DID YOU READ

The joke’s on you, Portland: An interview with the pranksters behind the Peculiarium

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In the window of the pink-colored building that houses Northwest Portland’s Peculiarium, there are signs advertising its contents with adjectives such as “Bizarre” and “Shocking.” The ones to pay attention to, however, are those reading, “We Promise Nothing” and “Not So Unusual, Actually.” Although it sounds like a knock-off of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!—or the title of a kids’ movie about a kooky museum curated by an eccentric collector named Dr. P.Q. Peculiarius—it’s actually more of a parody of those kind of curio tourist attractions. Exhibits include: an empty cage of poisonous lizards from “Idiotsville, Oregon”; the true contents of Al Capone’s vault, complete with a visually-referenced Rickroll; an alien autopsy scene in which the extraterrestrials are the ones doing the dissecting; and, inside the gift shop, a massive stuffed Sasquatch. So it’s a bit of an ongoing prank, perpetrated by Laika director and animator Mike Wellins—you may recognize his work from recent M&Ms and Frosted Mini Wheats commercials—and partners Lisa Freeman and Eric Bute, but one pulled with such enthusiasm you don’t mind being tricked.

We talked to Wellins and Freeman about their big joke, the roadside attractions that inspired it, and how in a place like Portland, where absurdity is the norm, it’s incredibly easy to fool people into believing that, yes, that really is a dead Bigfoot in the doorway.

Portlandia: What was the inspiration for this place?

Mike Wellins: It was a group of people who all like this kind of stuff, and we went to the next level. Lisa and I were looking around to do something to get out there, besides a Web site or something. We originally thought of doing, not a food cart, but a truck that traveled around. We went and looked at some trucks, and we’re like, “Wow, this is a horribly uncomfortable place to have to work. I’m 46 years old, I don’t want to be going to a gas station asking to use the bathroom.” This place became available, and that was it. It harkens back to horror movies and sci-fi and all that stuff we like, and also that tongue-in-cheek, putting-a-museum-on-its-ear kind of humor. To me, that’s one of the really fun, subversive parts. Some people really do see it as a museum and will be like, “Is this real?” There’s that element of teasing people, and also that element of fooling people, which is kind of surprising. There’s a really fine line between screwing with people and having fun with people. That was a big part of it. There’s also a lazy aspect. Like, “I don’t really want to go research a bunch of stuff. Let’s just make up a history.” You couldn’t force me to read history in high school, but I friggin’ love history and true things now, and the strangest stories I can find. So it was a natural transition to just make up our own lore about this area.

Lisa Freeman: I just love the subtle humor throughout. You don’t have to get it to enjoy it, but if you do get it, it’s almost like you’re in on an inside joke. It’s real fun to watch people’s reaction to things. Some of the funniest stuff is when people don’t get it. They’ll say, “Where did you find those aliens? Did they crash in your yard?”

Does that really happen a lot?

Wellins: We’ve had people come in and go, “Oh yeah, I saw Bigfoot up at Trillium Lake, talked to him for half an hour.” They’re serious! They’re like, “We went camping one time, and [pointing to giant Sasquatch mannequin] that’s the guy we saw, except he was shorter and fatter.”

Growing up, were there places you visited that you modeled the Peculiarium after?

Freeman: Of course we both love Ripley’s.

Wellins: My dad was a good dad, but he was in the military. We’d go on vacation, everybody would get up at four in the morning, and he had it all planned out, and we never got to stop at places like this. And we got to pick one gift on our whole trip, which was horrible, because you get something early and later on you’re like, “Oh no! I didn’t know they’d have these!” So I used to drive past all these places. Once I became an adult, when I go on vacation I don’t make reservations, it’s like, let’s just explore. So for me, it was, let’s make a place I never got to go to. I stop at all those things now, even the most rinky-dink, hokiest ones, because they’re so weird. I’m amused by weirdness and awkwardness.

Tell me about the art shows you have in here.

Wellins: We just sort of opened the door. Monte Wolverton, whose dad Basil Wolverton was a Mad Magazine artist, he did a great show, and he couldn’t get a show anywhere else.

Freeman: He came in and didn’t say who he was. He dropped a CD off and ambled out the door.

Wellins: I saw “Wolverton,” looked at the CD and saw the first picture and said, “Yeah, you can have a show.” To me, there is an element of sterility that goes with a lot of art galleries, where it’s not supposed to be fun. Sometimes, the openings are like wakes, where everyone’s standing around wearing black, and they’re very quiet. I need more humor in it. So we embrace people who do weird, silly stuff, and couldn’t get shows anywhere else.

So what’s the deal with the whole Conrad Elwood story?

Wellins: Originally, we wanted to have a bigger back story, to cement [the Peculiarium] to something older than us. It has this long history that precedes this place by 80 years. And we’re out to deliberately confuse people who want to be confused. Some people laugh when they read the signs; other people, like we said, don’t know what’s real.

Freeman: Most people do think he’s real, and we perpetuate that all the time.

Wellins: Yeah, we’ll be like, “Oh, he was just here, you just missed him.”

Freeman: “He just dropped off a new package! We haven’t opened it yet, but it’ll be good.”


The Peculiarium is located at 2234 NW Thurman St. Its winter hours are 12pm-6pm, Fri.-Sun. For more information, call (503) 227-3164 or visit peculiarium.com.

(Photo by Todd Mecklem)

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
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Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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