It has been three seasons since comedian Fred Armisen departed “Saturday Night Live.” And yet, during last week’s show, he earned more airtime than any current cast member.
That’s because one of Armisen’s masterful impressions is of Prince, whom he portrayed with enigmatic lunacy in “The Prince Show.” Those recurring sketches were rebroadcast as part of an “SNL” tribute to the late artist.
“It was a nice reminder to me of how much I’ve done that impression, like around my house when I was in college,” Armisen says. “I’m glad it still looked like I did it out of love.”
It’s yet another example of how Armisen seems to be everywhere lately. In fact, he’ll be in Kansas City on Saturday, appearing as part of the Ideas portion of Ink’s Middle of the Map Fest.
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Elsewhere, the drummer-turned-humorist can be seen nightly as the bandleader for NBC’s “Late Night With Seth Meyers.” Over on IFC, his peculiar chameleonic talents power “Portlandia,” the satirical series he created with fellow musician Carrie Brownstein. This has led the writer/performer to multiple Emmy nominations and even a Peabody Award.
Although the 49-year-old now holds the record for having appeared in the second most “SNL” sketches (856) of any cast member, he has yet to slow down when cranking out new material for movies, TV, Netflix and the web.
Calling from Los Angeles, Armisen spoke to The Star about his numerous endeavors, both past and present.
Q: The rumor is you originally portrayed Prince on “SNL” as a way to improve your chances of meeting him. Is that true?
A: Yeah, 100 percent.
Q: Did it work?
A: It did. I met Prince when he came to the show.
Q: Did that tactic work for any other celebrity?
A: Steve Jobs. I used to do an impression of him on “SNL.” Although that wasn’t the goal, to meet him, it worked out that way.
Q: What can audiences expect from your Folly show on Saturday?
A: First of all, I’d like to say I’m really happy to be going there to do this. I’m excited to be part of that festival.
It will be me and a guitar. I’ll do some songs from all the fake bands from “Documentary Now!” and “SNL.” At the end of the show, I like talking to people — like a Q&A. It’s almost the equivalent of hanging out or going to somebody’s house.
Q: Your musical career has come full circle. Does it surprise you that you’re again playing drums for a living?
A: I always considered myself a drummer. That never went away. But, yeah, it is kind of weird — after talking so much about how I don’t do music anymore, then all of the sudden I’m doing music.
It’s another example of how with everything in my life, I always think I know what the plan is going to be. Then it’s always something different.
Q: Your former castmate Jason Sudeikis is beloved in Kansas City. Can you tell me a good Jason anecdote?
A: Aside from how funny he is on TV, he is one of the funniest people in person. I don’t have anything in my back pocket right now that’s a Jason story. But the things he says backstage or during rehearsals, he just really knows how to make me laugh.
He’s very proud of Kansas City. I can’t recall a time when he wasn’t talking about Kansas City. I think he goes back pretty often for all kinds of events.
This is less of an anecdote, but I will say that some of the best gifts I’ve gotten — as in presents — were from Jason Sudeikis. There was this pair of glasses he was wearing for a while. Then on my last year at “SNL,” he gave me a pair. I cherished them. He’s very thoughtful.
Q: You are revered as an expert on accents. What’s the key to a Kansas City accent?
A: To me, Kansas City sounds like a bridge accent. It’s almost like a Southern person who’s being very serious. You took away 60 percent of their accent, but 40 percent is still there. There’s a straightforward modesty to it.
For some reason, I don’t hear much Midwestern in Jason’s accent. I hear it in Jason’s dad. But to me, there’s always a faint hint of Southern.
Q: Are there any another cities in the U.S. that are as ripe for parody as Portland?
A: That’s a good question. My answer would be that instead of picking a city that’s similar to Portland, like Austin — since it’s kind of been done and whatever commentary we made about those cities, you can’t really repeat it — I would do an opposite city.
Like Miami, that would be the direction to go. For some reason, Miami is the opposite of Portland. Even the color scheme. It’s like a black-and-white negative photo of the same thing.
Q: You always seem to find gigs where you have no leash in terms of showcasing your creativity. Could you ever see yourself doing a more traditional, prime-time sitcom?
A: Yes. Because I operate by trying not to say no if something comes my way. I think, “Oh, I’ll give it a try.” If the opportunity came up, sure. It would have to be something I would be interested in portraying, as far as characters and stuff.
Other than that, I don’t have any limitations of what’s cool and what’s not cool. I feel very lucky to get to do comedy at all.
Q: I consider your most underrated impression on “SNL” to be George Carlin. Do you have any others that you’re proud of that people might not necessarily remember?
A: Pride is a strong word because it’s like saying, “Hey, check me out. I’m so proud of this.” But that said, I’ve most enjoyed doing Gene Simmons. This is before he had his reality show. I just really thought it was fun.
Q: There’s a clueless quality to a lot of your characters. Personally, what’s something that you’re clueless about?
A: Sports. I’m very clueless about sports. Every year I have to be reminded that it’s “whatever” season.
You could actually lie to me and say, “You know, it’s football season right now.” I’d be like, “Wow. Great.” I just don’t keep track of it. Nothing against it; I just wasn’t raised that way.
I would say I’m also pretty clueless about Broadway shows. People seem to really know what songs are from what musicals. And friends of mine definitely enjoy it. They’ll say, “You don’t like this song from this show?” I’m like, “I really don’t know it.” I’m not trying to be a jerk about it. I just don’t know those songs.
Jon Niccum is a filmmaker, freelance writer and author of “The Worst Gig: From Psycho Fans to Stage Riots, Famous Musicians Tell All.”
Saturday, April 30
Ink’s Middle of the Map Fest presents Fred Armisen. Showtime is 7 p.m. at the Folly Theater, 300 W. 12th St. Tickets are $36-$65. More info at middleofthemapfest.com.