Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Wanna Be Like Fred

fred_armisenWhen I enter my second childhood, which could be any day now, I want to be like Fred Armisen. Fred gets to act goofy for a living.

A former Saturday Night Live cast member, Fred is now the co-star of the wonderfully quirky Portlandia. He wears space suits, lamp shades and weird wigs. He does skits scissored out of everyday life. He mocks hipsters and makes everyone want to bite into a VooDoo donut.

Fred and I share some background. We were both born and were both drummers in bands. He beat the drums for a punk rock band called Trenchmouth and provided percussion backup for the Blue Man Group. I played bongos for a high school jug band.

Fred grew up in Manhattan. His mother was a Venezuelan schoolteacher and his father, who worked for IBM, had a Japanese father and a German mother. I was born in Omaha and grew up in the happy-go-lucky suburbs of Denver. I had German relatives who were Iowa dairy farmers.

As a youngster, Fred was mesmerized by watching The Clash and Devo perform on television. I was mesmerized by Winky Dink and Clarabell.

Fred attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City before dropping out. I went to Seattle Pacific University, studied for the ministry and wound up with a degree in English literature and an ability to read Beowulf in original Anglo-Saxon.

fehn-armisen-snlOur real similarity is our mutual desire to be on television. Somehow, Fred managed to win a spot on SNL. I was stuck doing Sunday School skits for middle-schoolers. Our careers, as a result, veered sharply.

Fred has created an ark of characters, does the voice of Speedy Gonzalez and is remembered for “Andy Kaufman-esque” appearances on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. The kids who watched my skits later dropped out of church.

So that’s the nub of why I want to be like Fred. He is comedy cool.

I already have the basics. I make people snicker. And it won’t take plastic surgery to look any better than Fred.

I realize it will take hard work, which I will gladly put in, to equal his celebrity impressions of Barack Obama, Ira Glass, Steve Jobs and Prince. He also has done an impression of Ben Bernanke, which I could emulate because Ben and I are both naturally boring.

It will be a creative challenge to equal his characters like Ian Rubbish, Fericito and Stewart of the blonde-haired Californians. I’ve almost mastered his Billy Smith, a Native American stand-up comic who tells jokes no one understands. I’ve got the “jokes no one understands” part down pat.

It will be harder to duplicate his parts in movies such as Deuce Bigalow,  European Gigolo and Confessions of a Shopaholic, which one critic called “feral foreigners.” I’ve never been comfortable being homeless.

Armisen and BrownsteinMy leg-up in channeling Fred is that we both spend time in Portland. He is here making fun of it. I live here and try to make sense of it. There isn’t much difference.

His bits on life in Portland strike an authentic, semi-biographical chord. Fred actually lived here for a while, if you consider The Pearl District part of Real Portland. Fred has appeared as an adult babysitter, a dumpster diver, a knot salesman and a bad B&B host. I may not be able to whip up pancakes, but I wouldn’t forget the coffee.

carrie-brownstein-fred-armisen-portlandia-new-trailer-2015-billboard-650A logical place to begin my journey to be like Fred is to snatch a part in Portlandia. If someone reading this has Fred’s private email, let me know. If you could fake a favorable review, that would help, too.

Meanwhile, I will have to shadow Fred by watching him on TV and dreaming about what it would be like to be him. Except the part about living in Los Angeles.

Watching and dreaming isn’t as good as actual being like Fred. But it’s better than asking for his autograph, which would make everyone laugh at me.









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