Live: Fred Armisen And Carrie Brownstein Turn The Music Hall Of Williamsburg Into Brooklandia


Portlandia: The Tour
Music Hall of Williamsburg
Friday, January 20

Better than: Watching television (but who has one anyway?).

In the middle of a nearly two-hour set of live sketches, improv riffing, and unseen clips, Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, the stars of IFC’s Portlandia, strapped on guitars and played the song that served as the show’s much-emailed teaser. “Do you remember when people were content to be unambitious, sleep ’til 11 and hang out with their friends? And they had no occupations whatsoever?” Fred asks. “When people were singing about saving the planet, forming bands?… When they encouraged you to be weird?” That dream, the dream of ’90s, he explains to Carrie, is alive in Portland.

Watching on television, sitting in vintage chaise lounges, Seamlessing fusion food directly to Brooklyn brownstones, the joke—and the premise of the show—is doubly appealing: At once, we’re offered both the thrill of recognition (My roommate is really into pickling! And Carrie’s co-owner of the Women and Women First bookstore looks shockingly similar to my old fem theory professor!) and the chance to distance ourselves from our west coast, post-bohemian counterparts (In Brooklyn, we all have occupations—usually three of them!).

Playing on this narcissism of minor differences, Fred and Carrie invited Adam Horovitz to take the stage and teach them a few things about New York. Immediately, they were in awe. “Look at the way he holds that cup!” Carrie gasped, before she and Fred attempted to replicate the way the Def Jam original held his microphone. Playing the role of fascinated tourists, the two proceeded to grill Horovitz for local knowledge—best coffee, best burger, best transportation method, and so on—but question most in the spirit of the night came from the crowd, a yelled, “Is Kathleen here?,” referring to the rapper’s riot grrrl wife. (To be fair, that question was probably on most of the crowd’s mind.)

Throughout the show the audience remained vocal, shouting jokes that occasionally verged on unintentional heckling (as when someone from the balcony exhorted the duo to finally sleep together). These types are par for the course at most comedy shows, but in so thoroughly recreating the world of the show, from the Washed Out intro to a Hugh Cornwell appearance at the aforementioned feminist bookstore, such participation seemed particularly unavoidable. Being in the audience made us feel like Portlandia bit characters, and we shouted, “Cacao!” accordingly.

The funniest moment came when the duo reprised their “Dream of the ’90s” bit, offering what they deemed an important correction. The setup was essentially the same: Fred meets Carrie in L.A. and begins telling her about the magical place from which he’s just returned. There, people brew their own beer, pickle their own vegetables, and carve their own ice. The children grow up to be artisinal bakers. The dream of the ’90s is, once again, alive in Portland. “Wait, the 1990s?,” Carrie asks. But this time she’s wrong: It’s the dream of the 1890s, where even her flapper bob is hopelessly out of date. Left unspoken was one of the cleverest lines from the original bit, an aside spoken by Fred before the audience knows whether or not to be laughing: “It’s unreal.”

Critical bias: That bit about my roommate and my old fem theory professor is true.

Overheard: The crowd was much less a parody of itself than you might expect.

Random notebook dump: Afraid my moleskine would turn me into a parody of myself, I said “cacao” to it early on.