I interviewed Fred Armisen for a short online piece for The Believer, and I thought I’d post a longer form of the interview here.
I met Fred through my friend Heather in 1998, shortly after he had shot his first extended comedy video, Fred Armisen’s Guide to South by Southwest. At the time, we all hung out at the bar Lounge Ax a lot, where he hosted the monthly karaoke night in various characters and sometimes answered the phone. We would talk about our relationships and our aspirations; he wanted to be on Saturday Night Live and I mumbled vague plans about poetry. At the beginning of 2000, Lounge Ax closed. It felt like the end of something. Fred was already on his way to Los Angeles to pursue comedy. I moved to New York. Our paths crossed briefly in the fall of 2002, when I moved to Canada just as he was relocating to New York to join the cast of SNL. It’s been fascinating and inspiring to watch his career from a distance. Though we email very occasionally, this was the longest conversation we’d had in a lnumber of years, and it was fun to reconnect and ask him a bunch of questions. It’s a pretty unstructured interview, lightly edited below, but I learned a lot from talking to him about his drive, his optimism, and his undiminished enthusiasm for making things. We talked a lot about music, which had been the original backdrop to our friendship. I had no idea how much he loved The Beatles.
After we talked, he emailed me the photo above, taken when he was a teenager with a Mohawk.
DR: Since Portlandia plays with different stereotypes about Portland, I was wondering what you think about other cities you’ve spent time in — like Chicago, New York, and L.A.
FRED ARMISEN: All those cities are similar in some ways. I’m not a country guy — I’m not even a traveler, like “I just want to see the world.” Basically I want to stick to cities. I want to stick to New York, I want to stick to L.A. a little bit, and then these other cities that come along are really nice surprises. Living in Chicago — it’s an amazing city and now it’s like a part of me, and the same goes for Los Angeles. And now Portland, which is kind of a new city of me. Even though I’ve been going there since 2004, regularly, it’s still kind of new. I’m still discovering it. These cities have so much in common, because they all have a lot of self-made artists living in them. There are little communities of people who just make things, and I like that.
DR: That makes sense.
FA: Can I include Los Angeles in that? Because I think L.A. is a real art city, because even on the biggest scale, with TV shows and movies, I feel like people there are all making art. Even though the business around it… it’s this weird thing where they’re trying to sell art.
DR: The first time I visited L.A., I was surprised by how beautiful it was.
FA: It’s also very American. For everything people say about its lack of culture, it’s so very cultured. It’s so purely American — especially the idea of Hollywood, which is now a really old institution. You look at some buildings — there are studios that go back to the twenties. That’s real American history.
DR: It’s impressive how you have managed to participate in these larger institutions — SNL is also a part of American cultural history, it’s not just a popular comedy show, it’s the comedy show we grew up watching — and yet you still continue to make things independently as well.
FA: It’s a lovely thing that I get to do it. I want to do these things while I still can, while they are available to me. It’s luck. When I was growing up, the people I admired, the stuff they did, once I grew up, I thought, I could do it as well.
DR: What was it that made you think that door was open to you when so many people can’t imagine doing what their heroes do?
FA: I have no idea. I think it’s maybe that I believed in all those people. All those bands I liked, all of those people, I really believed in them. I thought it was just agreed common knowledge that everyone should try to be like them. Like John Waters or Devo — we need to try to be like the people we admire. It never occurred to me that you could look up to people and not try to be like them.
DR: I recently read John Waters’ book Role Models. Did you read it?
FA: Oh, no, I haven’t read it yet. But I’m actually literally looking at it right now, it’s on my shelf.
DR: It’s really great. I remember you told me years ago that you reached out to him as a kid. What made you do that?
FA: I was really young, I must have been 14 or 15. It was a really weird turn of events. It’s the strangest way to get into John Waters. I was listening to the radio, to like a rock station on FM radio, I can’t remember which one it was, but it was early and I think it might have actually been a Sunday morning, and all of a sudden there was an interview with John Waters, and I think maybe Divine also, and I just thought, this guy is fascinating, who is this guy? He was so interesting, everything he was saying about shock value and violence and grossing people out and stuff — there was something really funny about him. I think I was in junior high school — I was this kid — and he was already answering a lot of questions and problems I was having.
DR: Like what?
FA: I got sent to the school psychologist in junior high school because I… we had an assignment in English class, I think it was Miss Sypher’s class, and the assignment was “What would you do if you only had one more day to live?”
FA: And I remember talking to the other kids. I say “kids,” I mean everyone around me. And they were just the lamest — how do I describe it? — it was just so… things like “I would visit my grandparents,” “I would see my family,” and I was just like ughhhhhhhhh. I don’t even know if I was trying to be funny or what it was, but I wrote this paper that said I would destroy everything, I would go into every store and burn it down and smash the windows, and it was just my reaction to all of that. My teacher graded it by giving me a question mark, and then I had to go to the school psychologist for the day and it panicked my mom. It was really traumatic.
DR: The whole day you had to spend…
FA: Oh it was the worst. Because you get sent to the psychologist to see if you’re crazy, then you think you’re crazy.
DR: What was it like?
FA: I had to take all these tests with questions like Do you see animals other people don’t seem to see? Do you feel a tight band wrapped around your head? It made me feel very alone. It was very embarrassing for me, you know what I mean? No kid wants to go into some room with a psychologist while everyone else is having their day at school. I was just being funny — or I don’t know what it was, but it wasn’t real. And hearing John Waters talking about shocking people made me feel like, oh, there’s a grown-up who is doing the same thing. And then reading his book, Shock Value, brought it to another level, because it’s all about the reaction he wants to get from his audience — and by the way, I didn’t read any-thing, anything ever. I wasn’t a reader, I didn’t care about literature. I never read anything — maybe a couple Beatles books, photo books on The Beatles, but that’s it. And I went to the mall and I bought Shock Value and I read the whole thing, cover to cover. It was everything I believed in and I didn’t even know what I was yet. The book opens with a line like “if someone in my audience throws up, it’s like getting a standing ovation.” It’s not just about shocking people, it’s about getting a reaction. Then I wrote to him. And the way I wrote to him is he says that he stays with his friend Cookie Mueller—
DR: Oh, wow, I love her work.
FA: You do?
DR: Yeah. I worked on a project with the director Ron Mann where I got to see some really cool footage of her reading at the St Marks Poetry Project in the early eighties.
FA: Can you send it to me?
DR: I’ll see if I still have it.
FA: I went to my phone book in my house and I looked up Cookie Mueller in Manhattan. Her phone number was in the book.
DR: You looked up Cookie Mueller in the phone book? You grew up outside New York, right?
FA: I grew up on Long Island. I don’t know why we had a Manhattan phone book. I think we just did. We were right outside of Queens. I have no idea. There it was, in the White Pages, and I called her. And I said, “Hi, I just read John Waters’s book and do people call you all the time?” And she said, “No. You’re the first one.”
DR: Was she nice to you?
FA: Totally nice. And I explained I wanted to get John Waters’s address and then she got my address and then she wrote his address in something she wrote to me, like a postcard or something.
DR: Do you still have that?
FA: Oh man, I think I don’t. But I might. If I looked through all my stuff — oh she sent an autographed picture of herself! — it might be hiding somewhere. It might be in a box. So she sent me his address, and I wrote to him my whole story. And I said, you’re this filmmaker and you get to go to Europe and stuff and I have these crazy ideas and I get sent to the school psychiatrist.
DR: And he wrote you back?
FA: He wrote me back this postcard. I had told him I was his number one fan and that someday I was going to take over his Pukedom, because he’s the Prince of Puke, and we started writing to each other. He’d send me a postcard, and I’d write him a letter. He really saved my life. He explained in his mail to me that it wasn’t just about shocking people, but that it had to have a point. It has to be funny. So here I am writing stuff for TV and writing comedy, but he was already giving me lessons on why to do it, that it was deeper than just shocking people. He also gave me this piece of advice that I didn’t compute until recently; he said to buy Variety Magazine. You know, Variety: show biz. He told me that ages ago, and that’s another thing to believe in: to embrace all the aspects of making things, the business side as well. It wasn’t just [whiny voice] “Destroy everything and be underground!” No. Know the business, so you can get somewhere. And he’s a success, even though he’s considered a cult favorite or whatever, he’s a success.
DR: For sure.
FA: So in all his mail, all his letters and postcards and stuff, he was giving me a blueprint of what to be, without being preachy. It was just incredible.
DR: What’s happened since you’ve been on TV? Have you met him in person?
FA: Oh, yes, I have. And we’ve kept in touch and we’ve emailed each other a little bit and I was going to have him do something in Portlandia, but the schedules didn’t work out. We’re going to try for next season, if we get another season. It’s been really nice. We’ve kept in touch.
DR: Speaking of role models, I was thinking of people who you admired in Chicago, like Steve Albini and Jon Langford….
FA: Well the two of them, their work ethic — every day I still aspire to do as much as Jon Langford does. That’s the way to be: you should be in a band and make paintings and sell your art, you should do all of it. And Steve works every day. I’m jealous of that. I try to do this thing in my life where I consider every day a workday. I try to do one piece of work a day, whether it’s writing something or shooting something, even if it’s reading a script, every day has to have a little something. But I’m still envious of how Steve really works hard every single day. And there are things that Steve has said, like little sayings and little ideologies, that to this very day are part of the way I think.
DR: Like what?
FA: We were once talking about people commenting online or maybe it was reviews — I don’t know who we were talking about, but Steve just said plainly: “Hey listen, if you want to spend your free time talking about me, knock yourself out.” I believe in that. If you have so little going on in your life that you are going to criticize other people, just do it, if that’s so important to you. No matter what, good or bad, you’re still paying attention to me.
DR: That makes me think —
FA: It’s so great, the way he says things, the way he thinks. He’s said a million things over the years — even before I knew him, things that I’d read where I was like, Oh this is truth, this is absolutely the way to think.
DR: Were you into punk in high school?
FA: My entry into punk was because of my friend Kenny Young. There weren’t any people into punk in my school. Kenny — who I ended up being in a hardcore punk band with called The KGB — he moved from Queens, Ozone Park or something. He was already into it. He very simply turned me onto all of it. He showed me who Black Flag was and he got this magazine called Maximum Rock n Roll that had all the bands in it. So I had a group of friends who got into that music. Punk and New Wave, for us it was kind of mixed together, there wasn’t a separation between punk and New Wave. The Police was part of it. The Clash, we worshiped The Clash.
DR: So there wasn’t at that point a rigid boundary for you where you felt like you could only like certain bands?
FA: No, but the kids who liked metal and seventies rock, that was the enemy. At lunch we would have debates about Van Halen and Rush and we were against it all, we were against Van Halen, Bon Jovi, all of it. That was the enemy. Anything heavy rock or long hair, we were really against it.
DR: How did you dress back then?
FA: I had a Mohawk.
DR: Is this before or after being sent to the school psychologist?
FA: The school psychologist was the beginning of it, so I had a lot of Devo pins, and Clash pins, like right after it. So that’s junior high school and by high school is when I had a Mohawk.
DR: Did you hate the rest of the school, or were you friends with lots of people?
FA: No, I didn’t hate the rest of the school. There were idiots, and there were jocks and stuff, but I can’t say I hated them… There were the obvious dummies, but I can’t remember the feeling of hate. You know what I mean? It was more like, “Oh those dummies.” What’s that feeling called? I don’t even know. But my group of friends, these were really funny people. They were cool and funny and we were all musicians. And then me and Kenny put this hardcore band together and our friends would come and help us move equipment.
DR: Where would you play?
FA: We played a club called February’s on Long Island, then we played CBGBs.
DR: You played at CBGBs?
FA: Yeah, but we didn’t play those amazing hardcore matinees that they used to have, we played some weird Tuesday night or something and it was not fun. And we opened at this place called the Rock Hotel, which did have hardcore shows, really great ones. We opened up for this band called G.B.H., which were beloved at the time, this British punk band. KGB opened up for them.
DR: So KGB opened for G.B.H.?
FA: Yeah, but I think we opened for Murphy’s Law who opened for G.B.H.
FA: I had a Mohawk mostly because Joe Strummer had one and Annabella from Bow Wow Wow had one.
DR: I had this sense that someone who was in a hardcore band in the eighties wouldn’t be into Devo or The Clash. Was it more open than I think it was?
FA: My suspicion is all those fans liked it all. I could be wrong. The New York scene was not a lot of fun. I think the DC scene was a lot more colorful and open. I think the New York scene was a little tougher, and I wasn’t so into that, I didn’t like the toughness of it. In my imagination I think I had more in common with a lot of suburban kids who liked the look of it and the anger of it and got into lots of other stuff as well. But I could be wrong, I could be the odd man out. The anger of it was great. But there were also bands that filled in that gray area, that had a lot of beautiful melodies and really good musicianship, and the two bands I’m thinking of were The Stranglers and The Damned. Both were a little bit before my time, but their records had harpsichord and keyboards and stuff and that filled in this area where it wasn’t comedy music, but there was a sense of humor to it and it had Beatles-like qualities to it. Punk, to me, isn’t so black and white. I think there are areas that are fully musical and fully melodic and I think Hüsker Dü was absolutely a bridge between all of it, because it was such pretty music and it was punk. That changed everything for me. I didn’t think of myself as liking hardcore after that — I just liked Hüsker Dü. And the political stuff, now when you look back, it’s just nonsense, and they name-dropped so many politicians, it just aged itself, but at the time, I remember not knowing who they were talking about and loving being angry about it. It was so good for being 16.
DR: Did it make you want to learn more about politics?
FA: No. It’s this thing where you pretend to be angry about politics, but I didn’t know what I was talking about. You would see ALEXANDER HAIG!! and you’d be like, YEAH! FUCK ALEXANDER HAIG!!
DR The first time I saw your Fericito character was at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival, in 2002 I guess it was, and you told me you thought that character would bum your mother out, since he’s meant to be Venezuelan and your mother is Venezuelan. And since he was the first breakout character for you on SNL…
FA: I said that, really?
DR: Yeah, you thought the character would bug her. I’m wondering what your family’s reaction has been to the way you play with ethnicity, since you grew up in a multilingual household. I’m sure they’re proud of you, but was there any tension around any of your characters once you were on TV?
FA: I was wrong about that, because my mom loved it. That says more about what I was going through in my relationship or whatever, but yeah, she’s way into it. They’re both really happy about it all, they really are. My introduction to Saturday Night Live was through my mom. I mean my friends too, sometimes we’d have sleepovers and watch it, but my mom always loved Chevy Chase and Gilda Radner. Nowadays, we like to marvel that we know Lorne Michaels. We say, “Can you believe it?” We watched this show and would imitate it, and my mom, she used to say about Chevy Chase, you just look at him and you want to laugh. And just to know Lorne is — it’s still a thrill.
DR: Your mother’s met him?
FA: Oh yeah, I made sure of it. And it’s not just that they’ve met. They’ve had conversations. I love it. I love it, it’s the best. And sometimes when I meet famous people, it’s through the eyes of my mom. She introduced me to The Beatles and when I met Paul McCartney, I was meeting him for my mom. I wasn’t dropping any of this on him, I didn’t say, “Hey my mom blah blah blah” and I didn’t go into what his music meant to me, as I imagine he gets that all the time, but just meeting him and talking to him, I was like, Oh, now me and my mom have met him.
DR: I was going to ask you about The Beatles, because they keep coming up. Were you a huge Beatles fan as a kid?
FA: Yeah, I was never not a Beatles fan. And a Paul McCartney fan specifically. I have always loved them, they’ve always meant the world to me. To me it makes perfect sense — punk and The Beatles always go together for me.
DR: Did your relationship with music come like comedy did, through your mother playing you records?
FA: Yeah, she introduced me to The Beatles when I was really young. And as soon as I heard them, I wanted to be them right away. I thought, this is me. I want to play on The Walrus.
DR: It looks very dramatic that you didn’t really pursue a comedy career until you were 30…
DR: Right. I don’t know if you remember this, but when we were still living in Chicago, probably around 1998 or 1999, you told me that Phil Hartman became a cast member on SNL in his late thirties and then you said, “I would love that career.”
DR: We weren’t literally talking about you ending up on Saturday Night Live…
FA: Oh right. [laughing]
DR: I thought you were using Hartman as an example of someone you admired who had this great career. But then you joined the cast of SNL in your thirties — I didn’t think you’d meant it literally.
FA: Maybe I didn’t mean it at the time, but it must have been in there… well, who knows. I don’t know.
DR: Did you have a vision when you started going into comedy about what you wanted specifically? Did you have a list of crazy goals that you wanted to shoot for…
FA: Yeah, I did.
DR: What were they?
FA: It was pretty specific. One time in Los Angeles I was living in this house, I had just moved to L.A. and I wrote them down on a piece of paper, and I taped the paper shut and I taped it in his closet, and it’s probably still there if they haven’t scraped it off or found it or whatever.
DR: You taped a list of career goals inside the closet?
FA: Over the door. You’d have to go into the closet and turn around and look up. I had just moved there and I sat down and thought, okay, this is what I want. I wrote it all down. I don’t remember all of it, I think I have the gist of it. I’m pretty sure I had SNL on there.
DR: That’s incredible.
FA: I was already doing comedy, I was starting to focus on what I wanted. I think I wrote age numbers by stuff, like “by 35 I’d like to be…” I’d like to see it.
DR: In that sense, then, has everything unfolded in a way that felt natural to you? Or have you been shocked or surprised by the opportunities you’ve had?
FA: Everything unfolded in a really miraculous way. It only got better. For every amazing thing that happened, fifty more amazing tremendous things happened. It was really gratifying. Everything that I liked, I’ve been able to do. And I really love it. As uncool as it sounds, I love it. There are things that I wouldn’t have even thought about that have made it even better. You know like this whole discussion is about me being on TV and getting to do fun things and make art, but there’s this other element that happened which is getting to know other people who do it.
DR: Of course.
FA: Being close with all these writers and comedians and these people are geniuses, the way they think. It’s like meeting long lost brothers and sisters. They make me laugh so hard, they make me look at the news differently. And they make me look at movies differently. Is that the right grammar, by the way? Differently?
DR: It’s fine.
FA: They’ve opened my eyes to so many things. The way Maya Rudolf listens to music and the way she grew up on it and people who were raised in L.A., and London. That’s actually kind of bigger and more fun than just being on TV. I think, Look at these geniuses, look at this guy. Look at this character that Kristen Wiig came up with, or Bill Hader. And these are just performers, I also mean writers, even movie executives — look at this guy who made a name for himself making these kinds of movies, you know? That’s another whole thing. Stand-up comedians who make life worth living — people I used to look up to as comedians and then get to know and work with. Then there’s the added, most delicious icing on the cake, which is being a fan of Sleater Kinney and then getting to really work with and become close with Carrie, and the rest of that band. You know how sometimes you think if you mix everything together it might taste terrible? This is like mixing everything together and it tastes great. That’s kind of a disgusting way to describe it. I think I specifically mean sweet. It’s a very sweet sensation. I used to listen to these people on records, and now I’m working with them.
DR: I saw on Youtube that you spoke at a high school graduation in Portland. What was that like?
FA: First of all, when they asked me to do that, it was an immediate yes. High school? Absolutely. And I actually thought about all the John Waters stuff and how words matter to people of that age. The fact that it was Portland made it extra cool; yeah, these are Portland kids. It was really nice going to that school. It was a religious school.
DR: Was it a Catholic school?
FA: It’s Episcopalian I think. How ignorant am I that I’m still not clear? It didn’t matter to me really, that’s inconsequential. I got there and all the kids put on glasses when I started speaking, you don’t see that on the video, and some people have birds on their hats. “Put a bird on it.” That killed me.
DR: That’s cool.
FA: You know what was really nice? There have been a number of things that I’ve worried about as I’ve gotten older. I used to worry that bands wouldn’t exist anymore, and I thought, maybe that’s okay, it’ll just be computers and stuff. But it’s not, bands still exist. I also wondered about how young people are with each other, and they were so supportive of each other. When they were getting their diplomas they all really cheered for each other. Some of their parents came up with them and no one was embarrassed about it. And it was equal all across the way — there wasn’t the loser kid that no one applauded. So that was already a good feeling, right there. I’m sure all schools aren’t like that. It already had a positive vibe.
DR: Well that makes sense — they reached out to you.
FA: Oh, I suppose you’re right….
DR: That the students knew Portlandia…
FA: And that was great too, that they’d watch the show. Sometimes I think, Is this only for people who are 32? They all knew it and all really liked it. And Carrie was there too, so that was really good, so she got to feel some of that as well. I worked on trying to make it a decent speech. When I graduated high school the person we had making the speech was this guy — he might’ve been a guidance counselor. He wasn’t really anybody, I’d never seen him before. And his speech was like, “When I was growing up we used to look up to superheroes, and who do people look up to now? Green-haired rock stars.…” And he said it derisively. I’ll never forget it, it made him seem out of touch with…with life. Forget about what’s cool or isn’t, but life doesn’t work that way. You can never look back at a time and think it was better before. It’s just not good for you. It doesn’t help anybody. I wanted to make sure that my speech was about how everything does turn out great.
DR: Are you optimistic about the future?
FA: Like humanity?
FA: Yeah. I’m optimistic, because even with all the stuff that’s horrifying, the human spirit still perseveres always. It could be something really teeny. It could be that a café in Afghanistan or Baghdad has decorations or lights or something — it shows that people still want things to be good. That’s not to say that — it can all be really terrifying.
DR: But you see reasons to be hopeful?
FA: I found this site for people who have Thunderbirds. These people aren’t making any money off this site, and yet they have the energy to post pictures of Ford Thunderbirds from 1967 and 1955 and 1970-whatever. It’s very cute that humans still find the time to share things for no reason. And looking at YouTube — I have this bass and I’m trying to take the pick-guard off of it, and if you type in “taking the pickup cover off of a Rickenbacker” there’s a guy online showing you how to do it. “Here’s what you do….” Those things make me happy. Things can work out and can be great, because people are using technology for no reason other than to help each other do something really trivial.
DR: Does your year have a rhythm to it, or are you so open to the new next thing that you have no idea how your year is going to look like?
FA: You never know, because there are so many variables, so all I can do is plan the next few months and hope for the best.
DR: Is that stressful, or do you like it?
FA: You know, it’s stressful, but what isn’t? I think everyone is in the same position everywhere. The people I know who are really established and really successful, they go through exactly the same thing. They still want the next thing, and they want to figure out what to do next. It matters to everybody. So it’s stressful, but you cannot avoid it. It’s unavoidable on every level.
DR: What is it like when you’re working? Since you didn’t come from a comedy background, did you draw a lot on what it was like to be in a band…
FA: No, it’s really weird, you just all of a sudden get what it’s supposed to be. There’s no time to really think about what you’re doing — especially with SNL, because you have from Tuesday to Saturday to come up with something that’s going to be on TV. So you can’t even think about dynamics, you’re in emergency mode. You think, I’ve got to come up with a sketch that’s going to make some sense, that’s going to work, we won’t know until Saturday, or Wednesday, because that’s when we do table reads, so very quickly that goes out the window, any thought process or consideration, all of it goes out the window, it’s like you have to come up with something right now. You can work with this writer, you can work alone, but it all comes down to editing and timing. It’s all time: this has to be shorter, can we lose that joke. And right away, from my first year — there’s no indulging anything. Right away you become this other thing. There’s no time to even ask if you’re doing the right thing.
DR: I assumed different cast members would bring their different backgrounds to it, whether they came from improv or stand-up or in your case a very circuitous route, but I guess everyone has to adapt.
FA: If I asked you to do it, you wouldn’t think about poetry, you wouldn’t think about anything. You’d just think, people are going to be watching us and listening to us and there’s a lot of people in the room so start right now. It’s kind of great, but it’s very — in a good way, it’s very ruthless. Merciless. Because if it doesn’t work, you know it right away, and that’s horrible. That’s a bad feeling.
DR: Ugh, I can only imagine.
FA: But you’re never immune to it. Week after week. I’ve been on the show for years, and you’re never immune. You think you’ve got it, you think you’ve figured out what makes people laugh, you put all these things in it you think are guarantees — pfffft. Forget it. Forget it.
DR: And people are so unforgiving about their expectations to be entertained. If they don’t laugh, it’s so brutal, it’s so hostile.
FA: It’s dead silence. It could be your best friends, and if it’s not working, goddamn does it not work.
DR: Another little left turn: Sarah McLachlan appears in the first season of Portlandia, and that made me remember the time in Chicago that you went to Lilith Fair and stirred up some shit on camera. How did you two end up working together and did you guys talk about that press conference you crashed over ten years ago?
FA: That tape never saw the light of day. I don’t think I ever did anything with it.
DR: It’s online.
FA: That’s impossible.
DR: I just watched it.
FA: I think I make fun of Paula Cole…. You learn along the way that people are people and have feelings. When I was in the position I was in at that time — you think that because someone’s famous, you think they’ve got it made, and that it doesn’t matter what I say. And more than anything, I just wanted attention and probably there was some weird anger about not having made it in the music business. I’d consider that something I’m not psyched about, and I suppose, evidence of that is that I didn’t do anything with it. I didn’t send it to HBO. I’m not saying I was a hero, I’m just saying I think instinctively I knew it wasn’t the best thing.
DR: What I love about your characters is that I feel like as over-the-top as they often are, you always give them a certain dignity — there’s a sense of compassion there. I think the through-line from the work you started out doing and the work you do now is that you seem more invested in the effect a character will have on the audience than in trying to make direct statements. Do you know what I’m trying to say?
FA: With the characters I’ve done with Carrie in Portlandia, they’re all a little bit versions of myself anyway, so it’s not like the people are that different from me. There isn’t much of a statement to be made. I’m not a fan of huge statements anyway.