The drummer is both the foundation of any band and the butt of all its favorite jokes. A modest example: “What do you call a drummer with half a brain? Gifted.” Being both a comedian and a musician, Fred Armisen has probably heard this one and others like it on countless occasions. Music has always played a big part in Armisen’s comedy, from his days on Saturday Night Live to such later projects as Documentary Now and Portlandia, not to mention his role as band leader on Late Night With Seth Meyers. The comedian has been drumming for over 30 years, so he presumably knows what he’s doing back there, but he also knows how to fake it if necessary. Recently, in anticipation of Thursday’s sixth season finale of Portlandia on IFC, Armisen demonstrated to The New York Times Style Magazine how to be a pretend drummer in either a jazz band or a punk band.
The Oscar-winning movie Whiplash made jazz drumming look like the hardest thing in the world, a soul-draining Herculean ordeal, but Armisen disagrees. “All you have to do,” he says, “is play very little. Play the ride [cymbal] a lot, and once in a while, hit the drum. And you have to look kinda cool, like you do not care.” He demonstrates this technique, and it is indeed convincing. If all people want to do is pose like a drummer from the 1930s or 1940s in a photograph, Armisen has some advice for that, too. It’s a snap. Just hold the sticks in the air and grin broadly. And then, the discussion turns to the music that is possibly most dear to Armisen’s music geek heart: punk rock, particularly of the British variety. The comedian demonstrates how to stare down the camera like a true punk drummer. Here, he manages to convey a look of inarticulate, brooding menace that is a thing of beauty to behold.