Fred Armisen on 'Portlandia' and Minneapolis

SARAH HARPER | Updated 3/13/2014

The omnipresent TV satirist and “SNL” vet explains how Minneapolis was an inspiration for “Portlandia.”

Fred Armisen, left, and Carrie Brownstein in the series "Portlandia."

In the past few months, Fred Armisen has been everywhere. He guest-starred on the new Fox comedy “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” popped up on the pilot for Comedy Central’s “Broad City,” hugged Bruce Willis in a Super Bowl commercial and, most notably, landed the job of bandleader and “music curator” on his friend Seth Meyers’ “Late Night” debut. Not to mention he’s touring a few cities right now, rolling out the fourth season of “Portlandia.”

On the IFC series, Armisen and co-star Carrie Brownstein send up contemporary upscale/hipster/yupster urban life, lovingly satirizing modern tendencies in everything from health and relationships to marketing and civics. The sketches are lighthearted and quick, following everyday occurrences to their absurd, logical extreme. Take the hallmark sketch “Put a Bird on It,” where Brownstein and Armisen Etsy-fy a boutique by applying birds to tote bags and cards and pillows — until a real bird flies into the store, terrorizing them and breaking plates.

It’s hard to imagine Armisen, 47, having time for anything these days, let alone an interview, but we snagged a phone call with the “Saturday Night Live” vet — in advance of his sold-out appearance Tuesday at the Cedar Cultural Center — to talk about his time in Minneapolis, his punk-rock roots, and the past and future of “Portlandia.”

“You’re in Minneapolis?” Armisen said immediately upon connecting. “I love Minneapolis a lot.”


Q: Yeah? Tell us about it.

A: I grew up on Hüsker Dü and the Replacements and Prince. [Minneapolis] is one of the earliest inspirations for “Portlandia,” actually. My band [Trenchmouth] was in Chicago but we would go up to Minneapolis because our label was up there. So we’d go play the Uptown [Bar], 7th Street Entry — all the time. We just loved the drive up there and always had really great shows. We’d eat at the Egg & I. It was my first exposure to that kind of self-made and curated lifestyle. You know, like the little coffee shops, and art galleries, people building record companies out of warehouses and their houses. All of that was sort of like, “Oh wow, you can actually make a nice life for yourself.” So Minneapolis was my first exposure to that.


Q: Speaking of Prince, you had a really good Prince impression on “Saturday Night Live.”

A: Thank you, well I’m a huge Prince fan. In fact, when I heard we were going to Minneapolis, I made someone drag me out to Chanhassen to go see his studio. He had a little shop for a while, where he sold Prince stuff, right near the Uptown.


Q: “Portlandia” feels like a very lighthearted satire — I’m curious about how you would describe your and Carrie Brownstein’s message or the intent behind the show.

A: It’s about our relationships with each other and ourselves, and also about trying to do the right thing, socially or health-wise. It’s about that. It’s trying to lead this sort of self-imposed, curated life. And that’s the basis of a lot of it, but then the rest of it is kind of just the relationship between Carrie and I.


Q: Talking about people trying to live their best possible life — like you said, curate it — do you think people do too much of that?

A: No, that’s not a criticism, it’s just an observation. I’m guilty of it. There’s no such thing as too much. It’s perfectly, it’s just … that’s the way it is.