Fred Armisen’s “Standup For Drummers” Really is Stand-Up for Drummers

I had the pleasure of watching Fred Armisen’s first Netflix special, Standup For Drummers, last night, and I’m delighted to report that it’s a terrific amalgamation of comedy, storytelling, history, and music.

Armisen flexes his dexterity as a multi-faceted performer throughout the special, delivering an almost mind-bogglingly diverse range of comedy. From his impression of a decomposing fox, to his tour of the U.S. by accent (complete with map and wooden pointer), and even a one-act, two-man play for which he invites a special guest on stage, each moment is punctuated by Armisen’s charmingly jittery and mildly chaotic signature persona.

Yet, for all its seemingly disparate parts, the special is centered around music, and, more specifically, around the title group—drummers.

Fred Armisen: Standup For Drummers | Official Trailer | Netflix

The special opens with an announcer enthusiastically reporting, "Drummers only tonight! Drummers only!" over the chaotic crash of a full-kit solo played by Armisen. The camera flashes from a pounding kick pedal to the doorman, who, instead of the traditional carding and stamping, judges each ticket holder as they prove their percussive skill on a drum pad set up in front of him.

We watch various concert goers smacking the pad with practiced fervor and then pan to the line outside, where waiting fans tap paradiddles onto the flat tops of stanchions with sticks they brought from home.

After a glance at the Great American Music Hall marquee and the quick flash of a title screen, we watch Armisen open the show playing the solo we’ve been listening to on a Q. Drum Co. copper kit—one of four full kits set up on stage.

To his right is a DW Designs Series acrylic kit and on his left is a hybrid featuring a vintage Gretsch kick with a Ludwig Supraphonic snare and a Ludwig tom borrowed from the fourth kit, a Ludwig Classic Maple in cherry stain. Joining the kits are pieces of auxiliary gear, like a small Orange combo amp, a Telecaster, and some roto toms. Other classic brands are represented too, like Zildjian, Tama, and Latin Percussion, and Roland.

All of the gear is played throughout the show, whether by Armisen—who cycles through spot-on impressions of famous drummers’ styles, pokes fun at experimental bands, and mimics the guy we all know who insists he can play the drums—or by one of the talented celebrity guest drummers he invites on stage. That roster includes Green Day’s Tre Cool, Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa, and Austrian drummer Thomas Lang.

Thao Nguyen, Sheila E., Blondie’s Clem Burke, and Vinnie Colaiuta all have cameos as well—and though he doesn’t make a formal appearance, the audience reaction camera catches two instances of Armisen’s good friend and our pal J Mascis almost cracking a smile.

For all of the gear packed onto the stage, it’s only the beginning. Dividing the seated audience is a line of eight full drum kits set up on the floor. About two-thirds of the way through the show, Armisen answers the question on all of our minds and addresses what they’re doing there.

"Karen Carpenter is great," he starts, "You’ve seen that video, right, of her playing all the different kits? Well, I’m going to do something similar." He goes on to explain that Revival Drum Shop helped him put together what he calls "drum kits through the decades"—one kit from each decade, from the ‘20s/‘30s to the 2000s.

Fred Armisen

In what is one of the best bits of the special (and surely one of the best displays of both a visual and auditory history of drumming), Armisen proceeds to hop off of the stage and sit behind each kit, explaining its setup within the musical context of the time and playing a beat in the style of the decade. It’s a delightful blend of music history, gear history, and straight-up tight drumming packed into what amounts to so much more than what you'd expect from a comedy special.

Armisen closes with another uncommon choice for a comedy concert: a personal story of the time that a struggling 15-year-old Fred’s life was saved by his idol, filmmaker John Waters. And like all of the other unconventional choices before it, it just seems to fit.

Fred Armisen: Standup For Drummers is available now to stream on Netflix.

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