Fred Armisen

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Biography

Comedian-musician Fred Armisen had a huge reason to celebrate Barack Obama's 2008 presidential win. After appearing on "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ) for seven seasons, the actor's spot-on impersonation of the 44th U.S. President ultimately became his breakout role. He soon found more success as half of the driving force of the comedy series "Portlandia," but sketch comedy is not Armisen's only passion. He is also an accomplished drummer …
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Job Title

Actor

Born

December 4, 1966

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Comedian-musician Fred Armisen had a huge reason to celebrate Barack Obama's 2008 presidential win. After appearing on "Saturday Night Live" (NBC, 1975- ) for seven seasons, the actor's spot-on impersonation of the 44th U.S. President ultimately became his breakout role. He soon found more success as half of the driving force of the comedy series "Portlandia," but sketch comedy is not Armisen's only passion. He is also an accomplished drummer and touring musician, documentary host, and film actor who has contributed to such big-screen comedies as "Baby Mama" (2008) and "The Smurfs" (2011), making him an incredibly versatile performer.

Fred Armisen was born on Dec. 4, 1966 in Long Island, NY to a Venezuelan mother and a German/Japanese father; later making him the second Asian-American (after Rob Schneider) and Latino (after Horatio Sanz) "Saturday Night Live" cast member in the show's over 30-year history. Before he started doing comedy, Armisen's first love was music. He moved from New York to Chicago in 1988 to play drums for punk rock band Trenchmouth which led to a gig playing background drums for the avant-garde performing arts troupe The Blue Man Group for most of the 1990s. In 1997, Armisen's music career blossomed into touring with Those Bastard Souls, a side project of The Grifters' David Shouse and The Flaming Lips' Steven Drozd.

A year after touring with Those Bastard Souls, Armisen worked as a music journalist covering South by Southwest, a massive music and film festival held in Austin, TX. The project, filmed by this then-wife, singer-songwriter Sally Timms, became the short film "Fred Armisen's Guide to Music and South by Southwest" (1998) and showed the host playing pranks on various musicians and crewmembers at the festival. Armisen also wrote and directed the film. The experience, along with his years as a punk-rock drummer, inspired Armisen to pursue a career in front of the camera.

After a hosting stint with HBO's "Reverb" (1999-2001), a series that followed up-and-coming bands, Armisen started doing comedy routines on the variety shows "Late Friday" (NBC, 2001-02) and "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" (NBC, 1993-2009). Audiences so loved the actor's characters - including over-the-top Venezuelan nightclub comedian, Fericito - that some even made their way to "Saturday Night Live" years later. He also appeared in feature film projects "Like Mike" (2002) and "Melvin Goes to Dinner" (2003), though they were very minor cameos. It was ultimately on the small screen where Armisen's talent and star were about to shine.

Working the comedy circuit for several years finally paid off in 2002 when Armisen was cast as a featured player on the legendary sketch-comedy staple, "Saturday Night Live." During his time with the show, the actor's comedy routines ranged from hilarious impressions of various celebrities and newsmakers like flamboyant musician Prince and Apple CEO Steve Jobs, to offbeat characters he created, such as Billy Smith, a Native American comedian who never delivers punch lines, and Leonard, European host of a dance show "Club Traxx." Whether he was singing during the "Weekend Update" segments or playing the drums as Fericito, Armisen often infused his musical background into his sketches. In 2004, the actor was promoted to hallowed repertory player status.

Like many Not Ready for Primetime Players before him, Armisen's "SNL" exposure paved the way for exposure in bigger budget projects. Appearing in films headlined by past "SNL" heavyweights, Armisen made impressions in "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" (2004) with Will Ferrell, "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo" (2005) with Rob Schneider, and "Baby Mama" with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. He also had small yet memorable cameos as a creepy Italian in "EuroTrip" (2004) and as a security guard in "Tenacious D: In the Pick of Destiny" (2006) with fellow rock & roll comic, Jack Black. Armisen also found success as a voice actor, lending his comic genius to the animated series "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" (Adult Swim, 2000- ), "Squidbillies" (Adult Swim, 2005- ), and the puppet Chip, a prank caller who was always talking about building his house and managing food chain Taco Bell, in "Crank Yankers" (Comedy Central, 2002- ).

Four years after being promoted to regular "Saturday Night Live" cast member, Armisen received the opportunity only a few actors in the show's history were presented - impersonate a U.S. President in front of said president. Former cast members Chevy Chase, Dana Carvey, and Ferrell had all shot to stardom after their respective presidential impersonations of Gerald Ford, George Bush Sr., and George W. Bush singled them out in a major way. In 2008, Armisen stepped in Barack Obama's shoes and followed his rise from senator to presidential candidate to Head of State. While there was no guarantee that Armisen would impersonate Obama for his first four years in the Oval Office, the actor definitely landed the breakout role he had worked all his life for when Americans elected their first African-American president.

Despite the pervasiveness of the presidential skits, Armisen's "SNL" duties did not prevent the actor from taking on more work. He played a recurring character on "The Sarah Silverman Program" (Comedy Central, 2007- ) and two years later, appeared in the film version of the Sophie Kinsella book, "Confessions of a Shopaholic" starring Isla Fisher. While his professional career was building up steam, in October 2009, Armisen married his girlfriend and "Mad Men" (AMC, 2007- ) star Elisabeth Moss, making her his second wife. However, the couple separated in June 2010 and filed for divorce in September, as rumors of Armisen dating "SNL" co-star Abby Elliott began to surface. His relationship with Elliott also ended within a year.

Although Armisen's love life endured numerous ups and downs during this era, his career hit new peaks in 2011, with two high-profile voice gigs, playing the bespectacled Brainy in the CGI-heavy movie reboot of "The Smurfs" and taking on the classic character of Speedy Gonzales on "The Looney Tunes Show" (Cartoon Network, 2011- ). However, where Armisen really had a chance to make his mark outside of "SNL" was on "Portlandia" (IFC, 2011- ), the hipster-skewering sketch-comedy show that he created with Carrie Brownstein, a former member of the indie-rock band Sleater-Kinney. Riffing off of their earlier efforts as the comedy duo ThunderAnt, Armisen and Brownstein quickly won over a cult following with the series, which featured gleefully bizarre moments and memorable characters, almost all of whom were played by one of the pair.

Armisen found further freedom to pursue other opportunities when Jay Pharoah took over as Obama on "SNL" in the fall of 2012, and the following spring he bid the show goodbye in a heartwarming musical skit that featured cast mates Bill Hader and Jason Sudeikis, along with Brownstein and rock luminaries such as Steve Jones (The Sex Pistols), Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth), and J. Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.). As "Portlandia" continued to thrive, Armisen also signed on to voice a key character on the quirky animated show "Out There" (IFC, 2013- ) and reprised his role as Brainy in "The Smurfs 2" (2013), ensuring that he would have plenty to do in his post-"SNL" phase. In fact, Armisen definitely kept busy: on the same week that "Portlandia" returned for its fourth season, Armisen made his debut as the guitarist and bandleader on "Late Night With Seth Meyers" (NBC 2014- ).