“Sandy Passage,” wherein Fred Armisen and Bill Hader satirize the Maysles brothers’ Grey Gardens, from Documentary Now!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: “Authentic. Loving. Celebratory. Time-specific.” That’s how Fred Armisen describes Documentary Now!, an IFC comedy (debuting Aug. 20) that spoofs and pays tribute to the genre with a six-episode showcase of mockumentaries about fictitious historical subjects (often rooted in real life), each unspooled in a different filmmaking style. Armisen and Bill Hader star in each half-hour doc while serving as creator/executive producer/writers alongside fellow SNL vet Seth Meyers. The SNL connection extends to another executive producer (Lorne Michaels) as well as the show’s directors (Rhys Thomas and Alex Buono). And it was on that sketch show that the seeds for Documentary Now! were planted—specifically with “Ian Rubbish and the Bizzaros: History of Punk,” a faux doc about a British punk band starring Armisen and Hader. “IFC had always liked the Ian Rubbish thing and originally approached us about doing more of his story,” says “Rubbish” writer Meyers. “But we were really happy with how that had been a piece, and we didn’t really know anything more we wanted to say about Ian, whereas exploring other things like that was more interesting to us.” And this show shares a similar comedy aesthetic with “Ian Rubbish.” “There really is no big joke in Ian Rubbish, “ says Armisen, “and that’s where we came from—where this isn’t a total punchline to any of it.” Hader, meanwhile, enjoyed trying on a series of disparate characters with his SNL co-star outside of their usual sketch playground. “It was fun for me and Fred because we never viewed it as more of a sketch show,” he says. “They were totally separate short films, but we get to play characters that have an A, B, and C story rather than a quick sketch character. There are sketches that are pretty over the top in it, but it was nice to get to play something over a full episode.” MORE
VULTURE: I didn’t decide to join Late Night With Seth Meyers as his bandleader. […] It was Lorne Michaels’s idea. I had finished SNL, and they were trying different things out for Seth’s band. Maybe it was going to be a DJ, maybe it was going to be nothing — and then Lorne Michaels had this idea. He knew I was busy doing Portlandia, but he had this idea, and I really liked it. It keeps me at NBC, it keeps me close to Seth and my friends, and it also gives me an opportunity to put punks together. So, when I started, I looked at how other people did it: Questlove, the guys from Conan’s band, and the legendary Paul Shaffer. Every time I talk to Paul, I see his whole history, like this waterfall. I’m like, “Oh my God. There’s this, this, this, and this.” His roots come from the perfect mix of comedy and music. He was such a huge part of Saturday Night Live and Lorne Michaels’s world. He was part of Godspell in Toronto, he knew Gilda Radner and the rest of that incredible cast, and he was part of that pre-SNL Toronto comedy world. What a great place to come from. He was with Bill Murray in the “Nick the Lounge Singer” sketch. He had the right taste to put the Blues Brothers band together. Anyone who was a key player in Spinal Tap is automatically put in the highest stratosphere of comedic and music history. He’s legitimately a funny, funny person. He makes other people look and sound funny. That’s a person I’d want to spend time with and listen to music with and play music with. It made total sense that he ended up on David Letterman’s show. MORE
Everyone knows (and loves) funnyman Fred Armisen from Portlandia and SNL but few know how he got there. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, kid. How do you get to Portlandia? Trenchmouth. MAGNET goes to 30 Rock to walk a mile in the wing tips of The Nicest Man In Show Business and untangle his punk rock roots
By Jonathan Valania
“Do you have Questlove’s cellphone number?” Beyonce’s drummer asks nobody in particular. She twists around from her perch in the front seat of a black Escalade that NBC has sent to ferry us from a downtown Manhattan rehearsal studio to the storied Art Deco tower of power that is 30 Rock, and looks around to her bandmates in The 8G Band seated in the rows behind her — keyboardist Eli Janney, formerly of indie heartthrobs Girls Vs Boys; bassist Syd Butler and guitarist Seth Jabour, both formerly of indie iconoclasts Les Savy Fav; guitarist/bandleader Fred Armisen, formerly of Trenchmouth and SNL and currently Portlandia.
Everyone but Fred Armisen gives her that ‘How the fuck would I have Questlove’s phone number?’ look. You know that look. You probably give that look a hundred times a day without even thinking about it. We all do. But not Fred Armisen. Fred Armisen actually has Questlove’s phone number. Fred Armisen, as I will learn over the course of the coming weeks, has EVERYONE’s number. He shoots her a look that is half sheepish, half inquisitive and then asks her the question he already knows the answer to: “Yeah, do you want it?”
“Uh, yeah,” says Beyonce’s drummer (real name: Kimberly Thompson), who is, just to be clear, also The G8 Band’s drummer. “He just Instagrammed me and told me to call him.” Fred pulls out his iPhone and texts her the Roots’ drummers digits and..the elite circle of show biz connectivity remains unbroken and, as it must, the show goes on.
When we get to 30 Rock, the band rides the elevator up to the 8th floor, disembarks at Studio 8G, and after an hour in hair, make-up and wardrobe, takes up their positions on the bandstand of the set of Late Night With Seth Meyers. By now it’s 5 PM on the first Thursday of April and dress rehearsal for tonight’s taping has just gotten under way. They work through the songs that will score the arrival and departure of tonight’s sundry guests: a clear-eyed Bob Costas who will, upon his departure, walk over to Fred and do that prayer-handed Buddhist bow that signifies respect and due deference in show biz; a delightfully dastardly Steve Coogan, who will roll a disturbingly funny clip from the Alan Partridge film he has come to plug in which, long story short, he winds up naked with his junk tucked between his legs like Buffalo Bill in Silence Of The Lambs; and the exotic animal wrangling Kratt Brothers who have come bearing a Burmese python, a kangaroo and a lemur, all of which will slither, jump, strangle, crawl and possibly defecate all over Seth, as is the tradition established a long time ago in a basic cable galaxy far, far away by Johnny Carson, the Obi-Wan Kenobi of American Talk Shows.
When rehearsal wraps, the studio audience is ushered to their seats and after the standard off-camera warm-up/pep talk from a stand-up comedian, the taping of the 27th episode of the first, but hopefully not last, season of Late Night With Seth Meyers begins. Fred and The 8G Band launch into the show’s opening nouveau New Wave-esque theme song over a jittery montage of Manhattan twinkling after dark — taxi cabs! neon signs! people on sidewalks! — as the announcer blurts out tonight’s guests in that stereotypical stentorian talk show announcer cadence before introducing the man of the hour, smart aleck-y fallen preppie, looks-like-the-guy-who-took-your-sister-to-the-prom Seth Meyers who makes his entrance to the deafening cheers of APPLAUSE-sign-triggered Midwestern tourist adulation.
The first thing you notice about Seth Meyers — in person and stripped of SNL’s Weekend Update desk and dressed as he is tonight in a fitted, slim-cut, two-button, two-piece charcoal suit — is that he has thicker thighs than you would expect from a man so petite from the waist up. Dude has quads the size of Easter hams, an anatomical fact that will surely serve him well in a job that is all about standing up and sitting down and standing up again. All day, every day. As per the unshakeable dictates of talk show orthodoxy, he monologues, somewhat mirthlessly it should be noted, on the newsmakers of the nano-moment: Putin, Blackberry, Beyonce. Then he tosses it over to Fred and The 8G Band who launch into one of those strummy, cymbals-sizzling interstitial rave-ups that mark every transition in the stations of the talk show cross as Meyers takes a seat behind the desk.
At this point in the show Seth and Fred do a recurring sketch called Fred Talks, their take on the obligatory talk show host/band leader banter — you know, Johnny to Doc, Dave to Paul, Jimmy to Questlove — which invariably involves and incredulous Seth calling bullshit on some ludicrous claim that he’s allegedly overheard Fred making backstage. Seth informs Fred that he’s done some asking around and some Googling and it turns out the following things that Fred has told him all week during this segment are patently false: Fred did NOT open a theme park in Arizona called Clayland, nor did he invent a ‘hot new dessert’ called Water Indulgence, i.e. a bowl of water, nor did he open a new spa that is basically a miniaturized version of the suburbs of Chicago, which is somehow ‘very calming’ and restorative. Fred just smiles serenely, untroubled by this intrusion of fact-based, objective reality — as if to say he’s used to it, he gets this all the time — because, after all, he is the hard-earned beneficiary of the New Normal in show biz, which is this: When all good 40something indie-rockers die, they go to Late Night Talk Show Band heaven.
Plus, he has tickets to see Kraftwerk tonight. MORE