Fred Armisen hosts a “Portlandia” preview at the Gothic Theater (photos, review)By Sam DeLeo | March 27th, 2014 | No Comments »
The screening of Armisen’s latest episode of “Portlandia”, the show he co-created with musician-turned-comedian/writer Carrie Brownstein, had lasted about 20 minutes in comparison. But, no matter. He chatted with the capacity audience like he was catching up with old acquaintances. Ranging from undergrads to grandmothers, the crowd seemed to enjoy it as much as the screening and kept Armisen talking into the night.
It wasn’t as cute as a bedtime story, but it was close.
Though the episode airs tonight, a spoiler alert remains the courteous move and will extend through the next couple of paragraphs. Titled “Spike Drives,” the episode centers on aggressive bicyclist Spike wrestling with the possibility of actually driving a car for the first time in his life.
Kumail Nanjiani plays the car salesman who persuades Spike on the merits of a bland four-wheeled sedan. “Most cars try hard to give off that I-don’t-care-about-cars vibe,” Nanjiani says. “But this car really means it.”
Of course, once Spike drives the car off the lot he begins to hate the very community of bicyclists he was a member of minutes ago. “Drivers’ rights!” he yells to them at the standoff that culminates the skit, as rows of bicyclists and drivers confront each other at a Portland intersection.
Here are a few more highlights from Armisen’s Q&A:
• On his favorite episodes of Portlandia: “The women’s bookstore (and) ‘Battlestar Galactica,’ because it became this thing that was bigger than all of us. And, the recording studio (sketch), because today the recording studio is like the muscle car of the ’70s.”
• On whether punk is dead: “Yes. But everything is dead. So, let’s celebrate what’s dead.”
• About “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” sketch: “That was based on a true story. Carrie said to me one day, ‘My mailman is leaving me letters. Personal letters!’ I mean, how do you get out of that? It’s like a hostage situation.”
• About Kristen Wiig’s claim that “Portlandia” guest stars are paid in merch: “Yes. And we also pay in cookies. Period.”
• On improvisation: “Eighty percent of the show is improvised. We write out a script and then we don’t follow it.”
• On visiting Colorado: “People were really into us seeing nature. It was like, ‘You have to see this mountain.’”
• Favorite “SNL” skit: “Garth and Kat.”
• Biggest comedic influences: “The Tim and Eric show, ‘Flight of the Concords’ and ‘Mr. Show’.”
• On the possibility of an audience member’s friends from Napa Valley being the inspiration for the skit “Stu’s Stews”: “Yes! That’s them! They followed us around and were such sweet people. We felt like we had to do something on them.”
• On “podbusters” and the Milk Advisory Board: “They’ve figured out now that a lot of people skip through commercials. So they make us do what are called podbusters, which are right in the episode. So rather than getting bummed or angry, we said let’s make them awesome. And that’s how we got the Milk Advisory Board. Because, there’s always new milk, right? When I was young there was skim milk, and then we got soy milk, and then they said, no, you can’t drink soy. I haven’t tried hazelnut milk yet. But there’s always new milk.”
• On breaking into comedy from music: “It was really when I disrupted the (1998) South by Southwest conference. That really was my calling card for comedy, I got calls from that.”
• On Kath and Dave: “These are hyper people, people who have to have the latest gear, who have to be going all the time. Do you have people like that here? They’re not there to enjoy the ride. What’s funny is, they’re not very different from Carrie and I right now. My life is so busy right now, it’s getting on airplanes all the time, it’s hectic, but I love it. That’s my answer. I hope you like it.”
As the conversation drew to a close, people began asking Armisen to sign their tickets or take selfies with him. He gracefully obliged, even trying to make a magic trick of it all. But it seemed to pull you from a rare kind of intimacy that had just occurred with several hundred strangers in a theater, and back to that eminently more obvious realization: Oh yeah, he’s famous – “SNL,” “Anchorman,” “Portlandia,” etc.
This lack of pretension isn’t incidental to the success of “Portlandia,” the show that skewers those who take themselves the most seriously. But the targets of Armisen and Brownstein’s humor never feel categorical. Viewed from the realm of “Portlandia,” all of us can be made fun of — and there’s a real comfort in that.
Denver-based writer Sam DeLeo is a published poet, has seen two of his plays produced and recently completed his novel, “As We Used to Sing.” His selected work can be read at samdeleo.com.
Ty Hyten is a Denver photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb.