Fred Armisen of SNL and Portlandia fame paid a big compliment to Houston this past Sunday by insisting, at the last minute, that it be included in his (now) 20 city “Standup for Musicians But Everyone is Welcome” music and comedy tour.
It’s pretty rare to see an extra date added for any touring act, especially while the tour is already happening, and extra especially if it means the artist has to sacrifice their only day off between performing four nights in a row twice. That’s just what the renowned comedic character actor and musician did, however, and the result was a booking just five days in advance at White Oak Music Hall, whose state of the art build and acoustics happen to make it the perfect venue to host a show of this particular nature. During the set, Armisen explained that he didn’t have a hand in the booking process and only noticed before he got to Texas what was missing, prompting him to ask himself, “Why not Houston?”
Given this city’s frustrating history of being frequently overlooked in Texas tours, the gesture did not go unnoticed or unappreciated, despite its short notice.
The 1,200 capacity cap in the main room was put to the test as a more mature but heavily diverse crowd piled in, ready to experience a derivative of the unique set showcased in Armisen’s popular Netflix Original special, “Standup For Drummers,” where he performed a comedy-music hybrid show in front of an audience of only drummers. Now, with a new but fitting name, the show is inclusive of anyone who’s a music, comedy, or Fred Armisen fan. Billed as an opener, comedienne and actress Mary-Lynn Rajskub appeared as part of the show as well, putting in a modest but hysterical 10 to 15 minutes of her own material midway through and frequently re-appearing to do bits with Armisen himself.
For those unfamiliar, the show sees Fred Armisen utilize a full set up of instruments to express his thoughts and musings on of all the habits, quirks, and tropes found among every aspect of music that you may have, but likely have not, noticed before. Using stand up, acting, and his instrumental expertise, Armisen comedically impersonates well-known musicians, parodies common stereotypes in music, and mocks its pretentious cliches in a tongue-in-cheek call out only a person who truly knows and loves music could make.
Something unique about “Standup for Musicians” is how interactive it is. Normally, audience members are discouraged from speaking during any stand up, but Armisen frequently worked the crowd and included it in different parts of the show. Even if someone got too excited and shouted out at the wrong time, Fred expertly spun it into something laugh worthy without having to put anyone on blast. Still, the Houston crowd mostly played it smart, respectfully toning down when the bit asked for it and bringing in the right amount of energy where needed.
Overall, the set itself was as intelligent as it was hilarious — even educational — and just about everything one could hope for in a Fred Armisen stand-up. Between impersonations and random tangents, the crowd was treated to a breakdown in the history of punk rock drumming, a lesson in accents across the US, and covers of songs featured in Armisen’s Documentary Now. As a nod to it being the night of the Academy Awards, Armisen and Mary-Lynn Rajskub updated the crowd with some of the winners by doing their own spot-on impersonations of random celebrities awkwardly telling rigid jokes right before they present the awards. All of it served to make the already unique experience feel one of a kind, and Houston did all it could to express it’s gratitude towards one of the greatest to ever do it.