It's hard to name one other television show that has brilliantly crystallized the humor and absurdity of contemporary lifestyle trends than Portlandia. Created by Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein–veteran musicians and close friends–the two pooled together their collective experiences of Portland and have generated a successful format for satirizing some of the most innocuous quirks about the city and the millenial generation as a whole.
Four seasons since their debut in 2011, Portlandia has become a cult hit with its iconic one-liners ("Put a bird on it!"), awesome guest stars, and various recurring characters played by Armisen and Brownstein, like the gender-swapping roles Lance and Nina, aging punks Spike and Iris, and of course, feminist bookstore Women & Women First owners Toni and Candace.Last Saturday night, Armisen came down to the Observatory in Santa Ana to extend to fans an exclusive first look of this season's upcoming episode 8, and engaged audiences in a hilarious Q&A session full of memorable moments and insightful answers.
Season 4 of Portlandia has, strangely, seen the lowest rate of guest stars to date, compared to the cavalcade of stars in Season 3. Episode 8 saw a lot of the usual characters from seasons past, with plenty more risks being taken in the sketches that paid off. As most Portlandia fans will stress- "No Spoilers!"- but here's a brief overview of Episode 8 fans can look forward to when it premieres Thursday on IFC.
The set up sketch for the episode involved Fred and Carrie's yuppie parents characters as they realize their lives have been lacking in wild exploits and experience in drugs, so they set up an elaborate plan to consume drugs (although it's never specified what drugs), but make sure they would safely be able to resume their old lives when it was over–going so far as to suggest getting passports in case they wake up in Mexico or somewhere else–for the benefit of being able to brag to their friends of their worldliness and travel expertise.
Other skits in the episode include Queens of The Stone Age guitarist Josh Homme playing Carrie's gay brother (a hilarious ironic twist, considering Homme's controversial use of gay slurs at a concert a few years ago), feminist bookstore's Toni and Candace having a run-in with Portland PD, and seasoned Portland punks Spike and Iris discovering their local Thai food restaurant, declared "Best Thai Food" by alt-weekly rag Bridgetown Weekly, is run by the same family who runs Bridgetown Weekly (HA!).
At the end of the episode, Armisen, clad in his usual blazer attire and signature frames, came out and welcomed the audience to take pictures of him, jokingly striking poses to appear more dazzling and punk rock. Audience members then crowded to form a line to ask Armisen questions. One young lady stated that she had driven 10 hours from law school in San Francisco to come down and meet Armisen, others were Portland transplants who appreciated seeing familiar sights of their town on TV, and some audience members simply wanted to tell Armisen he was their hero. Armisen could only respond with a humble and gracious "Thank you," as the sound of audience members' "Awwws" filled the room.
It was also apparent that there were a lot of female fans of Fred Armisen. One such fan showed Armisen her Portlandia tattoo that referenced the Peter and Nance "Timbers" sketch with "Byaaaay!" another asked to perform the "Cacao to Cacao" bit with Armisen; going the extra mile, Armisen donned red lipstick and spoke in his high-pitched Nina voice, and in a bold move, the young lady threw herself at Armisen and planted on him a long kiss, afterwards taking a chug of her tall can of beer and throwing her arms in the air exclaiming, "STEVE HOLT!"
"I don't remember the beer," Armisen quipped.
As a comedic actor who plays characters all the time, this was definitely a new side of Armisen most people had not seen before. He was obviously funny and charismatic, but his appearance at The Observatory seemed like a grand gesture that demonstrated how much he cared about his fans, heightened by his desire to get to know audience members and often times asking them questions about themselves and creating an intimate conversation on stage. And never, ever did he show signs of impatience or fatigue as more people approached him. There were too many great answers Armisen gave to some questions, but here's some highlights of the night:
On what he thinks of Orange County: "I am fascinated with Orange County. Here's the deal, I recently started living in LA, I'm from New York and everything about LA and OC to me is exotic, and when I was in high school, I would see the movies about this place and all the high schools are outside and all these cool bands are playing all the time. I always think of No Doubt, and they made it even more romantic, I was like 'Aw man, that place seems like everyone's having a great time all the time.' It's like kinda punk, kinda goth and also kind of sunny. So I also don't know Orange County well enough to know what the center is, (audience members yell out names of OC cities) "Laguna Beach? That's Orange County?" (More audience yelling) "Downtown Santa Ana? Okay, from now I'm going to think Downtown Santa Ana is the center."
On his favorite thing about Carrie Brownstein: "Its hard to describe this, but she has an inner and outer beauty. She is like this perfect being, she's intelligent and funny, shes captivating and she's non-judgmental, she's the best friend a human being could ever have, like ever."
Advice for people wanting to do comedy: "You're gonna do great, don't worry, don't ever take any advice from anybody. People are gong to tell you 'do more jokes' or 'do this.' I got to where I am by ignoring everybody. I was told, 'you don't have any jokes, you're not crazy enough' and there's this stuff that all these people along the way wanted me to do and I just was like 'no i wanna do something weird that almost seems to make no sense and I think i can keep going.' So just keep going you're gonna do great. The fact that you know you wanna do comedy is already a good sign."
To a woman moving to Portland on whether Portland is really like the way it's portrayed in Portlandia: "We under-exaggerated, and you'll see what I mean. I love the place, but it's a very specific kind of lifestyle. The bicycle situation, just stop your car and let them pass, there's a lot of bicycles… a lot."
On how much of the show is improvised: "It's all improvised, like 90% improvised. We write out the sketch, like where we think it's gonna go, its all the dialogue we have to make up so that it sounds more natural, kind of like this. This is what i sound like naturally."
The Crowd: Mostly young millenials around college age, as well as a few older people and parents who came with their kids, making for a fairly chill ambiance as well.
Critical Bias: The Bridgetown Weekly skit is one of the funniest skits of all time- if not the funniest.
Stray observations: I spotted Allison Wolfe from riot grrrl band Bratmobile orbiting around the audience, and she must have came along with Armisen since he addressed her directly at one point. Makes total sense since Wolfe and Brownstein emerged from the same Washington music scene at the same time.