This weekend’s season finale of Saturday Night Live was an especially emotional episode, one that saw beloved cast members Bill Hader and Fred Armisen bid the show a fond adieu. Hader’s big farewell sketch was, of course, the epic wedding between Stefon and Seth Meyers, while Fred Armisen was joined by a calvacade of indie rock legends—Carrie Brownstein! Steve Jones! Aimee Mann! Michael Penn! J. Mascis!—for an emotional performance as his punk rocker alter ego Ian Rubbish.
Both Hader and Armisen were incredibly versatile performers whose contributions to the show will be greatly missed but, in particular, Armisen’s ability to consistently inject an element of musical theatricality into the show will be near impossible to replace. Before he became a SNL cast member back in 2002, Armisen was the drummer for an indie rock act called Trenchmouth, and he always managed to keep his foot in the world of music even after leaving it for greener comedic pastures. Sure, the Lonely Island triumvirate may have launched more huge “hits” with their viral videos like “Lazy Sunday” and “Dick In A Box,” but the songs that Armisen wrote for the show over the course of his 11 seasons always managed to balance rhythm and melody with ample doses of humor (and, at times, a glint of intellectualism even shone through).
As Saturday Night Live prepares to deal with life without this integral cast member, here’s a look back at FRED ARMISEN’S TOP 5 MUSIC-RELATED SNL SKETCHES:
A HISTORY OF PUNK (Original Airdate: 4/18/13)
This light-hearted homage to the Sex Pistols and the new wave of late ’70s British punk music features not one but FOUR original compositions by Ian Rubbish and the Bizarros: “Hey Policeman” and “C*nt In A Crown,” as well as the pro-Margaret Thatcher tunes “Hey Maggie Thatcher” and “Sweet Iron Lady.” The tunes are remarkable replicas that simultaneously honor and poke gentle fun at the tropes of the punk movement (sneering vocals, tight/catchy riffs), and the sketch’s concept —a punk that actually LIKES Thatcher?— is something that only a politically and musically astute creative genius like Fred Armisen would have come up with. If you like the songs, they can all be found and downloaded for free at IanRubbish.com.
BAND REUNION AT THE WEDDING (Original Airdate: 2/6/10)
We’ve all been to weddings where a bunch of dudes past their prime join the house band for painful renditions of tired staples like “A Little Bit Of Soul” or “Twist And Shout.” This sketch takes that truism and tweaks it just the right amount for comedic inspiration; instead of playing boring soul classics, Crisis of Conformity (featuring Armisen, Ashton Kutcher, Dave Grohl and Bill Hader) break out their 80s era, anti-Reagan hardcore song “Fist Fight In The Parking Lot” for a room full of stunned wedding attendees. Again, this song expertly mimics the sound of bands of this era, acts like Black Flag and Minor Threat, showing off Armisen’s musical versatility.
NEW YORK UNDERGROUND (Original Airdate: 10/19/08)
Less a sketch and more a short film (directed by Noah Baumbach, no less!), this 2008 gem features Armisen as Joshua Rainhorn, a wildly pretentious LES artiste. His song, “Wine And Cigarettes,” isn’t something that will immediately jump out at you, but give it a listen or three and we guarantee you’ll be singing it for days. This bit not only features an interesting parody of piano-based singer/songwriters, but also casts aspersions at the British music press and their overzealous rush to heap praise on “underground” music.
THE BJELLAND BROTHERS (Original Airdate: 10/2/10)
Dan and Jeffrey Bjelland (Armisen and Bryan Cranston, respectively) are the Bjelland Brothers, whose sole song “Sparkling Apple Juice,” cracked the Top 200 on the Minnesota radio charts back in 1979. It’s refrain —”I sent a bottle of sparkling apple juice to your house/Did you get it?” proves the truism that repetition is one of the biggest keys to successful comedy.
A TASTE OF NEW YORK (Original Airdate: 1/8/11)
Live from the Cosmopolitan Lounge in the midtown Marriott is A Taste of New York, a power trio that hails from “between Avenue B and Avenue C.” These burned out burnouts feature Armisen on keys, Jim Carrey on guitar, and Kristin Wiig on drums, and their tales of drugged out Alphabet City hijinks are pretty much a tourist’s nightmare.