"You are the most shameless white people in Los Angeles county."
LACMA moderator Elvis Mitchell had us pegged from the beginning of the March 27th Portlandia screening. courtesy of Film Independent. As you approached the theater, you walked past a stand-by line that extended down the sizable Bing Theatre steps and around the block. The would-be ticket holders looked like extras from the IFC series or the usual crowd outside of Union Pool waiting to see Man Man.
In the theater, after the crowd erupted in applause demanding the presence of Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen, Mitchell did the old camp counselor "I can't hear you" ear cup. The crowd grew louder and louder until the stars took the stage. From the beginning, this felt like more of a rock concert than a screening.
Fans of Portlandia know that the show thrives on intimacy. As the series has matured, it has taken on an even more patient, character-driven vibe. Season four's fifth episode "Spyke Drives," which was screened at the event, simply tells the story of a man who forsakes his bicycle for a car. No, Portlandia isn't exactly the kind of show you expect to watch in a crowded theater.
Portlandia captures a comic subtlety unique to TV. When you laugh at Portlandia, it feels like you're laughing at an inside joke told just for you. Oddly enough, this feeling translates incredibly well to a screening room environment. It was as though we were all in on the joke together. When the Lesbian Bookstore Owners (Armisen and Brownstein) and the Mayor (Kyle Maclachlan) appeared on screen, they were welcomed with the same type of applause usually reserved for an old bandmate called up for an encore.
Over the last four years, Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein have cemented themselves as indie America's cool older cousins. They are our connection to comedy of the '70s, music of the '80s, and what was really going on in the '90s. Of course, when they took the stage, the audience hung on every word. Yes in person, Brownstein and Armisen are just a cool as you imagine them to be in the fantasy brunches you share with them. Carrie was the far more talkative of the two. Even after four seasons, it seems that for her, producing the show is still intoxicating, with every sketch offering an exciting challenge. Armisen was a bit withdrawn, and when he did speak he waxed philosophical, every bit the comic mad scientist you imagine he must be.
Of course, the Lesbian Book Store came up. It is a real bookstore called "In Other Words" and Fred claimed that they don't dress it at all. They just shoot it as is, sometimes down to the chalkboard witticisms. The Brunch Village, by contrast, was built out to cover an entire city block, even though only a fraction of the set made it to screen. When asked about the relationship between the characters "Carrie" and "Fred" (and implicitly, their own relationship) Carrie responded, "I kind of think about it as when the White Stripes came out." Fred said, "Bert and Ernie."
One of the greatest moments of the night came when Carrie discussed having Guns 'N Roses bassist Duff McKagan on the show. She described being in awe of McKagan, which seems strange for someone who personally knows every American musician post-Sex Pistols. She said that McKagen struck her as someone who "knows the secrets of the universe and secrets we'll never know." While Brownstein and Armisen don't have rock star swagger, they carry that same aura of wisdom with them. It's not the wisdom of a rock god, but the sagacity of your quirky aunt who lives in the middle of nowhere and who you're pretty sure grows weed. But, in a venue like this with a crowd of avid admirers, the line between rock god and quirky comedy hero felt pretty thin.
Written by Brenden Gallagher (@muddycreekU)