Fred Armisen Recounts His Path to ‘SNL’ – and Why It Was the ‘Best Call Ever’

Comedian Fred Armisen’s path to Saturday Night Live was very different from other cast members because he wasn’t in a sketch group or doing standup like many cast members who eventually joined SNL. Armisen recalled his SNL audition and getting what he referred to as the “best call ever” when he learned he was cast on the show in 2002.

Fred Armisen shot a pilot with Bob Odenkirk prior to ‘SNL’

Prior to his SNL audition, Armisen just shot a pilot with comedian Bob Odenkirk. “I moved to L.A. and had like a manager and stuff in 2001 I was on a sketch show pilot for Bob Odenkirk,” he recalled on the Off Camera Show. “

Fred Armisen leans on drums as Fericito on 'Weekend Update' on SNL
Fred Armisen | Dana Edelson/NBCU Photo Bank

“All of a sudden I had this tape with a bunch of characters, but it’s well shot,” Armisen continued. “So that tape, my manager at the time sent it to SNL. Marci Klein was working at the talent department there and she really championed it. So thanks to Marci Kelin I got the call of, ‘You want to come out and do an audition?'”

Fred Armisen was just happy to be on the iconic ‘SNL’ stage

Armisen, who is also a musician and was in a band spent years getting “nowhere with my band.” So just getting a call from SNL put him over the moon. “So to get a free plane ticket, I was already in a very good place,” he said. “Like, I can’t believe a company is going to buy me a plane ticket. NBC. So this is already an elevation of my whole life. If this is all that ever happens to me from punk rock drummer to this, I’m good. This is amazing.”

Although he was just happy to have a chance to audition for SNL, Armisen wanted to do as well as he could. “And I had to work on something where I had three impressions and three characters, something like that,” he recalled. Adding that he really practiced.

One of the characters he turned to was the now iconic Fericito, the Venezuelan nightclub comedian. Also, “I did self-defense expert too,” he said. “I auditioned as Fericito. So that I could break away and do characters and stuff.”

What did Fred Armisen ask Lorne Michaels?

SNL creator Lorne Michaels was there and so was Tina Fey, Armisen recalled. “One of the first things I asked [Michaels] was like, ‘You know George Harrison. You met George Harrison,'” he recalled. “And I just couldn’t believe somewhere there was someone who had any connection to the Beatles.”

Armisen wasn’t even nervous because he was more in awe of just being in that iconic studio. “It was just too big to be nervous about,” he said. Getting on SNL was not his longtime dream and Armisen was just happy to have the experience.

He saved the NBC phone number as ‘best call ever’

That’s why getting the call he had been cast was even sweeter. “It just gets better and better. I auditioned with all these people. Met them all really nice. And we are literally going down a hallway and Marci says before we get on the elevator, ‘Fred, can I talk to you for a second about one of your characters?’ She brings me back and she’s like, ‘So what’s this you might have a deal with Comedy Central?’ So that question is already like, something’s up. And I was like, ‘No, no, don’t worry about that.’ So I wasn’t sure yet, but I was like, something’s up.”

Then he got the call. “Sure enough, she called me. Step outside. I think we’re going to work something out. This is before texting, but I saved the number and I saved it as ‘best call ever.’ Best call I ever got. Just that NBC number. I just remember that I couldn’t say anything at dinner.”