Comedian Fred Armisen is best known for his years on Saturday Night Live, his eight seasons of surreal sketch comedy (with Carrie Brownstein) on Portlandia, and his unnerving command of regional accents and impressions. True fans also know that for much of his career he’s also been a musician, primarily a drummer, since college. Starting in high school, he’s been in various bands, including Trenchmouth, the Blue Man Group, and sometimes sitting in with Seth Meyers' house band.
So the above skit from SNL is fun because Armisen gets to indulge his love of punk music. It’s a basic set-up, a 40-something groom and his best buds “getting the band back together” to play one more song at a wedding. But here the band used to be a political punk band along the lines of Fear, The Dead Kennedys, and Suicidal Tendencies, and the anti-Reagan lyrics (you too, Alexander Haig, you fascist!) have been preserved in amber.
Like most SNL sketches it unfolds kind of how you expect (and just kinda…ends), but man, this must have been fun to shoot. And yes, that’s the Foo Fighters/Nirvana’s Dave Grohl on drums.
If that skit was a tribute to American punk, then this other one is a nod to the Sex Pistols and the steady rightward drift of John Lydon. Armisen plays lead singer Ian Rubbish (you know, of Ian Rubbish and the Bizarros) whose lyrics decry and attack everything…except for Margaret Thatcher. The Queen? She’s useless (and other words we can’t write on Open Culture), but Maggie? Ian has a soft spot.
This 2013 skit came shortly after Thatcher died and Americans were treated to videos of some Britons (not all, but *a lot*) celebrating her death much as you would the death of Hitler or Mussolini. Goodbye, good riddance, and let me know where she’s located so we can pee on her grave. That sorta thing. And if that’s where you’re at, you might find the turn this sketch takes a bit too nice. But kudos to ex-Pistol Steve Jones for turning up and doing the Rutles-like thing. There’s even a nice parody of the infamous Bill Grundy interview.
(Bonus info: Ian Rubbish and the Bizarros played some actual shows.)
Armisen had another crack, by the way, at the reunion joke. In Season 8 of Portlandia, the “Band Reunion” skit brought together Henry Rollins (Black Flag), Krist Novoselic (Nirvana), and Brendan Canty (Fugazi) to bring back Armisen’s character’s band “Riot Spray” and record one more time. (Brownstein only figures a bit in the skit, but her reaction is priceless). The humor is just a little bit more mellow, a bit more empathetic, and hurts just that little bit more.
Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.