'SNL' at 40: Mike Myers Tells Fred Armisen, "I Thought I Was Being Fired Every Week"
The former castmembers interview each other for THR's special issue as Armisen reveals he loved Myers' 'Sprockets' before he even saw it.
A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
There seems to be a bit of a cosmic connection between Mike Myers and Fred Armisen. Beyond their shared love of playing music (both guitarists and drummers, they've been known to play New York bars together under fake band names), there's a palpable quirk-factor that makes you wish they'd shared the Saturday Night Live stage at the same time. (Exhibit A: "Sprockets" is Armisen's favorite Myers creation). On an afternoon in early January, the sketch artists reunited inside SNL's famed Studio 8H to chat about their early years on the show, why they still can't believe they were on the show and how SNL creator Lorne Michaels — on the occasion of the show's 40th anniversary — should be celebrated even more "for his love of weird." (Armisen also gave THR a tour of the SNL studio; watch the video below.)
MIKE MYERS: When do you first remember seeing SNL as a kid?
FRED ARMISEN: I remember my mom used to watch. She would say in her Venezuelan accent, "Ooh, I love that Chev-ee Chase." Then I watched a lot in high school during the Eddie Murphy years, that's when I started repeating sketches at school. You?
MYERS: Gilda Radner played my mom in a TV commercial on a four-day shoot for the Hydro Electric Company British Columbia. I fell in love with her and cried on the last day. My brothers said, "Hey, sucky baby, your girlfriend's on a show!" I turned to everybody and said "I'm going to be on that show too!" I was 11. I didn't know it would happen.
ARMISEN: What channel was it on in Canada?
MYERS: It was channel 4 Buffalo. I can't remember now, WKBW? What were your favorite sketches or performers?
ARMISEN: I loved you, Mike Myers! You were everything I wanted SNL to be. "Sprockets" was a favorite because I loved it before I even saw it. I'm a fan of the band Kraftwerk, and I remember someone saying that the sketch it was maybe inspired by Kraftwerk?
ARMISEN: See, you have my number. You have my sweet spot of the things and make so much sense to me. I can't think of anything that you did that I didn't love. Every single one was a homerun all the way.
MYERS: Well, thank you. My favorite sketches from before my time on SNL would be the "Czech Brothers," "Theodoric of York," "X-Police," "Fred Garvin Male Prostitute." People ask me, "Who are you most like from those early years?" My first reaction would be Dan Aykroyd, but it's more Gilda Radner. She was my hero. She actually passed away on the last day of my first half-season. It was very sad. This reporter asked me, "What did you think of Gilda Radner?" I had no idea she died — this was before CNN — and he told me. I started to cry in the lobby. I started on SNL in February '89 and this was around May of '89. I remember Steve Martin was the host and I couldn't believe when he was talking to me. I was like, "Wow, those are the molecules that Steve Martin's made of." He invited us all out for lunch, he paid for us and then said, "I'm going to go get some gum, you want to come with me?" I was like "Yeah!" People were like turning around in the street and nudging each other and I went into a variety store and he bought gum. I'll never forget it the rest of my life.
ARMISEN: I remember the first time Paul McCartney said my name. He saw my face and had a conversation with me. I'm like, "Those are his eyes!"
MYERS: I still can't believe I was on the show. I'm not even kidding.
ARMISEN: No joke. I'm the same way.
MYERS: I also can't believe how comfortable I am being back in the studio right now. I spent so much time here. Oh my God my knees are already hurting from the cement floor. I thought I was being fired every week. I'm not exaggerating. Lorne keeps saying to me, "Stop saying that," but it's true! You just never wanted to blow it. I loved having an idea in the bath on a Sunday and then seeing it on national TV on the following Saturday.
ARMISEN: Suddenly they are making a costume for it …
MYERS: When I was first on the show I think people thought I was Dana Carvey for about a year, which is fine, and they're saying the loveliest things to me. I'm like, "Fantastic!"
ARMISEN: I could go on for hours about the people you meet, even Lorne! I'd have conversations with him and inside I'm like, "That's Lorne Michaels!"
MYERS: He's going to hate this, but I did do a project on him in grade eight about famous Canadians. He's sick of hearing about it! What was your audition like?
ARMISEN: My audition was right here. I did one audition at a club or UCB, then there was a day we did it here. I did Ferecito, this Tito Puente. I also did a couple of impressions, including Sam Waterston from Law & Order.
MYERS: What I love about your work are the choices!
ARMISEN: Then we were all lined up to go to the elevators and [then producer] Marci Klein called me on my cellphone to say I got the job. And I saved the message to this day. That was 2002. Everything changed and I knew it would. Do you remember your audition?
MYERS: I actually didn't audition. I got a call in 1988. My brother Paul is fantastic with voices, and he said, "Is this Mike Myers? Hold for Lorne Michaels." I thought, "Wow, Paul that is elaborate!" Then Lorne says, "Have you seen the show?" I was in Chicago at the time and had done the 15th anniversary of Toronto Second City. Evidently Dave Foley and Martin Short and Pam Thomas had called Lorne, and he offered me a job. It was hard to go into a cast full of such brilliant performers — Dana Carvey, Kevin Nealon, Phil Hartman. It was like suddenly like being in the NHL. What was your first sketch?
ARMISEN: I did a "Weekend Update" thing with Jimmy Fallon. I remember for the opening credits it was explained to me that if it did not air, I couldn't be in the opening credits. The lucky thing is that I'm glad I didn't have to wait too long for that to happen.
MYERS: I played Nigel the groundskeeper in a sketch called "Mock Me" written by Al Franken, who really took me under his wing.
ARMISEN: Was that John Malkovich?
MYERS: Yeah, John Malkovich and musical guest Anita Baker. It was very experimental. If there is something to celebrate about Lorne Michaels it's his love of weird. I only ever watched Lorne to see if he was liking it when I was doing my sketches.
ARMISEN: He does pick stuff that used to make me think, "We're not really going to do this, are we?" What was your craziest show moment?
MYERS: One was the "Wayne's World" Gulf War episode. We'd written the sketch and we didn't know whether there were going to be horrific casualties [during the first days of the war]. There weren't, so it became the cold open. It was rewritten 25 seconds before air. I was talking as the cards were being written. Then another time I was doing a Dieter sketch with Rob Lowe and the cue cards fell like 52-pickup style. Rob is looking to me because he thinks I'm the "live TV guy." And to this day Rob will call me and I'll go, "How are you?" and he'll joke "Uhh, ohh, umm … Mike, that's still the scariest moment of my life."