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Inside the wide, wild world of Fred Armisen




Fred Armisen plays a traveling salesman in
Fred Armisen plays a traveling salesman in "Globesman," a parody of the Frederick Wiseman film, "Salesman," on IFC's "Documentary Now!"
Elizabeth Morris/IFC
Fred Armisen plays a traveling salesman in
Fred Armisen plays a David Byrne-like character in "Final Transmission," a parody of the Talking Heads film, "Stop Making Sense," on IFC's "Documentary Now!"
Jordin Althaus/IFC
Fred Armisen plays a traveling salesman in
Fred Armisen, right, plays the son of a picky Colombian chef in "Juan Likes Rice & Chicken," a parody of "Jiro Dreams of Sushi," on IFC's "Documentary Now!"
Beatrice Aguirre Zuniga


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Fred Armisen may very well be the hardest working man in show business.

He co-created and co-stars  in “Portlandia” — currently shooting its seventh season — and “Documentary Now!,” the parody series currently in its second season on the IFC cable channel; he’s involved with "Más Mejor" — a web channel that’s an incubator for Latino talent; and with all of his free time, he’s the bandleader for “Late Night with Seth Meyers.”

One thing Armisen says he's learned is that the best comedy almost always comes from taking a leap and being willing to fail:

It's kind of fun to see things fall apart and not work. You bond with the person you're with, and also — as corny as it sounds — you learn from it.

The Frame's John Horn recently spoke with Armisen, and the conversation started with the comic actor saying the seventh season of “Portlandia” would likely not be its last. He also tells us why he'd like to be called "Little Freddy Armisen."

To hear the full conversation, click the play button at the top of the page. 

Interview Highlights:

On the similarities between how "Portlandia" and "Documentary Now!" got started:

They're a little different in that "Portlandia" — the references are to real-life relationships, pop culture, food and art. And then "Documentary Now!" — the genesis or the catalyst for those episodes is style. We purposefully say, Okay, we need a black-and-white documentary from the '50s. We need one from the '20s. We need a music one. So it's a slight difference, but one is more based on the methods of doing things and "Portlandia" is more about interpersonal relationships. 

On the influence of his Venezuelan mother and seeking Latino talent through "Más Mejor":

It had a huge impact on my life. She's an immigrant. I learned to speak Spanish because of her and her family. I got to go to Venezuela numerous times. We lived in Brazil for a little while, so I got to have a South American experience growing up, which ... did help me learn about accents and different cultures — just to have in my arsenal of things to do.

I try to find new talent. And to go and see another comedian — that is just the best. I want to feel like there's a future. I want to feel like there are people I can work with who I've never met. I still want to be ...  I hate the word inspired. I wish there was another word we can invent ... Change-spired! 

On spoofing the Talking Heads' "Stop Making Sense" in the current season of "Documentary Now!":

Our training at [Saturday Night Live] is one where we trust ourselves that we never really make fun of anybody. It's so clear that it's done out of love. And it was so easy to do this one because, if there's anyone that I ever emulated in my life — you know, I've always wanted to be David Byrne. I really did used to live for Talking Heads.  

So, every season with "Documentary Now!," we try to do a music episode. Bill Hader [said], Why don't we do "Stop Making Sense," but where the band grows so much that you can't even keep track of who's in the band anymore? Instant pitch. It was like, Oh, that's exactly what we're going to do. We bring Indonesian musicians out and they're out there playing bells and there's a million of them. We wanted it to look really crowded. And we did it. We did it as a real concert. 

"Documentary Now!" airs Wednesday nights on IFC; "Portlandia" returns in January. To get more content like this, get The Frame's podcast on iTunes.



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