THE GOVERNOR? HE AIN’T LOVIN’ YA
Just before this interview, I watch Fred Armisen’s Saturday Night Live performance as New York ’s legally blind Governor David Paterson—the unexpected fill-in for disgraced politicaltitan-in-the-making former Governor Eliot Spitzer, who’d made enemies on Wall St., City Government, and Organized Crime in Gotham. The newly-promoted Paterson is six days away from selecting a senatorial replacement for Hillary Clinton, and is currently embroiled in a campaign with powerful allies of Caroline Kennedy, who are pressuring him to select her to fill the Senate vacancy.
Armisen’s impersonation of the Governor delivers what can be seen as either the exponential scale-up of a lunchroom bully turning the cafeteria into a Parthenon of shame, or a bold bit of in-your-face physical comedy. It serves as a garish eminder of our unfamiliarity with the disabled, whom society de-normalizes—as evidenced by their 70% unemployment rate despite exceptionally high number of college degrees per capita. These exact statistics the Governor cites in his rebuke of the skit.
The skit climaxes with Armisen following up the bit by walking into the camera. Were it someone falling on a sidewalk it wouldn’t be funny, but in the SNL studios, Armisen’s Mr. Magoo-like schtick is inherently, reflexively, laughable. It seems to be a moment that the television audience would own more than the live audience, but the live audience’s reaction is quite audible, and they’re howling.
NBC received angry calls and e-mails, and The Gov becomes the first question of this interview, which will find Armisen and myself arguing about punk philosophy during a conversation that plays out like a mash-up of SNL’s recurring spoof of MSNBC sensationally earnest pundit-type Keith Oberman, and Armisen’s own potrayal of glib Joy “I said it, who cares” Behar, from morning talk-whatever The View.
PUNK’S NOT DEAD, PT. 1
I know you were in punk band,Trenchmouth. To what extent did punk inform your sensibilities as a comedian?
“Punk did more than just inform me about what I do with comedy; punk is the blueprint for everything that I’ve done. Punk meant more to me than anything. I really believed in The Clash, and I believed in Husker Du, The Stranglers, The Damned, and then from there I believed in Devo and Kraftwerk and they really informed everything that I do in presentation, in concept and what I wanted to become, and that’s still with me to this day. Punk will never not be a part of me; it’s a huge, huge part of me. And I don’t just mean the punk of yesteryear; I mean there are things that I consider punk now.”
“Joanna Newsome, Marny Stern, Mary Timmons… I consider them all punks; Les Savvy Fay—they’re a huge part of what I do.”
Were you surprised by the backlash [from the Paterson impersonation]?
“I don’t think of anything as backlash. I had some emails of support. People in the street say such nice things to me. But I don’t consider anything backlash; to me it was like (opens hands in a resigned manner) I just don’t see it that way.”
Growing up as a multi-racial kid in Long Island, did you encounter any racism, covert or explicit?
“I grew up on Long Island, but also Brazil a little bit, Queens, I moved around a bit”
Why the moving?
“My Dad worked for IBM. So they switched us around. As far as any kind of racism, I have to honestly say I didn’t experience anything from my own experience in high school. Everyone accepted me, there was zero issue. I think if there was any issues, it was because I was a weirdo; I had a Mohawk or something.