How Fred Armisen Teamed with The Clash for Funny Or Die
Ian Rubbish, a British punk character Fred Armisen introduced in his last season on “Saturday Night Live” this past spring, has teamed up with The Clash’s Mick Jones and Paul Simonon in a new video for Funny Or Die. The six-minute clip, called "The Last Gang In Town," was filmed at New York’s Electric Lady Studios, where The Clash recorded iconic albums like “Sandinista!” and “Combat Rock,” and features Armisen riffing as Rubbish on Clash-copycat albums like “Acapulco!” with spoken-word track “You’re A Binocular,” and a performance from all three musicians on original comedic song “Hey Policeman.”
The Clash collaboration represents a full-circle moment of sorts for Armisen. “I first saw The Clash in 1982 at Pier 84 in New York as part of the Dr. Pepper music series, when I was about 14 or 15,” Armisen recalls on the phone from Portland, where he’s filming season 4 of IFC’s “Portlandia.” “And after the show, I was waiting outside the gate and Kosmo Vinyl, who was a tour manager, was pointing people in like, ‘You, you and you.’ And I totally got to talk to Paul Simonon and Joe Strummer. And then a couple weeks later I got to see a dress rehearsal of ‘Saturday Night Live,’ where Ron Howard was hosting, and I totally got to see The Clash play again. It was unreal.”
The sketch was pitched by Tom Mullen, Sony Legacy’s director of digital marketing, to Funny Or Die producer Sean Boyle, in support of The Clash’s boxed set “Sound System,” which was released Sept. 10, with remastered vinyl editions of the band’s five studio albums issued this Tuesday, Oct. 15. Not only was Armisen Sony’s first choice for a comedic video with The Clash, the band’s members were already fans of Armisen’s Ian Rubbish character as well as his portrayal of the Queen England with a Mick Jones-esque cockney accent.
"One email with a crazy idea turned into something actually happening," says Mullen. "It was one of those emails you never expect to hear back on, but Fred wrote back in all caps 'YES!'"
“Everything lined up in the right way,” Funny Or Die’s Boyle says. “Mick and Paul were just amazing, they had so much enthusiasm and were so down to be a part of this. Mick is actually a fan of ‘Portlandia,’ too, which is amazing. We knew we could help promote the boxed set, and I loved the idea of doing something where a video we do actually makes a difference. Last year, we premiered Matt & Kim’s lead single from their new album, and they got a lot of radio play from stations like KROQ because of the look from Funny Or Die. Whenever we can do stuff like that, it’s the raddest thing.”
In addition to a lifelong love of The Clash, Armisen happens to hold a particular affinity for Mick Jones’ Big Audio Dynamite -- particularly since it represents a close parallel to his own career path with “Portlandia,” since leaving “SNL” earlier this year. “Big Audio Dynamite and Wings are everything I want ‘Portlandia’ to be. I think it’s easy to give people what they want by just playing songs from your former band. But they both got all new musicians and made prolific, viable living bands with a history all of their own. It’s not the easy thing to do.”
“Portlandia” was co-created with Carrie Brownstein, of Sleater-Kinney and Wild Flag, and has featured numerous cameos from musicians over the years, including Eddie Vedder, Johnny Marr, Sarah McLachlan, Aimee Mann, St. Vincent, James Mercer and Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold. Season four, currently in production, will feature more of the same, Armisen teases. “We’ve got another two weeks of shooting, and there’s definitely a lot of music in there,” he says. “We’ve got a really good, interesting mix of musicians, but I think I’m gonna leave them as a surprise. It’s not just names for names’ sake, but we worked with some people who worked well with the show.”