Fred Armisen’s stamp on the comedy world is well-established by now. Known for his quirky sketches depicting life in the titular city in “Portlandia” and as a mainstay on “Saturday Night Live,” his brand of irreverent, observational humor has become iconic. His new Netflix special “Standup for Drummers” is a creative but uneven distillation of his unique style.
Immediately, it is apparent that the title is literal. Armisen appears on a stage littered with drum kits of different formats and configurations. A large portion of the show is devoted to tirades against a wide variety of “drummers only” topics, from snare placement to the banter and conflicts between band members. The special features cameos from notable drummers, including Green Day’s Tré Cool, Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa and session drummer Thomas Lang to add to the drum cred. Although niche in scope, these bits are the special’s most effective and entertaining, as Armisen’s background as a drummer and love for the art shine through at every moment. He performs a brilliant series of impressions of famous drummers from Keith Moon to Meg White as well as a fascinating walkthrough of drum kits from the 1920s to the present day.
As is to be expected, Armisen’s stand-up feels more like someone sharing observations rather than a professional comedian’s performance. This impression is bolstered by Armisen’s sheer awkwardness, evident as he fumbles and stumbles around the stage and uses a vocal delivery that resembles the tone you use when having uncomfortably personal late-night conversations with a close friend. When not riffing on a drumming tidbit, Armisen simply traverses through a series of short vignettes that each depict a certain topic, usually about simple observations or annoyances in his daily life. These sometimes involve music, such as one bit about tuning out while listening to jazz, while others seem to come out of nowhere, including a hilarious impression of a decaying fox.
For the most part, the content not related to drums is hit-or-miss. A lot of the tangentially music-related parts reach the highs of the drumming content, such as a whirlwind series of impressions of accents from nearly all 50 states, based on observations Armisen made while touring with his band. However, an equal number fall flat, drawing polite but meek laughs from the audience, suggesting that the special would benefit from a little tightening up.
Even people who are not drummers are likely to thoroughly enjoy Armisen’s exploration of drum culture and music in general. Enjoying the rest is highly dependent on one’s penchant for his idiosyncratic sense of humor, and even his fans will be disappointed with some of the extraneous material. Nonetheless, “Standup for Drummers” is overall an innovative and entertaining special. As long as Netflix continues to take risks on specials like it, comedy as a genre will continue to grow.