live

Once cast on SNL, Armisen made music and musicians an integral part of his comedy. From Fericito, to Joshua Rainhorn, to Giuseppe, many of his best-loved bits showed off his musical skills. When he finally called it quits, his last sketch paid tribute to the punk rock he grew up listening to, with the help of rock stars such as Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, Aimee Mann and his Portlandia pal Carrie Brownstein.


10. Les Savy Fav

Indie rock band Les Savy Fav had Armisen play drums on the group’s fourth album, “Let’s Stay Friends.” A number of the band’s members later went on to join Fred’s 8G Band on Late Night with Seth Meyers.


9. Jens Hannemann

Armisen’s love of drums and comedy exploded into one another in the form of Jens Hannemann. After becoming obsessed with the bizarre subgenre of educational DVDs, he created this alternate persona. Hannemann, with an indeterminate foreign accent, offers bizarre, virtually impossible to follow drumming instructions in a handful of videos, including “Fred Armisen Presents: Jens Hannemann Complicated Drumming Technique.” Armisen also briefly joined Joanna Newsom’s 2010 tour in character.


8. Crisis Of Conformity, “Fist Fight!”

In 2010, Armisen took part in a sketch about a fictional ’80s hardcore band reuniting at a wedding. Soon thereafter, a 7-inch for the Crisis of Conformity song “Fist Fight” suddenly appeared in indie label Drag City’s catalog, as if it had been there all along. Armisen called the surprise “a love letter to [his] teenage years.”


7. Portlandia

It makes sense that Armisen found a comedy soulmate in Carrie Brownstein. Reminding him of the funny musician he once was, they teamed up to transcend both labels with IFC’s Portlandia. Mocking and celebrating the grass fed, fair trade, earlobe stretching world we now find ourselves in, they declared their thesis statement with a now famous song.

6. Rockstar friends

Portlandia quickly became the destination for the underground music scene. Johnny Marr had to use a bicycle valet, Aimee Mann became a maid and Eddie Vedder got an Ani DiFranco tattoo.

Aimee Mann Portlandia


5. The Tonight Show Drum-Off

Not content to stick to Late Night, Armisen stopped by The Tonight Show to promote his expansive series of projects and engage in a drum off with Roots bandleader Questlove.


4. Kings of Leon

In 2013, Fred made a series of short videos for Amex Unstaged starring Kings of Leon. In them, he awkwardly surprises the band, mocks drummer Nathan Followill, and has them race to see who is truly the King of the Kings of Leon. He then “directed” a concert of theirs in London, offering suggestions through a live feed on the other side of the world.


3. Late Night with Seth Meyers Bandleader

At no point since his early days as a struggling musician has music played such an important part in Fred’s career. In 2014, he became bandleader of the 8G Band on Late Night with Seth Meyers.


2. Sleater-Kinney

Comedy partner Carrie Brownstein released a new album with her acclaimed band Sleater-Kinney in 2015, and jokingly revealed that Fred now considers himself a part of the band. Here he stars in the video for their latest single.


1.  SNL cameo 

Finally, Fred brought it all full circle. Returning to Saturday Night Live this past January, he survived a Whiplashing from JK Simmons, and showed he’s still knows how to bang those buckets.

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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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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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