Armisen brings laughs, music to Underground Arts

Fred Armisen says each show is different.
Fred Armisen says each show is different. (DONALD BOWERS / Getty Images)
Posted: November 15, 2013

Saturday Night Live, NBC's long-running comic showcase, sheds its skin every few years, along with cast members.

In the most recent shedding, before the current season, SNL lost Fred Armisen, who - with "special musical guest Ian Rubbish" - comes to Underground Arts Thursday night for a solo show.

With SNL since 2002, Armisen, 46, created oddball characters such as Venezuelan nightclub host Fericito, unfunny Native American comedian Billy Smith - and Rubbish, a politically perverse '70s/'80s punk guitarist.

He also crafted a dizzying array of on-target impersonations, from Barack Obama to Martin Scorsese, to say nothing of Prince, an impression bolstered by Armisen's background as a drummer. (He played for the Blue Man Group and '90s punks Trenchmouth.)

Now there's more time to devote to Portlandia - the IFC cult comedy show he cowrites with fellow musician/comic Carrie Brownstein - and for live solo shows.

"Besides, nobody ever really leaves" the old show, says Armisen from, yes, Portland, Ore. "I'm still close with my friends from SNL." And he watches on TV. "I love it. I watch every episode. I love trying to guess who wrote what. The new cast members are so great, like, laugh-out-loud funny."

Armisen still works with legendary SNL producer Lorne Michaels, executive producer of Portlandia. Birthed with Brownstein in 2011, the show has been renewed for a fourth and fifth season.

He admires Michaels ("He's incredible, so intuitive and smart. The best eye for this kind of show") and his vibe with Brownstein and director Jonathan Krisel.

"We have the same goals, I think," Armisen says. "We want the sketches to be a certain way, so that makes it easier to shoot. It's kind of telepathic. Plus, Carrie's so funny, always great in every scene, and a brilliant writer."

He and she have a long-running comic twosome called ThunderAnt. Their comic hits are on

He won't give away any of Portlandia's fourth season, or the names of any guest stars: "We just cast the sketches with who we think will be funny and who we like hanging out with." Mostly, he's been gearing up for solo live shows - this will be one of his first. His last few outings have been with Brownstein for Portlandia-based stage shows.

Tonight's show won't exactly be a free-for-all, but it might include film clips, Armisen as himself, some DJing (he's been doing DJ gigs of late), a Q-and-A, and live music.

"Every show is different," Armisen says. "I want it to be like we are all hanging out.

"One of the things that I have had in my head recently that I like talking about is how we all listen to music," Armisen says. "I might play some songs I've done on SNL. I'll have a special guest with me too, one of the greatest guitar players ever. Ever!"

That "guitarist" is none other than the leather-clad Rubbish, a holdover of the old-school British punk scene who caught his fans' ire by writing songs supporting Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

Armisen says he likes doing characters like Rubbish from his SNL days because they're fun.

So is the music.

Armisen says he values his days as a punk-rock drummer and that scene's DIY vibe in general: "It's always a part of what I do. It'll always be there."


Fred Armisen

7:30 p.m. Thursday at Underground Arts, 1200 Callowhill St., with Ian Rubbish.

Tickets: $25.


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