SNL's Fred Armisen: How 'The Californians' Gets the 411 on the 101
The breakout skit sends up SoCal's obsession with freeways and car culture.
This story first appeared in the Nov. 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Since debuting last season, "The Californians" has been one of Saturday Night Live's breakout bits, a studied sendup of L.A.'s obsession with freeways and all things organic. But when the characters on the mock soap opera discuss their driving routes in endless and exacting detail, are they nailing the Southern California geography?
Yes, it turns out.
"It's a combination of going through Google Maps but also just remembering what it's like to be in Los Angeles -- I spent a few years there, and I go there pretty frequently," says Fred Armisen, who stars in the sketches and writes them with James Anderson. "It's just fun for me and James to think of California. It's, 'Avocados, yeah! Dates, yeah!' "
Armisen says that "The Californians" was born out of pretable-read banter he regularly had with castmates Bill Hader and Keenan Thompson. "Just for no reason, we would talk about how we were just in L.A. and what roads we were on, and we'd be talking about directions, and, 'Well, yeah, you go on Vermont and you make a left,' " says Armisen, slipping into his character's voice, before adding that it was Anderson's idea to frame the sketch as a soap opera.
SNL is off to a strong start this season, up 8 percent compared with last year in the 18-to-49 demo (though the show's ratings typically spike during an election year, this year is down from 2008's Sarah Palin-juiced season).
Armisen -- whose character is known for his "Uh, what are you doing here?" catchphrase shouted mostly at his spouse's lover (Hader) -- says that the sketch is written from a place of love. He notes that when he's in L.A., he actually doesn't mind the traffic. "I just love driving down Beverly," says Armisen. "There is a nice stretch where it winds around. It is a nice feeling."