Fred Armisen recently did the unthinkable: He got random New Yorkers to pick up a ringing, public payphone and come and meet the caller across the street. Little did they know that the voice on the other end of the phone was Armisen's—or that they'd be walking into his comedy show.
So why did he do it? Partially, it's a cool prank and a neat test to see what happens when jaded city folk pass an endlessly ringing phone. But truth be told, it's the latest in a series of "social experiments" produced by beer maker Heineken. And it just launched yesterday. We asked the recently Emmy nominated Armisen (of SNL and Portlandia fame) to give us he background on the stunt—and weigh in on his contributions to the Johnny Ramone tribute.
DETAILS: Let's talk about this experiment. Did anyone recognize that it was you on the phone?
FRED ARMISEN: No, and on top of that, the director [from the ad agency, Wieden + Kennedy] wanted this to be kept very real and done in a way that was very natural. He wanted me to keep it vague, and ensure I didn't reveal it was me, and really keep it mysterious. We started out from a place of me doing characters and then eventually, it became me being me.
DETAILS: Be honest, does this make you more or less likely to drink Heineken?
FRED ARMISEN: Well more. But then again, that's implying that I wouldn't have before.
DETAILS: You played a character Ian Rubbish in the documentary, The Sexiest Elbows in Rock. What other body parts do you think will find their place in the sun?
FRED ARMISEN: I think that shoulders will very literally have their moments in the sun.
DETAILS: Can you talk about your involvement in the upcoming Johnny Ramone tribute at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in LA (slated for Sunday, August 24)?
FRED ARMISEN: I became friends with Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols, Rob Zombie, and Linda Ramone [Johnny's spouse]; these are people who are very literally in my record collection.
DETAILS: Will you bring back Ian Rubbish?
FRED ARMISEN: I think I will. I'm doing three songs.
DETAILS: Here's a hypothetical situation predicated on the idea that you love both comedy and music: You're invited to two reality-bending gigs the same night, but you can only participate in one. Either you help Andy Kaufman come in and execute a new act. . . or you fill in for Marky Ramone for a packed show. Which do you choose?
FRED ARMISEN: So as far as Andy Kaufman goes, I could only be an audience member, there's nothing I could have done in that situation; I would have to step back and only watch. But on the other hand, music is more participatory and The Ramones? Yeah, I'd love to pick up some drums and play with them. That's a group effort and subsequently, group fun. Andy Kaufman, we all know, as the genius that he was. . . you can't mess with that. You step back and let it happen.