Skip to main content

tv   Overheard With Evan Smith  WHUT  April 30, 2013 8:30am-9:00am EDT

8:30 am
i'm evan smith, this is overheard. [music]. >> fred armisen, welcome. >> thank you for having me. >> thanks for being here. 11 seasons on snl puts you among the longest tenured people. >> yeah. >> i think daryl hammond and seth myers may be in the history of the show the only people to be in the cast longer than you. >> well, i haven't looked at how long people have been there. but that sounds about right. >> did you ever think when you started that this was something that you would do for this long? >> actually, yeah. i remember when -- when i first got the job, i thought
8:31 am
i want to last for a while here. because i love saturday night live, i've always been a fan of the show and i really wanted to just be there a while and really just get into it. >> because burnout, of course, is always a risk. then there are times over the history of the show where people have been plucked away to go do movies or tv shows, they thought well this was the spring board for me. this really seems like the place you want to be. >> i feel very lucky, i feel very fortunate. it's a big deal to me. i'm excited still when i go there and -- and it's just a -- you know, it's not just a show, it's everything around it. like i get to work with writers who are like the funniest people that i have ever met. these other cast members. it's, you know, it's a dream. it's always a dream. >> i've heard you say it before, goes all the way back to your childhood, your mother was a fan of the show. >> she -- i used to watch her watching chevy chase. it really made an impression on me. she would just be like i remember will her saying, she's from venezual, that
8:32 am
chevy chase, so funny, you just have to look at his face, you don't have to do anything. [laughter]. she was right. he was on this past weekend i had my mom come to the show. >> so she could actually get to see him. >> it was like a nice thing in life. like i want that to happen. it's almost like walking into my tv. i have always been a fan of the show. >> i was thinking especially i also happened to see this weekend, a lot of the people who have been regular hosts over the years, the point of this whole sketch at the beginning, was people who have hosted the show more than five times, steve martin, alec baldwin, martin short, chevy chase, to be part of that group of the people who have lived through the history of that show has to be amazing, for a fan of comedy and this entertainment. >> non-stop, always amazing, even to her dan akroid's voice in the studio, so resonant.
8:33 am
it's just -- -- amazing. >> we talked before where he started taping about contact terse that you did back that you did in your career as a musician. seems like you have always done characters all of your life because your time on this show it's just one character after another character. some of them impressions, some original characters. when do you remember earliest starting to do contact terse. >> i used to do impressions for people like for my dad and mom. >> just to make them laugh. >> we had people in the neighborhood who were kind of -- one gentleman was mentally challenged that i used to do for -- for my dad and he would really laugh and -- and then in school i think a lot of co comedians because my name started with a i was in the front of the
8:34 am
classroom. so i was in the front of the class, i think it's the way for a lot of comedians, i just liked doing impressions and stuff. then when i was in a band, in trench mouth we all would do it. the four of us would make each -- long, long drive. >> you were in the van the whole time or whatever. >> yeah, we would do all of that stuff. >> right. this on saturday night live the characters are ones that you as an individual, i think most people don't appreciate how the show works. you are largely responsible for your own fate there, right? >> well, yes, but you need the support of the other writers, it's not like it's an island where you just sort of write something and it goes on the air. you kind of need the other writers to shape it a little bit, put context to it. >> in theory you develop the characters and they help flesh them out and write the sketches, but they don't come to you and say you ought to do queen elizabeth as if she's a character in a guy richie movie or you should do prince or the californians.
8:35 am
>> true, but sometimes they do come to you and go could you do a crazy drag queen. >> generically. >> sure. there's a writer there, james anderson, we come up with some stuff together. it's a combination. some stuff i'll come into the office and say i have this character, but there are times where someone will say like can you do this kind of person? and then together you start forming that. so some of it does happen as accident. there are accidents that happen that have gone on to be their own character. >> do you occasionally get asked to do celebrity caricatures or something that you think i don't want to do this but i'll take one for the show. >> i don't think of it in terms of i don't want to do it. i think me, i don't think that's really me. i don't know if i have a take on it, it works out great. i remember david lee roth, one sketch they were like can you do david lee roth. i was like i don't think so. then i did it anyway it was a lot of fun. >> even right. >> was obama one where they said -- >> yeah lorne and marcy
8:36 am
kline were like -- my answer is always yes. >> generally game for that sort of stuff. >> it's a sketch show. a variety sketch show. why would i ever want to be like no? [laughter]. it's like i don't care. give it a try. >> is the idea of you being associated with certain of these characters over and over, people walk up to you in the street sand say do prince. >> yeah. >> you don't mind that, i imagine it gets tiresome. >> no, no. >> how can you be so even tempered about it. >> because when i was growing up, i was really into tv and music, beatles, devo, the clash, if i saw somewhat famous i would freak out. i saw stewart copeland once. it's nothing but nice, it's like making art, people recognize you for your art. people i have to say are very nice, i don't know what the deal is, but -- but
8:37 am
people seem to be very sort of nice and polite. do you mind if i say something to you, they do and then that's it. it's nothing but niceness, it's great. >> it's very refreshing to hear somebody as famous and celebrity react as kindly, as patiently with people as you sound like. >> it's all fun. getting to meet people. look, one time i will tell you two quick stories. >> please. >> one time i went to go see the clash at the pier. me and danny and kenny and then i was 15, something like that, it was raining and then we just waited, waited after the show was over by the gates. then [indiscernible] came out and said all right one, two, three, in you go, we all went in and got to meet joe strummer. like he looked at us, talked to us. from that like that was the best life experience. >> taught you something about how to be. >> yeah, nothing but good.
8:38 am
then once when i was 14, i wrote a letter to john waters, you know, the director. and he wrote back to me. and he gave me advice on how to -- how to make things and how to be shocking without just for the sake of being shocking. so john waters i was a little kid he was already being really nice to me and guiding me. so -- so it's a thing of like you have got to pass that along, continue that. it's also fun, i would rather talk to people. >> [indiscernible] >> what else am i going to do? [laughter]. >> you got into a little bit talking about how the writers and performers work collaboratively on the show. can you give us in a thumbnail what a week of that show looks like. you spent a lot of time working -- >> it's a 24 hour a day job. on snl even when you are home it's still there. the show since it's live has to be relevant, has to be up to the minute. so every idea that you have, you know, things change day
8:39 am
to day. you see something on the news, even the mood of the country, everything changes so quickly that -- that you are always shaping things. so monday we go in. we pitch our ideas to lorne, to the host, other writers, hey i've got this idea. tuesday we write it. which means you are there from 3:00 in the afternoon until maybe -- maybe noon the next day. stay overnight. >> you stay overnight. >> write, write, write, write. you just reshape things right again and rewrite it, rewrite it. work with another writer. trade off ideas. it's very -- it's weird -- it's like i don't want to say democracy, like a communist thing for the common good, you know, like everyone is just like how can we make this show good, is this a good idea? you never know how it's going to be. it can be a terrible idea. great idea. you just never no. wednesday we do a big table read with the host, like the whole cast is there, we go through all of these scripts, it's like a radio
8:40 am
play. they choose what sketches they are going to produce. out of the 50 or 40 or so, they choose i don't know -- maybe 10 or something. then thursday rehears, rewrite, friday rehears, rewrite, saturday, dress rehearsal and then we do the show, then that's -- >> very little time off before you start the whole thing off again. >> you have sunday off and then just a zombie. you feel like a zombie. >> of course you end up with -- you are not performing this weekend. >> here i am. >> here you are doing this. and you really constructed a life for yourself with portlandia which we will get to in a bit where you filled in all of the cracks where something else to do. >> that's my goal is to make every day a work day. >> you are succeeding i'm afraid. >> that's my goal. even if i have time to myself, i make sure that i spend it writing or even coming up with an idea. i make sure that every day has some amount of work in it, even if it's, you know, firing off a few emails of
8:41 am
likeable i said firing off, that's the worst. sending emails that are work-related every day there has got to be some version of working where i'm accomplishing something. >> i wanted to ask you about a couple of the characters that you have developed ask you to take us through your creative process. i asked but queen elizabeth, that's a favorite one of mine. she seems all nice and demure, then suddenly. >> one of my favorites, too, by the way. >> it is absolutely hilarious. what is the thought process behind it. >> well, we wrote those with john mulaney another writer there, a brilliant comedian. >> bill a little bit, too. >> about hadder. >> yes, bill hader. >> i like it because it feels like i'm on a sketch show where it's like pure, it's just comedy. for me it's like doing an
8:42 am
inpress of mick jones from the class. >> that's who it's based on. >> oh, yeah, totally. >> right down to her playing the guitar. >> we wrote like a class like song for it. it's an idea that's been done before, the sort of like behind closed door. >> it's happened, the old saturday night live sketch of phil hartman, ronald reagan, when everyone is out of the room he's a different person. >> which i love. it's a great thing. something that i love to do, i love doing that sketch it's so much fun. >> the celebrity impression -- >> we will never know. >> it's true. that's actually right we've not been in the room, maybe she is mick jones. penny marshal. the penny marshall impression seems so great over the top. on something like that, what's your thought process. >> that -- i think that was -- that was bestowed on
8:43 am
me as well, there were some writers, they came up with a sketch idea called the looker because there were so many cable shows that were like typewritten stuff that i had not had an impression and they were like would you mind doing, can you try penny marshall. [laughter]. open her mouth when she talks, we just did it. it's as much physical as anything. it's the look. >> yeah, because i didn't think about it beforehand then it was easy to do. >> i love this idea that somehow you just sort of okay i'm game, i'll do it, don't have to spend months developing it, you just basically do it. >> i read that's what they did on sctv sometimes, surprise impressions of people. sometimes when you do something off the top of your head it's the best. when you don't overthink it, you know. so if you throw in an impression of someone, sometimes it's kind of cool because you get the very general idea -- >> you could hardly do worse than using sctv as a template for your comedy. >> bill hader have both
8:44 am
acknowledged many sketches that we have done is a direct copy. >> those are inspirations. >> doing liberachi on the vincent price show, that's very much dave thomas. >> everything is homage, basically, right? >> yeah, because i want to be on sctv, it's almost like being a music fan and wanting to be on a record. to me it's almost like yeah this is a version of okay sctv, when this season is over, as has been the case of the last two seasons he will launch right into doing portlandia. do you do 10 episodes. >> something like that. >> this is the third. >> third just aired, working on the fourth. >> and tell the -- the story of -- this goes back to your friendship with karrie brownstein a fan of slater kenny. >> as a fan of the band and you got to know her. >> i knew the drummer, i knew janet.
8:45 am
she was a friend of mine and then i was introduced to carry. >> before there were portlandia there was thunder man, that actually preceded it, some way inspiration, tell the story. >> i met karrie through janet, we game instant friends. we became instant friends. i started to hang out with carry all of the time, we got along really well, she lives in portland. i would go out there, we started making these videos for no reason. you know, just because like i was on snl, but i was like let's just do this for fun. and she thinks along the same lines i just want to work all the time. let's work on this. it's like an art project. we started making these videos that had no punch line or jokes, just weird little short -- >> your sense of humor. >> yeah. then little by little we had a collection of, including the feminist book store ladies -- [laughter]. -- >> any of the character -- many of the characters in portlandia were actually
8:46 am
stuff -- >> a new. >> all of this stuff we just put it on the website for no reason. i remember my manager just being, you know, this is -- this is show biz talk, i hope you don't mind me saying my manager, what else do you want to do outside of snl. i was like what about thunder man, turn that into something. we pitched it, pitched it to lorne and then [indiscernible] and then ifc, next thing we know we are doing portlandia. >> it occurs to me for a lot of the snl cast in previous iterations the jump has been from the show to film. but if you think about tina fey and amy pohler, they have done movies but their success saturday night live has really been in their television lives, right? >> but i think that's a sign of the way entertainment is going. >> tv is the new movies. >> you see movie stars on tv. there was a time when they were never. >> wouldn't be caught dead. >> now it's so mixed. it's kind of a nice thing, kind of exciting, it's like
8:47 am
this, you know, sort of like -- sort of venue where like everyone is just doing everything. >> very creative, innovative. you get stuff online now, very accessible. >> why ifc, do you think, could portlandia be a network program? >> i have no idea how that all works, ifc is looking for comedy, the person at broadway video contacted someone at ifc said what do you think about doing this show, we went there, right away we were having a discussion on a pilot, turned into a series. >> didn't have to persuade them. >> in fact also contributed a lot. they had ideas. as opposed to us being what. it was their idea to say portlandia. kerry and i were like let's make it about our friendship. we got the director involved. >> it's all shot out there. takes about how long to do those episodes. >> all summer long.
8:48 am
>> all she long. >> and then they edit it during the fall. >> has portland embraced you all. >> they have been great. >> you can look at it two ways. you can say this is a loving and very intimate way of presenting the quirks of this city or you are making fun of them. >> i would say a. >> i would say a, also, but i -- i say acertainly, too. but do the people in portland go are you making fun of us? >> there might be some people thinking that way, that's not the intent. we're -- it's about us. we're not that different from the characters. we don't even change our voices very much. when we do characters it's not like an extreme thing where you have accents. >> acting. >> it's none of that. there's wigs but we still kind of talk like ourselves. >> can you talk about the creative process in developing those shows versus what's -- what happens on snl? it's not as many people in the -- >> true, snl is 20 something writers. then portlandia is only three or five of us or something at a time.
8:49 am
and then it's not as instant. so we know that it's good go to air like in january of the next year or whatever, so it takes a while. and that's like a regular writing room, you sit around and discuss ideas. we have full work day, you put stuff up on a bulletin board. we see what resonates and what doesn't. you just try to come up with content as much as we can. >> you have done some movie, you were in anchorman. >> yeah. >> you have been in this movie, that movie, here and there. really movies haven't been an enormous part of your curricular -- >> no, it's been tv. >> any desire to do more film work. >> i like it all. >> whatever they throw at you. >> my whole life is sort of month to month. what's in front of me right now? this looks good, this seems fun. like i just -- >> seems very healthy. >> well it's only because of the evidence of what's gotten me here. when i first came to south-by-southwest, i had no idea that i would be going into comedy this way. when i got to snl, i was living in l.a. i'm an l.a. comedian, then i was in new york.
8:50 am
so the idea of planning way ahead it's just a waste. >> it happens, you deal with it. >> i just go with it. >> let me use the time that we have left to talk about music. we alluded to trench mouth which was a band that you were in for nine or 10 years. >> 10 or 11 years or something. >> you actually thought at one point earlier in your life, this is what i'm going to do. >> well, i knew that i wanted to be famous, i'm going to get -- i remember wanting to be on tv. i was like i would say devo on tv whoever, i thought that's going to be me. then i just -- we just kept playing, playing, playing, but i really thought it was going to be through drumming. >> probably i'm going to assume the early mtv, we're about the same age, that era mtv launched in '81, you are probably 15, 16 years old, you are watching suddenly musicians on television, you are thinking i can do this. >> totally. >> and i can do that and how great. >> and then when trench mouth was around, hot bands
8:51 am
were like red hot chili peppers, i thought there's got to be a way into it. it didn't work out that way. we did okay, we did all right. we definitely got the feel of the country. we toured europe. i love playing. i loved playing the drums. got along with my band mates. we were very clean. not like a party band. four of us in a van, very neat. we would play -- sometimes we would get good crowds. put out a bunch of records. i got to drum a lot. but we never did that thing of like playing big theaters. >> next level. >> never. and for a while it was okay. hey we're underground. but then -- [laughter]. all of these bands kept zooming past us. so smashing pumpkins, you know, chicago band, also, much more famous than us. i was like okay i get it we're kind of weird. but then bands who were also kind of weird were zooming past us, jesus lives here, i was like it was getting weird.
8:52 am
>> you are getting outdrawn by jesus lizard that may be a sign. >> there was one tore advertise, a chicago band, chicago band our friends they didn't even have a lyric, instrumental band and they were going to europe and i was like all right timeout. something is not working. [laughter]. and that's when i kind of -- we kind of had to reassess everything. i was kind of lost for a while, i didn't know what i was going to do. i was a little bummed and that's when i ended up at south-by-southwest. >> part of what's been interesting about your career, those of us who have followed it, watched it evolve, music has been so much a part of what you have done. we were talking about just recently you got up on stage and played with one of your idols bob. >> in my blood. i mentioned the clash but really like he's like the whos crudoo is in my bones. i sang songs with him.
8:53 am
it's not like i had to think about the lyrics, i've been singing it my whole life. in new york i got on stage with him, it was one of the biggest highlights of my whole career getting to play with him. >> and you have gotten to play with other bands. but bob mulls like to hear his voice coming from another microphone it's really. >> that's it. >> and he was nice. >> oh, he was great. it was awesome. >> what -- we have a minute left, what are you going to do now? what's next? >> i want to do another tv show, i want to try to put something else. >> a different show than portlandia. >> yeah. i think i want to just keep having some chaos in in there, seeing what happens. >> do you think that you are still with snl. you are three years away from darrell hammond record, there will never be another one like you, 14 years. >> i can't really talk about it because i don't really know. i will just say that i can't be there forever.
8:54 am
and we'll see. we'll see what happens. you know. >> still working itself out. >> yeah, it's like i said, the more i can plan way, way ahead the more something different happens. it's like we'll see. >> okay. great to get to meet you. nice to meet somebody so nice and so normal be successful. >> what else? handsome. >> and handsome. [laughter]. also, good glasses. >> good glasses. >> i like your glasses, fred armisen thank you so much, congratulations and thank you. >> thank you very much. [ applause ] >> we would love to have you join us in the studio. visit our website at to find invitations to interviews, q and as with our audience and guests and an archive of past episodes. >> if i'm in a room with a bunch of writers and stuff hey i'm thinking of doing this, does this seem funny to anybody. they are usually like i don't know, maybe. then it's -- we get on to the set and we put on a wig that it's like oh, i think that it's this. it starts. the feminist book store
8:55 am
ladies are i think people in portland have a lot of gray hair. [music]. >> funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by the mattson mchale foundation. in support of public television. also, by mfi foundation, improving the quality of life within our community. and from the texas board of legal specialization, board certified attorneys in your community. experienced, respected and tested. also by hilco partners. texas government affairs consultancy and its globe health care consulting business unit hilco health and by the alice kleberg reynolds foundation. and viewers like you. thank you. [music
8:56 am
8:57 am
8:58 am
8:59 am
captioned by thenational captioning institute-- hello, i am llewellyn king, the host of "white house chronicle, tell just coming right up. first, a few thoughts of my own. many of you have asked me to talk about margaret thatcher, who was buried recently, the second-longest serving prime ,inister after robert walpole the most important prime minister of the 20th century, and one of the most controversial prime minister's