|December 4, 1966|
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Fred Armisen was born on Dec. 4, 1966 in Long Island, NY to a Venezuelan mother and a German/Japanese father; later making him the second Asian-American (after Rob Schneider) and Latino (after Horatio Sanz) "Saturday Night Live" cast member in the show's over 30-year history. Before he started doing comedy, Armisen's first love was music. He moved from New York to Chicago in 1988 to play drums for punk rock band, Trenchmouth, which led to a gig playing background drums for the avant-garde performing arts troupe, The Blue Man Group, for most of the 1990s. In 1997, Armisen's music career blossomed into touring with Those Bastard Souls, a side project of The Grifters' David Shouse and The Flaming Lips' Steven Drozd.
A year after touring with Those Bastard Souls, Armisen worked as a music journalist covering South by Southwest, a massive music and film festival held in Austin, TX. The project, filmed by this then-wife, singer-songwriter Sally Timms, became the short film "Fred Armisen's Guide to Music and South by Southwest" (1998) and showed the host playing pranks on various musicians and crewmembers at the festival. Armisen also wrote and directed the film. The experience, along with his years as a punk rock drummer, inspired Armisen to pursue a career in front of the camera. "I wanted to be on TV somehow," he said during a January 2006 interview. "I didn't know that it would be comedy and 'Saturday Night Live.' I just wanted to do something with performing that would lead me there."
After a hosting stint with HBO's "Reverb" (1999-2001), a series that followed up-and-coming bands, Armisen started doing comedy routines on the variety shows "Late Friday" (NBC, 2001-02) and "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" (NBC, 1993-2009). Audiences so loved the actor's characters - including over-the-top Venezuelan nightclub comedian, Fericito - that some even made their way to "Saturday Night Live" years later. He also appeared in feature film projects "Like Mike" (2002) and "Melvin Goes to Dinner" (2003), though they were very minor cameos. It was ultimately on the small screen where Armisen's talent and star were about to shine.
Working the comedy circuit for several years finally paid off in 2002 when Armisen was cast as a featured player on the legendary sketch comedy staple, "Saturday Night Live." During his time with the show, the actor's comedy routines ranged from hilarious impressions of various celebrities and newsmakers like flamboyant musician Prince and Apple CEO Steve Jobs, to offbeat characters he created, such as Billy Smith, a Native American comedian who never delivers punch lines, and Leonard, European host of a dance show "Club Traxx." Whether he was singing during the "Weekend Update" segments or playing the drums as Fericito, Armisen often infused his musical background into his sketches. In 2004, the actor was promoted to hallowed repertory player status.
Like many Not Ready for Primetime Players before him, Armisen's "SNL" exposure paved the way for exposure in bigger budget projects. Appearing in films headlined by past "SNL" heavyweights, Armisen made impressions in "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" (2004) with Will Ferrell, "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo" (2005) with Rob Schneider and "Baby Mama" with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. He also had small yet memorable cameos as a creepy Italian in "EuroTrip" (2004) and as a security guard in "Tenacious D: In the Pick of Destiny" (2006) with fellow rock-n-roll comic, Jack Black. Armisen also found success as a voice actor, lending his comic genius to the animated series "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" (Adult Swim, 2000- ), "Squidbillies" (Adult Swim, 2005- ), and the puppet Chip, a prank caller who was always talking about building his house and managing food chain Taco Bell, in "Crank Yankers" (Comedy Central, 2002- ).
Four years after being promoted to regular "Saturday Night Live" cast member, Armisen received the opportunity only a few actors in the show's history were presented - impersonate a U.S. President in front of said president. Former cast members Chevy Chase, Dana Carvey and Ferrell had all shot to stardom after their respective presidential impersonations of Gerald Ford, George Bush Sr., and George W. Bush singled them out in a major way. In 2008, Armisen stepped in Barack Obama's shoes and followed his rise from senator to presidential candidate to Head of State. While there was no guarantee that Armisen would impersonate Obama for his first four years in the Oval Office, the actor definitely landed the breakout role he had worked all his life for when American elected their first African-American president.
Despite the pervasiveness of the presidential ski, Armisen's "SNL" duties did not prevent the actor from taking on more work. He played a recurring character on "The Sarah Silverman Program" (Comedy Central, 2007- ) and two years later, appeared in the film version of the Sophie Kinsella book, "Confessions of a Shopaholic" starring Isla Fisher, and "The Post Grad Survival Guide," a comedy with an odd ensemble cast that included Alexis Bledel, Carol Burnett and Michael Keaton. While his professional career was soaring, in October 2009, Armisen married his girlfriend and "Mad Men" (AMC, 2007- ) star Elisabeth Moss, making her his second wife. Only months later, however, the couple separated in June 2010 and filed for divorce in September, as rumors of Armisen dating "SNL" co-star Abby Elliott began to surface.