Right Said Fred

SNL funnyman Fred Armisen spreads his wings on IFC’s Portlandia.
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SNL funnyman Fred Armisen spreads his wings on IFC’s Portlandia.
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SNL funnyman Fred Armisen spreads his wings on IFC’s Portlandia.

You live in New York. Where did you get the idea to do a sketch show about Portland?

I’m friends with my co­star Carrie Brownstein from [girl punk group] Sleater-Kinney. I’d visit her in Portland, and we started making these weird videos and putting them online. I liked not having to come up with a punch line for everything the way we do at SNL.

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What makes the show’s characters—an artsy couple who put cutouts of birds on everything, a militant bicyclist, over-the-top animal rights activists—prototypical Portlandians?

The show isn’t really specific to Portland; it’s just a way to frame it. Except for the bicycles. They’re everywhere! And people are so respectful of them, it’s shocking. In New York they’d pretty much get run over.

How’d you get all-star guests like Steve Buscemi and Heather Graham, plus Kyle MacLachlan as Portland’s super-earnest mayor?

As we were writing, we were like, “We need a mayor. Someone really normal-looking, like Kyle MacLachlan.” One of our producers said, “Why don’t we contact his reps?” And it happened. Initially it didn’t occur to us that we could actually find these people.

You’ve had plenty of celebs on SNL. Who brings their A game?

It’s fun working with politicians. I thought [ex-New York governor] David Paterson was funny. He even wrote a few jokes—like the one where he looks at me dressed as him and says, “Hey, nice to see you have a beard. I haven’t worn a beard in two years—what are you, blind?” That was totally his joke.

Portlandia starts January 21 at 10:30 p.m. on IFC.