Fred Armisen answers our "Portlandia" and "SNL" inspired questions.
No one is safe from the gentle mocking of IFC's "Portlandia" when it returns for its third season at 9 p.m. Jan. 4: the people of Portland, Ore., hipsters everywhere, or even TV fans.
In a skit called "Spoilers," co-creators and stars Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein show their own love of TV as they play dinner party-goers who want to talk about the latest episodes of "Homeland" and "Game of Thrones," but there's always someone at the party trying to avoid spoilers.
It's just another of the many keen and hilarious observations from the duo and their director, Jonathan Krisel, that have made "Portlandia" one of IFC's biggest hits and such a pop culture sweetheart that Salon's David Daley wrote a story titled, "No, really. Stop comparing everything to 'Portlandia.' "
Armisen, who says his years playing drums for the punk band Trenchmouth and hanging out in then-burgeoning Wicker Park informs some of the ideas he comes up with for "Portlandia," promises fans can expect a lot of the same characters they've grown to love.
A farmers' market full of guest stars are slated for the season, including Chloe Sevigny, Kyle MacLachlan, Jeff Goldblum, Roseanne Barr, Rose Byrne, Jim Gaffigan, Juliette Lewis, Matt Lucas, Martina Navratilova, Patton Oswalt, George Wendt and Armisen's "Saturday Night Live" castmate Bill Hader.
I recently sat down with Armisen at RedEye to talk about the new season and what goes into making "Portlandia," his time on "SNL" and his and Carrie's Portland visitors guide. He also answered some silly questions inspired by the shows and the book, which you can watch in the video above.
What should fans be excited about in Season 3? A lot of the same characters are coming back that Carrie and I have done. There are story arcs that go throughout the season this time. It’s still sketches but we’ve sort of expanded it a little bit. The episodes are a little more interconnected. That’s ’cause we’re fans of TV and such fans of "Homeland" or "Game of Thrones" and we're like, "How do they do that? How do they draw you in?" So we just tried to include some of that.
You do a skit about MTV no longer playing music that's very fun. It's a little bit about MTV; it's a little bit about where we go to for information. Not just news but pop cultural information and how that changes. I mean, MTV is obviously pre-Internet. And it's about the things that meant a lot to us when we were growing up. So it's not about nostaglia; it's not about the good ol' days. It's not like, "I wish things were different." It's just like this part of my neighborhood I used to know, what happened to it. It's not a judgment; it's not bad that it changed. It just does and we gravitate to other things.
In the "Spoilers" skit, you spoof those folks who are wary of TV spoilers. It's funny cuz we were shooting that episode ... It's a sort of dinner party where we arrive ... and we say, "Have you seen the latest "Game of Thrones?" and one person will say, "Don't say anything yet! I haven't seen that episode." ... Also on the set as we're talking we had to be like, "No, but really don't say anything, because I haven't seen that." We were talking about things we could give away, like, "Does Joffrey ever get killed?" ... It was really weird doing that sketch and on top of that having to not say anything.
Although I will say, conversely, I don't care about spoilers. I still enjoy shows if I know what's going to happen. I never care; it's great. I want to see how they do it. ... There might be some spoilers in [the skit].
Are you surprised by how popular the show has become? Or even the individual characters? Absolutely, because when we write this stuff it’s in a small room, and it’s just the writers—not very many of us—John Krisel our director and Carrie. We just think of things and it’s not like we roll over laughing. We don’t go like, "This is genius." ... We’re like, "I guess that's good." To see it come back to us and for people to tell us it had an effect is really great. That’s the nature of a TV show, but it’s still lucky because you can never predict what’s going to be popular. It was special to us, but there are things that didn’t dawn on me like people identifying with some of the characters.
What initially sparked your interest in doing the show in the first place? You have no idea at all, you know? When you start something, you kind of don't know why you're doing it. ... You just go, "Man, this is fun." We did these videos online, how Tim and Eric have their own show. "I wonder what that's like? That must be fun." The Mighty Boosh and, you know, Flight of the Conchords. Look at these guys. They get to play music and have this weird show. What's it like? It's just sort of just like a curiosity and it's almost like saying "what if?" You know? Like what if we did this?
We did not go like, "This is the deal; this is going to be this kind of show." It's just sort of like this ambition, but without having, like, a clear, clear picture. It's almost like retroactive ambition.
When I was a kid I always wanted to be in The Police or Talking Heads. Is this a version of that? Yeah, it might be. This might be. Oh, I see what it is. It's almost like having a band and John and Carrie and I are sort of this band. Each season kind of feels like an album. So it's this thing where like you don't know quite where you're going and then afterwards you get [it]. It starts to come in to focus.
Was Portland always sort of in the forefront of the location? Yeah, ’cause Carrie lives there. We used to make videos there all the time. It's just a perfect place for the show. Although, I will say a lot of my information comes from having lived in Wicker Park. That's my experience with the art world and the music world.
Nice. And so you just sort of think in the mindset of these folks who are in this kind of ... Yeah. Well, ’cause they’re not very different than Carrie or myself. We’re just like all those people.
You’ve been on "SNL" a long time. Yeah. Eleven years.
And a lot of people have come and gone since then. Do you feel sort of like the elder statesman? Yeah. But it's a good feeling. It's like what that means is, you know, it's not like you have anymore answers than anyone else, but you're able to, you know, Seth [Meyers] has been there a year longer than me. Kenan [Thompson] a year less. So you're just able to kind of like appreciate what you have and understand the nature of that whole show. I've always loved it, but you come to love it like in a new way.
It's like the best education I've ever had. It helped me with "Portlandia" because you just learn so much. It's a very showbiz-y thing to say, but you just learn about your own material. Do you need it? Are you precious about it and do you embrace it or you just move on? The answer is you move on. You just go, go, go. Don't dwell on it and cherish it. You can't walk around being like, "I'm this genius." You kind of have to go like, "I made this thing; it's a live show. It's like a magazine. Just go." It's not about the past; it's about the future. That's when you're at your healthiest.
When you and Carrie and John are writing for "Portlandia," do you write the thing and then while you're filming do you find new notes and new things that you can do? All the time. That's our bread and butter. That is the meat of the show is that we find new things. We set out to do one thing. We have a script and then all the sudden we go, no, it's not about this at all. It's about this one extra, this kid, that's who it's about. And then all the sudden we're focusing on him. You know, it always changes. Even in the edits afterwards. We don't even realize it; we're like, "Oh, that's what this sketch is about."
You and Carrie wrote this book, “Portlandia: A Guide for Visitors.” What inspired you to do this? The true answer is that it was this sort of offer that we had. "Do you guys want to do a book?" "Maybe. That sounds good. What would it be?" "I don't know; you guys have to think of something." And then someone was like, "What about a travel book?" OK So we had a lot of contributors, a lot of writers and artists. There's a little fanzine in here. This is from the feminist bookstore.
And the more we kept doing it, the more we kept contributing and it had a life of its own. It's like supposed to be like a travel book and seeing things like Jimmy Fallon's book, you know, and things like that and Tina Fey's book. I thought, oh, this might be a nice thing. Me, as a fan of music and TV and movies and stuff, I like it when there's an extra thing to get. Want more? Discuss this article and others on Show Patrol's Facebook page.
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