Moontower 2014, Day 4: Fred Armisen
There are those who like to tear down James Franco for being “Mr. Everything.” If that’s a fair descriptor, then Fred Armisen – actor, writer, producer, director, singer/musician, voice actor, master impressionist, and comedian – is “Mr. Vice-Everything.”
Only the Portlandia co-creator and co-star and former SNL mainstay doesn’t peeve a slice of the public like Franco seems to. Well, it turns out that being a big sweetheart can still make you a lot of friends in this world.
For all that went on during Armisen’s unique appearance at the Paramount Theatre on the final night of the 2014 Moontower Comedy and Oddity Festival, it was clear that most on hand left with a warm and fuzzy affection for the bespectacled and rather soft-spoken 47 year old.
But the night began with a surly British Invasion from anarchistic UK punk rocker Ian Rubbish (one of Armisen’s most memorable characters during his 12 seasons at SNL). Classic anti-establishment missives in the vein of the Sex Pistols, like “Hey Policeman” and “Livin’ in the Gutter, demanded to be reckoned with right out of the gate – the former repeating, “Hey, policeman! My boot goes in your face!” like Joe Strummer at his most rabid. In between songs, Rubbish prattled on with infectiously loopy English charm about his recent discovery that Stephen F. Austin was the world’s first vegetarian.
Given the breadth of Armisen’s artistic range – which, surprisingly, includes performing the voice of Speedy Gonzalez on Cartoon Network’s The Looney Tunes Show – it was difficult to anticipate what kind of event he’d have in store. But seeing as he became the bandleader for Late Night With Seth Meyers in February and that his punk rock roots stretch back to the Eighties, it wasn't surprising that the theme of the night was music.
So after Rubbish’s rockin’ cameo to kick things off, Armisen rolled out a bit of stand-up on the subjects of jazz – does anyone really like this stuff? – and how doo-wop was probably once thought to be totally hardcore. But with a perfectly good trap kit sitting empty behind him, Armisen (who is really fantastic on the skins) pounded out impressions of Ringo Starr and Keith Moon at the audience’s request, then mimicked a run-of-the-mill jazz drummer by softly dabbing away at the ride cymbal.
In many ways, it felt like we’d been welcomed into Armisen’s basement circa 1988. And by the time the lengthy audience Q&A had hit “E” and the house-lights signaled show’s end, everyone in the cavernous old room must have felt like the house guest of a most kind and gracious host.
The stage right aisle was packed with fire-code violators sitting and waiting to inch toward Armisen for some often literal face time. The buzzword “selfie” pounded in the collective mind like a steadfast tribal drum as most asked for pictures. One enterprising young lady asked for Armisen’s hand in marriage, however, and another asked him to record her voicemail greeting. He obliged everyone (being wed to the girl in spirit at least), was astoundingly polite and endearing, and had a warm and thoughtful answer to every question.
In many ways, what Fred Armisen delivered was less a comedy show and more of a meet-and-greet set to kick-ass punk music. Now, how cool is that?