It’s funny-and not funny haha-to note how the writer’s strike, far from being some esoteric rift in a peripheral nook of society, has hit us where we live. Last week, the annual It Starts with the Script screenwriter’s panel discussion at the film festival was ixnayed. Closer to our own homes, Saturday Night Live fans-especially those of us who find it to be the only must-watch show on the tube-have been despondent and deprived as of late.
Of course, this is an end-run, backstory way to say “thanks, Fred Armisen, for the memories.” Armisen, the master impressionist, conceptualist, and absurdist of the current SNL cast, has found that without a rigorous weekly schedule to keep, he’s free to travel and gig. And on Tuesday night he stopped in for a rare nightclub appearance in the cool new spot in town, Stateside.
It came as no surprise that the offbeat, concept-driven Armisen’s appearance here was anything but standard standup comedy. He wasn’t interested in punching the punch-line time clock with his show, instead choosing to work outside the box of his beloved SNL characters (such as the wacky, timbale-playing Venezuelan comic who punctuates his lame jokes with a sad “ole mio,” then the madly grinning kicker, “I’n just keeeding!”).
At Stateside, his opening act, the raw and ripe comic Chelsea Peretti, introduced Armisen in one of his SNL roles, as our man Saddam Hussein. Fair enough, we thought, here comes an SNL bit, brought to a nightclub down the block. But the innately musical comic-he’s a decent guitarist and drummer-upped the ante by strapping on a Telecaster, peeling off some Who-ish chords, and then improvising a shtick with a British rocker patois.
Taking off the Saddam stubble and persona, Armisen showed more of his impressionist skills, from Dr. Drew’s authoritative psycho-banter to Forest Whitaker’s face. He put the onstage drum kit to good use, showing off a long list of drummer impressions-both facially and stylistically-including Ringo, Meg White, John Bonham, Max Weinberg, and, most hilariously, “the guy who thinks he can play the drums, but so cannot.”
Saving the best for last, he returned to the guitar and launched into a version of that Beatles classic “Blackbird,” sliding up and down the fret board in all the wrong places and making a most god-awful, dissonant butchery of the earnest McCartney ditty. Like most of Armisen’s best work, a simple idea, delivered with a straight face, results in the stuff of comic genius. Let’s hope he opts to visit our tourist town again, strike permitting.