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I’m not the world’s biggest Fred Armisen guy. During his heyday on Saturday Night Live, I could have rattled off seven or eight Not Ready For Primetime Players I preferred. There’s just something about the eccentricities of his characters that rub me the wrong way a decent percentage of the time. As such, I’m a prime candidate to hate Seth Meyers’ decision to cast his former co-star as the leader of the Late Night band, but actually, much to my surprise, there’s something about this position that feels oddly perfect. Let me explain why.
Unlike Jimmy Fallon, Meyers is not at his best when he’s dancing around and injecting energy into a comedic moment. He’s not at his best when he’s trying to play a character or do something the audience has never seen on television before. He’s a buttoned-up, straight-laced throwback comedian in the same mold as David Letterman or Jimmy Kimmel. He’s a conversationalist whose humor runs dry and whose arsenal of snarky comments never runs out. His tone is almost always sensible with a slight hint of condescension, which is why he always, always worked best on Weekend Update opposite characters that were borderline mental.
Think about how many wonderful moments Meyers had just reacting to Bill Hader’s immortal Stefon. Think about how great he was lecturing the duo of Garth and Kat every time they failed to write lyrics to their songs. He thrived off their energy. They gave him the momentum he sometimes has difficulty generating himself, and Armisen is absolutely, positively perfect for that job because he’s a chameleon who is never afraid to try weird shit. He always generates momentum.
Until a show actually premieres and we’re able to see the dynamic, it’s impossible to know exactly how a bandleader will be used. Letterman banters quite a bit with the far goofier Paul Shaffer. The contrasting dynamic is always good for a laugh during any moment the show might be sagging, and Paul has become an extremely popular personality in his own right. Kimmel uses his bandleader, Cleto, more as a traditional musician, but he gets the same goofy, over the top dynamic from his security guard Guillermo and other ABC workers who regularly appear in sketches to tone down the serious level. Fallon, conversely, uses the Roots quite a bit in various sketches, but he rarely uses them to up the energy level. Instead, he interacts with Questlove almost as the sensible, relaxed one. Why? Because he already has that goofiness himself.
I think Armisen is capable of delivering the goofy spirit Meyers will need to counterbalance his personality. I think, as a longtime Saturday Night Live scribe, the talk show host will inject his program with some goofy skits and strange characters. Meyers himself is not the man for that job. Armisen is, and as a skilled musician, he’ll have no problem carrying the actual music load.
Here’s to hoping everyone is just as smiley fifteen years from now as they are in this picture…