What is it that makes rock stars want to be actors? Perhaps it’s the theatrical quality common to both professions that provides a natural bridge. But for every Frank Sinatra or Tom Waits there’s a Madonna or Jennifer Lopez casting a permanent shadow on any fellow musician with aspirations for crossing over from one medium to another.
Carrie Brownstein’s move from strumming power chords during her days with legendary band Sleater-Kinney to perfecting deadpan in the modest comedy duo ThunderAnt (with another rocker-thespian, Fred Armisen) probably won’t invite much scrutiny – her star power is intentionally modest and her celebrity unassuming – but watching the handful of short video sketches from the group’s website would cause even the pettiest critics pause. She and Armisen are quite funny. Perhaps not all the way there in terms of timing and execution, but their best material displays veritable comic chops.
Armisen seems to be the anchor of the group – he’s a regular Saturday Night Live cast member, and SNL’s particular brand of parodic humor also seems to be ThunderAnt’s modus operandi. This is a blessing and a curse, since SNL’s Achilles heel has always been dragging a joke for far too long. That’s what happens in ThunderAnt clips like Feminist Bookstore when the two passive-aggressive, politically correct satiric characters played by Brownstein and Armisen spend most of the video’s runtime commenting on potential flyers to be put up on their wall – without interaction with “straight” characters the tension that could have come from this sketch flags, making the ongoing commentary monotonous.
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It’s difficult to come up with scenarios for only two performers, though, and it says something that most of ThunderAnt’s ideas succeed. Katchenza features Brownstein and Armisen as co-owners of a horrible, disgusting restaurant who answer letters from angry customers:“You’re vomiting? Really? I open up the newspaper and there’s a bunch of dead people in Afghanistan. I don’t know, it seems like they have it kind of rough, so is vomiting a problem right now?” “Last time I had the flu I lost ten pounds.” It’s short, funny, and to the point.
The group’s best sketch is on a topic dear to their hearts: making music (Armisen, by the way, has played for minor punk and indie groups and even played background drums for the Blue Man Group; he’s SNL’s go-to actor for music-orineted sketches). The Perfect Song has Brownstein and Armisen leaving each other messages performing their latest brainstorms for an ridiculously, insanely bad song at home, on the back of a motorcycle, anywhere (Carrie’s contribution: “Alkaline, Clementine, valentine, columbine/The flower, not the high school massacre . . .” Fred’s: “Don’t you know when both the rainbows are falling down/Saw you with Raggedy Ann . . .”) It’s apparently based on messages left by a friend, but I happen to believe only people who make good music know how to craft a funny bad song – otherwise it’s a tragically bad song. There’s a difference.
As one can imagine from Sleater-Kinney’s pedigree, ThunderAnt are also a humble, fan-friendly group whose site containswrite-ups from each member about the creative process,photos, andoriginal music from the sketches. Like the videos, the white layout is elementary in the best possible meaning of the word. Call it DIY comedy, if you like, but don’t forget to call it ThunderAnt.