Standup for Drummers is Decidedly Off-beat

From Saturday Night Live to Portlandia, Fred Armisen finally gets his solo

Anyone expecting a pure standup set doesn’t realize that Fred Armisen marches to the beat of his own drum. The comedian is a multihyphenate of standup, characters, music. The neat trick in his debut special, Standup for Drummers, is the shockingly earnest blend of music and comedy without it being musical comedy.

First and foremost, Armisen is an impressionist. You can feel this chameleon try on different variations of what a special could be. The end results are uneven but Armisen has considerably more hits than misses. His early accents of the United States riff are certainly the high point. Toggling between accents like a DJ scratching, shows a deft, loose, yet expert touch. Looser impressions of drummers and band rehearsals give a clearer insight into a shifty shapeshifter.

Armisen’s standup game isn’t fully rounded but is a positive sign of things to come. Saying his approach is niche is an understatement. The target audience is niche among the niche. However, hitting a target so small is impressive given the degree of difficulty. Common setups feel new.

That being said, the actual setup to said jokes are rough. Coming straight out of the gate with an artform that isn’t your forte, shows confidence, but Armisen needs to keep the beat. The observational approach to how we live with music in our daily lives isn’t a set you haven’t heard before. Sadly, one can make a drinking game out of his “have you,” “don’t you” premise starters. I lost count at 10. His best joke, while amazing, was better told when Mitch Hedberg spiked the punchline.

The trajectory of jokes from purely observational to ever so slightly personal breaks up the monotony and even hits a stride. The pride in being a drummer, snare case in an airport terminal, “where does the kickdrum go?” That is the real Fred Armisen.

The cameos from Sheila E., Tre Cool, Stella Mozgowa, Mike Bordin, and J Mascis may supply whatever music credit Armisen thinks he needs, but it’s hardly necessary. He carried them all in the live sketches portion but there have been worse props used in the name of comedy. And that’s fine, but why not just keep focusing on the interpersonal band dynamics? Drumming through the decades was masturbatory. But opportunites to drum for a sold-out crowd is an opportunity that must be taken.

Standup for Drummers is a solid, if uneven debut for Armisen. The sooner this comedic chameleon learns that the most interesting person in his special is himself, the better.


JP Spence

JP Spence is a writer, screenwriter, and improviser living in Los Angeles. He previously served as the media critic for the Topanga Messenger and as Editor-In-Chief for the LA Valley Star. You can find Josh @JP_Spence on twitter or at any press screening.

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