Saturday Night Live
Musician/comedian/actor Fred Armisen, a former member of the early 1990s Chicago-based post-punk band Trenchmouth and ex-drummer for the infamous Blue Man Group's off-Broadway in Chicago, is widely recognized as a cast member (2002-Present) on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” in which he is remembered for his infamous catchphrase, “I am just keeeding,” while playing such characters as Billy Smith, Fericito, Gabe Fisher, Gunther Kelly, Mackey, Noony Schoener, and impersonating Prince, Steve Jobs and Tony Danza, among others. The German, Japanese, and Venezuelan descendant performer, who voiced Chip Douglas (2003-2004) on Comedy Central’s prank calls reality show “Crank Yankers,” also appeared in films like Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004), Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo (2005), Tenacious D in 'The Pick of Destiny' (2006) and Deck the Halls (2006). Additionally, the 5’ 9” tall actor has wrapped up his upcoming film projects: Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters (voice) and Quebec.
Childhood and Family:
Of German, Japanese, and Venezuelan descent, Fred Armisen, nicknamed “Army,” was born on December 4, 1966, in Valley Stream, Long Island, New York. He studied film at the School of Visual Arts, in Manhattan, but dropped out to join the early 1990s punk band, Trenchmouth.
Fred was married and later divorced from Sally Timms. He also lived in Los Angeles for a while.
“I love Los Angeles. I mean that for real. But I like them both the same. L.A. and New York are very similar to me, even though they're opposites. They seem just as extreme as each other. I don't know what it is, but I love the privacy of Los Angeles. I love driving in your car, listening to music. It's like a bubble. I like the showbiz history of it, because I feel like it's really American. When people say that L.A. doesn't have a culture, I think it really does, a very old culture and very specific. There's streets named after entertainers and statues of entertainers and it's great. Entertainment is still art, even if it makes billions of dollars. So it's like a city built on entertainment and art in a way.” Fred Armisen
Playing drums at the age of 10, Fred Armisen left the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan and joined the early 1990s Chicago-based post-punk band Trenchmouth. He recalled, “At the time, I wanted to be on TV somehow. For some reason, I always thought it would be an indirect route. I didn't know that it would be comedy and Saturday Night Live. I just wanted to do something with performing that would lead me there. So, I guess the answer is yes and no. Yes, I wanted to be on TV eventually, no, I had no idea it was going to be comedy. I loved comedy. Who doesn't love comedy? Everyone in my band did. We were all really into it. Everyone in Trenchmouth, in a way, I thought that any of us could have been comedians. They were all so funny. We just always joked around. But the things that meant a lot to me at the time were definitely comedians: Andy Kaufman, stuff like that.”
Afterward, Armisen moved on to play drums for the infamous Blue Man Group's off-Broadway in Chicago. He revealed, “Well, what they got to do seemed like a lot of fun. It was really physical and they got to interact with the audience more, and that seemed really cool to me. But I loved drumming for it. That was like the first showbiz job I ever had where I got a paycheck, so I loved it. I did it for two years.”
In 1997, Armisen toured with David Shouse of The Grifters' sideband, Those Bastard Souls, which also featured The Flaming Lips' Steven Drozd. The following year, he transitioned to comedy with the underground 20-minute comedy film Guide to Music and South by Southwest, which he wrote, directed and starred in. Being asked about the reason why he made the video in the first place, Armisen explained, “Just boredom. I had to go to this thing to perform and they had this booklet of all the seminars they were going to have there, and they were so, just, music biz-y, ‘How To Make It,’ ‘How to Get Your Song On The Radio.’ For some reason I had a reaction to it. I mean, there's no formula. I thought, ‘What am I going to do?’ So I just bought a video camera, did a bunch of stuff. And the timing was just right. I think at the time, too, I was just highly not-succeeding at music. Trenchmouth... we did okay, but there were a lot of other bands that were doing way better than us and I wanted it. I wanted to be successful. So at the time, I hate to paint it this way, but I was a little frustrated. Getting that camera was a little bit of an act of anger.”
1999 saw Armisen make his first appearance as an interviewer in the critically-acclaimed weekly HBO music television series “Reverb” and then appear as a featured performer on the series “Fred,” which aired on HBO Zone. Subsequently, in 2002, he appeared in the Wilco documentary by first-time filmmaker and award-winning photographer Sam Jones, I Am Trying To Break Your Heart. After this, he began doing stand-up comedy.
“It's like a 24-hour schedule. We come in on Monday and all the writers and performers sit in this office and pitch our ideas to Lorne (Michaels) and the host. Then Monday night, we write a little bit. Then on Tuesday, we all write all day and all night, through 6 in the morning, 8 in the morning. Write, write, write, write. Wednesday, around 2 in the afternoon, we have a table-read with all the scripts, everything everyone's written, with the host right there. We go through it all. And that lasts 'til 8 o'clock at night or something. And from that, they choose which sketches they're gonna do. And, Thursday rehearse, Friday rehearse, Saturday dress-rehearsal, then the show. The whole time, you're rewriting and rehearsing, rewriting and rehearsing. So it's really intensive work, but really good work, because nothing is set in stone. Every day, things change as to what's funny and what's not funny. You just have to be thinking all the time.” Fred Armisen on his “Saturday Night Life” days
2002 also marked Armisen’s breakout year when he became a featured player on NBC's weekly late night 90-minute comedy-variety show “Saturday Night Live,” the longest-running network entertainment program in American television history. And in the 2004 season, he was promoted to a repertory cast member. During his long stint in the show (Armisen is still working for the show as of 2007), Armisen became widely remembered for his catchphrase, “I am just keeeding,” while playing such characters as Billy Smith, Fericito, Gabe Fisher, Gunther Kelly, Mackey, Noony Schoener, and impersonating Prince, Steve Jobs and Tony Danza.
“Prince is my favorite ever. I've liked Prince since... It's been a really long time. Even in junior high. I used to only like punk for a while and I had all these rules for what kinds of groups were cool and who was not cool, but as soon as I saw this one Prince video... It just broke all those rules. I was like, ‘I love this no matter what.’ It didn't fit into all the wearing black and camouflage and stuff, but I was like, 'This is amazing.'… I like the way they (Steve Jobs) design their computers and stuff. I've been watching a lot of his keynote speeches, where he introduces a new product, and they're fascinating in a way. It's kind of a show. He has his computer set up and he has this huge screen behind him, and it's a cool little show. I respect that... I've met Tony Danza. He was really nice. And he looks... I feel like he hasn't aged. He looks exactly the same. He's just Tony Danza. He's exactly the same as he's always been. But he was actually really psyched about it. Other than that, I don't know. I'd love to meet one of the two remaining Beatles, somehow. We'll see.” Fred Armisen on his impressions of Prince, Steve Jobs and Tony Danza
Meanwhile, Armisen lent his voice to the character of Chip Douglas (2003-2004), a Mexican immigrant who is perpetually building a house, on Comedy Central’s prank calls reality show “Crank Yankers.” He also appeared in the comedy Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, alongside Will Ferrell, Steve Carell and Paul Rudd, with whom he shared an MTV Movie Award nomination for Best Musical Performance (for “Afternoon Delight”).
Next, Armisen was cast as a creepy Italian guy in Jeff Schaffer's comedy film Eurotrip (2004; starring Scott Mechlowicz, Jacob Pitts, Michelle Trachtenberg and Travis Wester) and had an unaccredited role in Mike Bigelow's comedy Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo (2005; starring Rob Schneider), the sequel to the 1999 film Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo. He also appeared in Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny (2006; alongside Jack Black and Kyle Gass), directed by musician and puppeteer Liam Lynch, and in John Whitesell's family comedy film Deck the Halls (2006; with Danny DeVito, Matthew Broderick, Kristin Chenoweth and Kristin Davis), playing a European neighbor named Gustave.
Armisen has completed his upcoming film project, Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters, an animated film based on the Adult Swim subversive animated series “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” in which he voiced the character of Time Lincoln. The film is set to be released on April 13, 2007. He also has wrapped up writer-director Steve Conrad's upcoming comedy film about two grocery store managers, Quebec, alongside John C. Reilly and Seann William Scott. It is scheduled for a May 11, 2007, release. As of 2007, Armisen continues to star on “Saturday Night Live.”
Meanwhile, Armisen has maintained substantial ties with music. He directed the music video “Don't Look Away” for the band The Helio Sequence and appeared in video segments on Blue Man Group's How to Be a Megastar Tour 2.0.