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Ndugu Chancler, ‘Billie Jean’ Drummer, Dead at 65 – Rolling Stone

Ndugu Chancler, 'Billie Jean' Drummer, Dead at 65 – Rolling Stone

Comics Select Their Audiences as Carefully as Their Jokes

Fred Armisen in his debut special, “Standup for Drummers.” David Moir/Netflix
In his new Netflix special, “Standup for Drummers,” Fred Armisen adopts the distinctively skeptical tone of an observational comedian when asking, “Do we ever need to bring our own cymbals?”
The audience, made up exclusively of drummers, chuckles. Minutes later, he cracks another rhetorical joke: “Is it me or is it just so hard to get a snare drum to be exactly the right way?”
It’s not just him, but I confess I have no idea what he’s talking about. I recognize the rhythms of the joke, and can tease out the general meaning with the help of context, but as a nondrummer, this joke is not intended for me. Nor does it need to be.
Fred Armisen: Standup For Drummers | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix
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Fred Armisen: Standup For Drummers | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix Video by Netflix
There’s an old-school belief that great comedy should work for all audiences. It’s never been entirely true. Taste varies wildly, and some of the best comedy, like the finest film or theater or art, can be obscure, esoteric or simply too odd, dirty or absurd to attract the biggest crowds. But in a splintered culture, where there are more options than ever catering to a multitude of types and inclinations, comedians are increasingly aiming for narrower niches.
“Standup for Drummers” is the logical extension of this trend, a special representative of the moment, when you create your jokes but also curate your crowd. Of course you don’t need to be in that room of drummers to see his special, which is what makes watching it on Netflix disorienting. Mr. Armisen, the “Portlandia” star who’s also a drummer, delivers his material as if everyone is deeply conversant with double-kick drum pedals and high hats. He appears to want to be relatable, even when he isn’t.
At times, that makes it seem as if he’s doing a spoof, poking fun at the kind of hipster-in-a-bubble character he often lampoons on the IFC series “Portlandia,” currently in its eighth and final season. And there is a knowing wink here. But the more you watch, the more his set comes across as a genuine labor of love, comedy he hopes everyone likes, even though it really just caters to a small segment. And what’s wrong with that?
Drummers laugh, too, and material about them isn’t exactly everywhere. You won’t find any other stand-up special with imitations of Keith Moon, Meg White and Larry Mullen Jr.; or one that pokes fun at the lighting in instructional videos for drummers. And for those who don’t know anything about this world, there is fun to be had observing this clubby atmosphere from the outside.
Mr. Armisen has long been a bridge between the comedy and music worlds, after his 11 years on “Saturday Night Live” with a job as the bandleader on “Late Night With Seth Meyers.” On “Portlandia,” he has done sketches filled with musicians like one this year about a reunion of aging punk rockers, which starred Henry Rollins, Krist Novoselic (formerly of Nirvana) and the Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty. Some of “Standup for Drummers” operates as an entertaining history lesson, as when he plays a series of drum kits from different decades, describing how the instrument has changed.
Mr. Armisen is much more seasoned as a sketch performer and actor than a stand-up and it often shows. His setups are repetitive, his transitions awkward and some of the jokes aren’t fully formed. A bit about how he doesn’t like blues isn’t much more than that. “Aren’t crazy people crazy?” is a line that should be cut.
But someone with such diverse talents would be wasted toiling away at a comedy club. Mr. Armisen’s jokes are at their best when they bleed into sketches, when they lean on characters rather than punch lines in his own voice. In one premise, he says that doo-wop was once considered as edgy and angry as heavy metal. Then he puts on some doo-wop music and imagines what a kid from the 1950s getting his mind blown would look like. His performance is all flailing limbs and coiled attitude, evoking a whole type in a few brief flourishes.
It’s something Mr. Armisen specializes in — look at his brief appearance as Michael Wolff, the author of “Fire and Fury,” on a recent episode of “Saturday Night Live.” The skit captures his devil-may-carelessness in a flip of the hand.
Morning Joe Michael Wolff Cold Open – SNL
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Morning Joe Michael Wolff Cold Open – SNL Video by Saturday Night Live
Part of what makes him gifted at these caricatures is his perceptive ear for the eccentric ways people talk, pointing out oddball pieces of rhetoric and habits of speech. He also displays a gift for accents. At one point, he puts up a video of a map of America and goes state by state, demonstrating the accent of every major city in the country. It’s a marvel, and not entirely off point, since local differences are the kind of thing bands on tour know.
It doesn’t seem like a joke so much as a feat, and yet he’s summing up entire regions with a slight change in intonation or affect. This is fairly subtle work, the kind that also reminds you that we’re living in a big, complex country where even people in neighboring states talk differently.
There’s something wonderful about the idea of trying to speak to everyone. But in our divided, siloed culture, who really believes that’s possible? Just as politicians play to their base, comedians now find their specific audiences, and because of social media and podcasts, they can communicate with them more directly than ever.
The future of comedy is not in the size of your crowd, but in the depth of its passion. And the connection between performer and fan can be cemented with inside jokes, the shared, exclusive language of close friends. Something is lost in this shift away from monoculture and into aesthetic alcoves, but only the rigidly nostalgic will insist nothing has been gained.

Jim Eigo Jazz Promo Services T: 845-986-1677 E-Mail: jim@jazzpromoservices.com



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