Skip to content

‘Portlandia’ Stars Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein Toast Rock’s Great Cliches

Photo Still of the American sketch comedy television series Portlandia

Why funny is deadly serious: Read guest editor Patton Oswalt’s introduction to SPIN’s first ever “Funny” Issue, plus the full Das Racist cover story and our feature on the kings of (very, very, very short) comedy.

In advance of their effete-hipster-tweaking show’s second season, Portlandia co-creators Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein toast the quintessential music geeks who provide divine inspiration

Given that parodying clichés— particularly those of Left Coast bobos — is the eco-friendly fuel powering his show’s comedy engine, Portlandia’s Fred Armisen should be attuned to times when he’s living in a template. Like, say, now. “It’s as if we’re a band that had a couple years to put together a first record that did really well and now we’re cramming to get the second album done,” says Armisen in his Portland trailer during the final week of filming for the sketch series’ sophomore season, which premieres in January on IFC. “There’s pressure, but it’s the good kind of pressure.”

Though Armisen and costar Carrie Brownstein had to shoot all ten of the upcoming season’s episodes in under two months, it’s not as if they’ve been living in a joke-choking vacuum. Brownstein’s all-star psych-rock project Wild Flag recorded and released a beautifully brawny self-titled debut — the band is on tour this month — while Armisen is into his tenth season on Saturday Night Live. And really, explains Brownstein, the inspiration for Portlandia’s cast of hyperinformed, obliviously obnoxious archetypes (e.g., bike-lane Nazis; adult hide-and-seek players) isn’t stuck in Stumptown. “All the characters are just different permutations of us,” she says. “If we nurtured the self-righteous side of ourselves, then we would actually be these people. That’s sort of how we get into the roles.”

“Or,” adds Armisen, “if we find a cool wig.”

Armisen: Norwegian black metal is such a great expression of being 15 years old. Or even eight. When I was eight, I was way into Dracula and blood and stuff, so I can relate to it. And personally, I don’t think the music makes you kill yourself.

Brownstein: It’s one of the most interesting and insular and specific looks in rock. It will also be the least flattering one possible. So we’re happy to do it for SPIN.

Armisen: I don’t think there’s an archetype for the Justin Bieber fan. A Bieber fan just looks like an American. You wouldn’t even need a costume to try and resemble one.

Brownstein: If you want to imagine a Bieber fan, you can just imagine Fred and me on a normal day.

Brownstein: That’s actually us: The tote-bag-carrying indie rocker.

Armisen: That’s our whole lives in Portlandia.

Brownstein: Fred and I, every time we shoot in a record store, or are shooting near a record store, there are tote bags around.

Armisen: Tote bags are everywhere. I don’t know why.

Brownstein: They’re the perfect weight and strength for carrying records.

Armisen: They are so that!

Brownstein: Just so you know, Fred currently has a tote bag full of records in the trailer.

Brownstein:There are people certain that Rites of Spring is what emo is and then there are the Dashboard Confessional people. For me, though, when I think of what an emo person looks like, I think of Fall Out Boy. Fred, were you ever into emo?

Armisen: I like that it exists — even if it’s not the first thing that I’ll put on. I’m like, “That’s nice.”

Brownstein: I like the word emo better than I like the music.

Armisen: Totally. Me too. On another level, I’m just happy that kids play real drums. Twenty years ago I actually wondered if people would still want drum sets or if electronic pads would take over. But watching the instructional videos of Jens Hannemann [Armisen’s drum-virtuoso character]: That is a requirement!

Armisen: I’ve always been a fan of instructional videos. The bass-player ones are insane. The music on them is fascinating. It’s not something you hear on CDs or would really ever play in bands. You listen to it and are like, “What is happening?” It’s this blizzard of notes in weird time signatures, and they’re trying to teach you that. There’s something utopian about the whole thing.

Brownstein: What’s amazing now is that these guys — it’s mostly men — put up videos on YouTube showing you how to play their version of the Super Mario Bros. theme song or something, and they don’t think about the shot. It always ends up being a crotch shot with a guitar in it. A very earnest crotch shot.

Brownstein: I love music journalists.

Spin Sorry to cut in, but I think of music journalists as being attractive, confident, and well spoken.

Brownstein: Isn’t the reason they get into music journalism instead of music-making because they’re so good looking? They’re afraid of being onstage because they’re so handsome. People wouldn’t be able to take it.

Armisen: Every music journalist I’ve ever met has been stunningly beautiful.

Brownstein: Most of them are models — and have really good posture.

More Laughs From SPIN’s “Funny” Issue:
Funny Is Deadly Serious: Patton Oswalt Introduces SPIN’s New Issue
Das Racist Cover Story: These Colors Don’t Run
We Like Short Shorts! Online Comedy That Keeps It Simple (and Stupid)