By Rob Brunner,
Entertainment Weekly - 11/7/02
Meet ''SNL'''s latest breakout star -- Fred Armisen, indie-rocker
turned comedian, is already making his mark on the late-night
show with characters like Fericito
know that annoying friend who couldn't stop saying ''You look
mahvelous'' back in the '80s? Well, if he suddenly starts screaming
''I'm jus' keeding!'' you can blame Fred Armisen. Just a few
weeks into his first season as a featured player on ''Saturday
Night Live,'' the 35-year-old former rock musician (he spent
eight years behind post-punk band Trenchmouth's drum kit) is
already cranking out catchphrases as the timbale-tapping Venezuelan
''nightclub comedian'' Fericito, an over-the-top blend of Tito
Puente and ''The Simpsons''' Bumblebee Man.
Armisen's comedy career began
almost by chance during the 1998 South by Southwest music conference
in Austin, where he was a temporary drummer with the Waco Brothers.
''I really thought I was going to be bored,'' says Armisen. ''The
daily seminars [are] just so laughably funny, I was like, 'I've
gotta bring a camera and goof around with people.' I had no intention
of turning it into anything big. I just wanted to make a tape.''
The resulting short film, ''Fred
Armisen's Guide to Music and SXSW,'' features Armisen playing
various unlikely interviewers (one deaf, one German, one a Hofstra
University student) as they cluelessly quiz conference attendees
like Janeane Garofalo and Pavement's Bob Nastanovich. ''I struggled
so much being in a band,'' Armisen says. ''But as soon as I did
this tape I got a piece written about me in the Chicago Reader.''
Word-of-mouth buzz earned him gigs screening the short as an
opening act for rock bands. ''I'd get paid like $100 or $200,
which was as much as with Trenchmouth. That's when it dawned
on me: I don't have to load in all my drums. I just have to load
in a videotape. There was no looking back.''
Doors flew open. An appearance
at the Chicago Comedy Festival led to a recurring spot on ''Late
Night With Conan O'Brien'' (as an amusingly unhelpful self-defense
instructor); HBO tapped him as a correspondent for its ''Reverb''
music show; and Wilco's Jeff Tweedy asked Armisen to open some
dates on an acoustic tour, which led to a funny cameo in the
Wilco documentary ''I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.''
It didn't take long for ''SNL''
to call. ''At the risk of sounding corny, it's, like, the highest
aspiration I've ever had,'' says Armisen. ''I've never felt so
much like I'm putting my brain to good use.'' So will he have
any pull when it comes to booking ''SNL'''s musical guests? ''Yes,
I'm working on getting Shellac and the Mekons.'' Sorry, indie-rock
fans: Jus' keeding.