Carrie Brownstein tells us all about the third season of Portlandia


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As you have probably heard, the new season of Portlandia kicks off tonight at 10/9c with back-to-back episodes. We talked to Portlandia star, writer and creator Carrie Brownstein about what to expect this season:

Hi Carrie, as you embark on season three, did you ever think Portlandia would make it this far?

We didn’t go into season one with any expectations for the show We made one episode, one season at a time. It’s a pleasant surprise that people are responding positively to our creative effort.

Does the show get easier to write?

It’s just as challenging if not more challenging and, honestly, we never want it to feel easy. I’m always skeptical of things that feel too facile.

This time we were interested in season long narrative arcs, like what we were seeing in our favorite shows like Homeland and Game of Thrones. We wanted more conceptual entities, more story based ideas, more about ‘Who are these people?’ and then ‘Which of these scenarios do they lend themselves to?’ We spend a lot of more time being deliberate about endings and really making sure that there is a story. Those are all basic tenets of good story writing, but when you’re doing a sketch you can get wrapped up in improvising, so this season we really worked on having story arcs and endings in place. We focused on building an infrastructure in which we could improvise because the dialog is mostly improvised. There were some growing pains, but we all feel like it paid off. There’s more opening for the audience to relate.

Who else is in your writers’ room?

Along with Fred and Jonathan, there’s Bill Oakley, who writes and also produces. Last season we worked with Karey Dornetto who was at Community, but now she is writing for The New Normal. So then Chelsea Peretti came in as a consulting writer. We would love to have her as a regular contributors.

What’s the Portlandia writers’ room like?

It’s pretty traditional. There’s a bulletin board with index cards and we put everything up on it. Sometimes an idea will become a line in a different episode or show up as a character trait. Sometimes will come up with full-fledged sketches and have to determine which character that sketch is for. The room ends up covered in index cards and you think the season is written, but then you realize there are no endings, nothing is fleshed out. There are just momentary rewards. Then we start organizing things by episode, get wraparounds, going off and writing individual scripts. It’s very collaborative.

As someone who hasn’t written for other television shows before, what was the learning curve like for you?

The first year I was nervous. I knew what the process would involve pitching.
Being in a band and writing a riff has a some of that. The first year we had Alison Silverman working with us, she was a writer for The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, and I kind of operated under her tutelage that year and she was wonderful and supportive and Fred and I had a great rapport. Jonathan had done some writing but neither he nor Fred had really written for their own shows before, so while there was a learning curve, we were all on a similar kind of starting point. We weren’t trying to emulate another show we had worked on, because none of us had really done that before. There was no other set of rules or infrastructure.

What’s the difference in the creative process between being in a band vs writing for Portlandia?

It’s easier to describe the ways that they are analogous. One person comes up with an idea and someone says, “What if instead of …” and it goes from there. It’s like you have a song and you come up with an album. There really are more similarities than differences. The way you add on ideas is kind of similar. The main difference with Portlandia is that we don’t finish something until it’s shot. There’s so much improvisation that the sketch isn’t finalized until it’s shot.

You don’t write dialogue?

We write some as placeholders, but 90% of the show is improvised. When Fred and I go into a scheme we climb this scaffolding, we know where to end up in the scene. The first season we didn’t have that and we would get lost in the scene and they would build a story out of what was essentially us throwing words at the wall. Now there’s improvisation, but we have a goal in every scene. We spend a lot more time writing and being very deliberate about endings and really making sure that there is a story. What we have learned from each season to season is that the characters have to have a relationship within their setting. We can’t just be a situation or a concept. We have to have a goal. There has to be stakes.

After season one’s now ubiquitous Put A Bird On It! and season two produced “We Can Pickle That!” did you feel any pressure to come up with a catch phrase for season three?

Absolutely not. We are a television show not a marketing company. We leave that to the audience to use their imagination. Everybody has a different relationship to the show and it’s such an individual experience. You can’t try to guess or determine what people will be drawn to beforehand. To do that is to limit yourself and take less risks. It’s not our job to push an idea or a phrase onto the audience. I don’t know if this season has a catchphrase, but it’s always surprising what people relate to. We’ve really worked on that scaffolding within the scenes and within the story, so that we know where to go as we improvise.

What character do you most enjoy playing?

Nance, who was in the first season at the cult farm and in the motorcycle sketch in the second season with Peter. This season they open up a bed and breakfast. They are very syrupy unctuous couple. Everything is very comfortable and cozy with them, but there is always a small vibration of tension and underlying acrimony and every once in a while it oscillates so quickly. I like vacillating between those two extremes. They are a fun couple to play. You see so many couples like that, who are so benign on the surface. Then Fred came up with this very strange stutter. We love writing for them. We spend a lot of time as Peter and Nance.

Which costume do you enjoy wearing the most?

Toni from the feminist bookstore. I don’t understand clothes that feel like a small apartment. There’s so roomy and ridiculous and strange. As unattractive as they are, they are a much bolder sartorial choices than I make on my own.

Do you have a favorite sketch from this upcoming season?

The birthday episode. It’s one single sketch, one theme, one event. I don’t love playing Lance, but I love Fred as Nina. I loved exploring the adult birthday and how gratuitous and strange that is. Riding in on a horse was weird. There were balloons. Just a stream of ridiculousness that I liked.

Back in season one when Kumail Nanjiani came on the show for the first time as a clerk, did you immediately know you wanted to make him a permanent resident of Portlandia?

He was just so awesome we kept inviting him back. He’s brilliant and he’s an amazing improviser and we were completely fine with him playing these characters who have the same objective, which is to flummox and confound whoever he is up against. We want him back all the time. He crops up a few more times this season.

Do you consider yourself a comedian?

No, no I don’t. I consider myself a writer.

Want the latest news from Portlandia? Like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter@ifcPortlandia and use the hashtag #portlandia.

Portlandia returns to IFC tonight at 10/9c


Road Trip!

Comedy Crib Offers a Few Ideas For Your Next Road Trip

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In Comedy Crib’s new series Does Dave Know We’re Here?, the gang arrives at Dave’s house and texts him to let him know that they’re waiting outside. Weirdly, though, he doesn’t come out to meet them. To kill time in the car until he’s ready, they decide to play a game. That’s when things get crazy.

video player loading . . .

Technically, they decide to play lots of games and that’s when the show starts to feel like the modern day answer to Waiting for Godot. Will Dave ever come out? You’ll have to watch and find out. Now if you’ll excuse us, we’re going to learn how to play “Father Father Where’s Your Spoon?” for our next road trip.

Documentary Now Dronez

Fred Roasts Vice

Fred Armisen Roasted Vice CEO as His ‘Dronez’ Character From Documentary Now!

Documentary Now! returns in 2016.

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Normally, receiving a prestigious award and praise from your peers would be a validating affair, but it’s a decidedly different experience when every facet of your personal and professional life is ruthlessly mocked by a dais of roasters. Such was the case for Vice CEO and gonzo journalist Shane Smith who got both barrels from comics and associates in honor of his Frank Stanton Award win for Excellence in Communication.

Along with Johnny Knoxville, HBO CEO Richard Plepler (who referenced Smith’s recent collaboration with President Obama by joking, “The President called Shane to thank him for the interview and the delightful contact high…”), and other media elites, Fred Armisen took Smith to the mat while dressed as Jeremiah, one of the many gonzo journalists who can be seen getting in over their heads in the Documentary Now! episode “Dronez: The Hunt for El Chingon.”

Fred Armisen Dronez

And in case you missed Fred and Bill Hader as the Vice-like reporters of “Dronez,” you can stream the entire episode of Documentary Now! for free right now.

Maron S3

We Good?

Maron Is Returning to IFC for Season 4

Maron will return Spring 2016.

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Jumpstart the coffee maker and herd the cats because Marc Maron is coming back to IFC. Today the network announced it has renewed the critically acclaimed, universally loved original comedy Maron for a fourth season.

“I got the character of me into a bit of trouble last season. I hope I can get him back on track. The real me is doing fine,” said Marc Maron of his fictional counterpart. At the end of last season, Marc (the TV version, not the real one) fell off the wagon and in season four everyone’s favorite neurotic podcaster/comedian struggles to regain his sobriety, while trying to keep his sense of humor and looking for a deeper meaning to his life.


Luckily, Marc’s family and friends have his back, including Judd Hirsch as Marc’s unstable father, Sally Kellerman as his meddling mother and, of course, pals Andy Kindler and Dave Anthony. Guest stars for Season 4 include Patton Oswalt, Andy Dick, Adam Goldberg and many more.

“Marc is easily one of the most audacious comedians around today, and his pervasive sense of angst and unease is something we can all relate to and can’t stop watching,” said Jennifer Caserta, IFC’s president. “His take on society, and himself, is completely unfiltered and authentic and manifests into great comedic storytelling. We’re thrilled to renew Maron for a fourth season and look forward to more comic mayhem.”

Production on Maron‘s 4th season begins in January 2016 for a spring premiere. In the meantime, viewers can catch up on the first three seasons of Maron on iTunes. Seasons one and two are also available on Netflix and season three will be joining them in the streaming world on December 28th.

Ghostbusters II

Lost Belushi Roles

10 Roles John Belushi Almost Played

Catch Ghostbusters II Thursday, November 12th starting at 5P ET/PT on IFC.

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Photo credit: Columbia Pictures/Everett Collection.

Before his untimely death in 1982, few in Hollywood could match the sheer comedic force of John Belushi. For a brief moment in 1978, he had the number one album (The Blue Brothers’ Briefcase Full of Blues), the number one show in late night television (SNL), and the number one movie in theaters (Animal House). Drugs and the vagaries of Hollywood didn’t allow Belushi to remain on top for long, but at the time of his death, he had several projects in the pipeline. Before you catch the Ghostbusters movies (a franchise literally haunted by the ghost of Belushi) on IFC, check out a few projects that could’ve been different had they featured Belushi’s singular talent.

10. Ghostbusters, Peter Venkman

Columbia Pictures

Ghostbusters had a long, complicated road to the big screen. When Dan Aykroyd first developed the project, he envisioned it as a follow-up to The Blues Brothers about a team of time traveling ghost hunters in the distant future. But then, just as the project started moving forward, its supposed star died of a drug overdose.

From day one, Belushi was envisioned as Peter Venkman, the smooth talking ladies man/paranormal investigator, but his death threw the project into a tailspin. Richard Pryor was briefly considered for the lead role, before it fell into Bill Murray’s lap. It’s near sacrilege to picture Ghostbusters without Murray’s unique persona steering the ship, but it’s fun to imagine what Belushi would’ve brought to the comedy classic. Aykroyd and director Ivan Reitman have always said that lovable ghoul Slimer is basically a tribute to Belushi in slimy, spectral form.

9. Moon Over Miami (aka American Hustle), Shelly Slutsky

Columbia Pictures

Shortly before Belushi’s death, famed French auteur Louis Malle began developing a script based on the FBI Abscam story, a sting operation in the 1970s that led to the arrest of numerous politicians. If that sounds familiar, it’s because filmmaker David O. Russell mined the same true story in 2013 for his Oscar favorite American Hustle.

Moon Over Miami, as the project was known at the time, would’ve allowed both Malle and Belushi to step outside their comfort zone, creating more of a sharp satire than a flat out comedy or drama. Belushi would’ve played Shelly Slutsky, a slobbish conman similar to the role Christian Bale played in American Hustle. Belushi’s partner in crime, Dan Aykroyd, was also being eyed for the role of Otis Presby, otherwise known as Bradley Cooper’s FBI agent on the edge. If all the pieces had come together, this movie had the potential to be a major turning point for the creative partnership of Belushi and Aykroyd. Playwright John Guare, who penned the script, would stage the screenplay years later, but this version of the story would never make it to the big screen.

8. Fatty Arbuckle biopic

Keystone Studios

Belushi was the first of many larger than life comedic actors to explore the possibility of playing the legendary silent film star, who all but invented the idea of the chubby comedian on the big screen. The story of Arbuckle’s rise and tragic fall at the dawn of Hollywood could’ve provided Belushi with a chance to be funny, while also exploring the inherent darkness of being the “fat guy who falls down.”

7. Animal House 2, John ‘Bluto’ Blutarsky


Animal House had the biggest box office ever for a comedy when it came out, so it’s no surprise a sequel was immediately put into development. The story would have followed Bluto, Otter and the boys reuniting during the Summer of Love, but Belushi resisted, for fear of being typecast, and the project never came together. Belushi’s passing thankfully spared moviegoers from what would no doubt have been a lesser sequel to a comedy classic.

6. Noble Rot, Johnny Glorioso

Buena Vista Television

This dark comedy about a dysfunctional family of winemakers was a passion project for Belushi, who co-wrote the script with fellow SNL writer/performer Don “Father Guido Sarducci” Novello. Alas, his death would leave the project in limbo, and we would never get to see what a movie co-written by and starring Belushi would’ve looked like.

5. Nothing Lasts Forever, Cameo

This odd outing, that never saw a theatrical release, came from the mind of SNL‘s resident filmmaker Tom Schiller. After years of churning out shorts for the late night show — like the Belushi classic Don’t Look Back in Anger and La Dolce Gilda — Schiller made a movie that truly defies description.

Set in an alternate universe New York City, where everything has the feel of a 1930s musical, the Lorne Michaels-produced film features cameos from SNL favorites Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray. Rumor has it Belushi was supposed to cameo, but sadly died six weeks before filming.

4. Spies Like Us, Emmett Fitz-Hume

This cold war comedy is a relic of its time. Not the funniest movie on anyone’s filmography, it’s still good for a few laughs. Belushi was slated to play Emmett Fitz-Hume, the role that eventually went to Chevy Chase. Considering Belushi was reportedly no fan of his former SNL cohort, that casting just seems like adding insult to injury.

3. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Dr. Gonzo

A big screen take on Hunter S. Thompson’s novel starring Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi makes so much sense, it’s a wonder it never came together. Aykroyd’s odd, clipped intensity as Raoul Duke, alongside Belushi’s unhinged, swarthy madness as Dr. Gonzo, is pitch perfect casting. Sadly, the project evaporated with Belushi’s passing and the novel floated around Hollywood for another decade before Terry Gilliam finally made his adaptation.

2. Gangs of New York, Bill “The Butcher” Cutting

Martin Scorsese’s passion project was in development for so long, Belushi was the first choice to play the role that Daniel Day-Lewis later made famous. While the film that Scorsese eventually made has its merits, it surely would’ve provided a drastically different type of part for Belushi to dig into. Even more amazing is the fact that Aykroyd was being considered for the part of Amsterdam Vallon at the time. If only we lived in a world where the The Blues Brothers duked it out in period garb in a Scorsese film.

1. Three Amigos, Ned Nederlander

Yet another in the long line of supposed Aykroyd/Belushi projects that were in development post-Blues Brothers, Belushi was set to play Ned Nederlander before he passed away. Martin Short was brought in as a replacement, giving a wonderful performance, but one that would seem to be the polar opposite of what Belushi would’ve done with the material.

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