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Jonathan Krisel talks about the new season of Portlandia

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Portlandia co-creator, writer and director Jonathan Krisel is most comfortable working behind-the-scenes to craft Fred Armisen’s and Carrie Brownstein’s ideas into what the sketches we see during each episode. Krisel started directing when he was working with Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim on their show “Tom Goes to the Mayor.” Then he segued into the role of director and co-exec producer of the “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” wearing many hats on the job, including editing, animating and writing. Jonathan went on to make acclaimed shorts for funnyordie.com, such as “Rich Dicks” and “Ed Hardy Boyz” with comedian Nick Kroll and also co-directed, co-exec produced and edited “Check it Out with Steve Brule” starring John C. Reilly. Jonathan then joined the staff of “Saturday Night Live” where he directed digital shorts such as “The Curse” starring Jon Hamm, and “Zach Drops By The Set” starring Zach Galifianakis. When Fred and Carrie were looking for a director to help take their sketch series Thunderant to the next level, Jonathan was a natural fit.

We talked to Jonathan about the new season of Portlandia, whether he’s about to break into acting and what it’s like directing Fred and Carrie:

So what’s it like directing Fred and Carrie?

It’s very exciting. The whole show is a collaboration between the three of us, from the writing to the character creation to coming up with wigs for all the other actors. So I’m not really directing them, I’m more of a collaborator. It could be a piece that Fred came up with and now it’s my mission for Fred to carry out. There is a looseness to comedy that makes it work and if it’s too structured, if it’s too packaged, it sometimes loses that spontaneity. I’m just telling everybody what to do to help them carry out their mission. The whole process of creating the show with them is one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. And we are all on the same page comedically and we’re not exactly thinking the same, but we’re always thinking similarly. We have the same cultural references. They are really good actors. There are a lot of funny people out there who are not good actors. There’s a lot of reality and grounded choices to their performances. A lot of the characters are very real. I think the three of us really like things that are very broad, but their acting choices are small and subtle which makes it funnier. As a director I’m always telling people to do less and they do that naturally.

How did you hook up with them?

They were doing Thunderant and I was working at SNL and they came in and said they were turning Thunderant into a show and wanted to know if I was interested in directing. I was a real legitimate Sleater-Kinney fan and …well, I knew Fred. The plan for the interview was that I had to pretend that I was cool on their level. And they went for it. Afterwards I just texted Fred and said maybe we should continue talking about this. There was no plan for the show at that time so I thought if I figured out what the show was about, maybe they would hire me. So I came up with the idea that the show would be sort of based on this Australian series called Summer Heights High that I was watching, but about Portland. I thought, you could do that show with Fred and Carrie and have them play all the characters. Then we did the pilot and it went really well. It’s so easy and natural. It just clicked. We have similar interests and ways of being and we just get along really well.

A huge part of making something work is getting along with people you work with. You want them to succeed; you want them to bring their ideas to life as much as possible. You could have a very small idea about someone dropping their phone and you want to bring it to life in a dramatic way, because it means a lot to the person who wrote it.

What’s it like moving in front of the camera?

Our budget is so low that we’re constantly trying having to cut roles. In the MTV takeover sketch, I was a VJ and the day of the shoot was one of the most chaotic days of the series. And I just thought I‘m going to do this myself. I just went to the wardrobe department and asked them, can you just make me look like Rob Dyrdek– who is one of the least charismatic people on earth. And they said, sure, we got it. As the producer of the show, I’m just problem solving. I’ll just jump in. One of my favorite things to do now is that when we’re shooting a scene and we had all these rolls for extras I just grab people who are there already. We were in an old folks home and they were like 90 and told them they had to talk. I just told this woman, “This is your line.” But, yeah, I had three roles this season.

Yeah, you’re breaking out!

As the director, you have it in your mind how you want the part done, how you want someone to do it, and so sometimes you just say why don’t I do it myself. So for a little role, I’ll just do it.

You have developed a good corps of actors that started in the first season of Portlandia and now appear throughout the show and its seasons.

There’s a good family of actors in Portlandia. It’s a small community with people who pop up again and again. The show’s a little weird show and you want to grow with the people who are in it, like Dana who plays the chicken waitress, and Ellen who was the adult babysitter. She’s great.

Directing-wise, how has it changed from season one to season three?

Once you’ve done things a bunch of times …well, in the beginning there was no expectation. Now we have a lot of takes we want to do things better. We start second guessing ourselves more. Things were so crazy and fun in the beginning, and as we’ve gotten bigger, there could be more pressure, so going into season three we have to keep things light and fun and not try think about getting bigger ratings. Not that I mind a little more pressure, but it’s good to remember to stay in a vacuum and do what made you laugh. Directing wise the tone is pretty consistent throughout. It owns it’s tone and as long as it’s me and Fred and Carrie it won’t change.

How hard is it to wear so many hats while you work?

It’s easy because it’s all in my head and I can just tell people what to do and how to do it.

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

Portlandia airs on IFC on Fridays at 10/9c

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Say Hello to Our Scarface Quiz

Play along with movie trivia during "Scarface" tonight at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

Tony Montana is all about money, power and respect. And while we can’t promise you’ll get money or power by taking our Scarface quiz below, you will get respect if you get a perfect score. One out of three ain’t bad. Click below to take the quiz, and catch Scarface this month on IFC.

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Hank Azaria’s Simpsons Advice For Grads, Questionable Shark Facts and More of This Week’s Funniest Videos

This week we're laughing at Hank's Tufts commencement speech, Jason Alexander's shark facts and more.

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Photo Credit: YouTube/Tufts University

We’ve made it! Memorial Day weekend! But before we can complain that it’s over too quickly, take a moment to bask in the pre-break lack of productivity and enjoy some lighthearted videos.

From Hank Azaria channeling Chief Wiggum and other Simpsons characters while talking to college grads to “Shark-spert” Jason Alexander sharing questionable shark facts, here are five funny things from this week you need to watch.

1. Kermit Informs Fozzie Bear That They’ve Been Canceled

It’s never easy to see someone receive bad news, much less a Muppet. But if anything, Kermit’s poise and acceptance during a time of crisis is impressive, admirable even. Fozzie Bear, on the other hand, reacts with greater similarity to how we would: with baseless anger and utter despair.


2. Jason Alexander Offers Shark “Fin Facts”

Memorial Day weekend means the start of beach season, aka Shark Feeding Season. As part of IFC’s Shark Half-A-Day Memorial Day marathon, “sharks-pert” Jason Alexander offers up some interesting “fin facts” about our sharp-toothed friends from the deep. You can also check out Jason’s beach tips, and catch the Jaws movies with more “fin facts” from Jason this Memorial Day on IFC.


3. Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke Confirms Dothraki Is a Real Language

With eyes still dewy from the climax of this past Sunday’s Game of Thrones (Hold the door!), the Mother of Dragons herself Emilia Clarke dropped by Late Night with Seth Meyers to throw the diehard fans a reason to smile: Yes, Dothraki is a real language. Watch Clarke discuss the phonetics and grammar involved with vying for Westeros rule.


4. Hank Azaria Gives Advice Through Simpsons Characters

Hank Azaria — star of The Simpsons, The Birdcage, and Brockmire, premiering in 2017 on IFC — gave the commencement speech at his alma mater Tufts University. In the hilarious speech, Azaria discusses how he got through college, recounts his early career struggles, and offers up life advice via fan favorite Simpsons characters like Chief Wiggum and Comic Book Guy.


5. X-Men: The Animated Series Gets Honest

Screen Junkies are back this week with another round of Honest Trailers. This entry focuses on the cartoon mutants that comprise X-Men: The Animated Series — an ultra-’90s Marvel property that predates the comic book adaptation boom of the 21st Century. But looking back at the decade of Rob Liefeld and Todd McFarlane, this video finds much to mock.

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Weird Al Comedy Bang Bang Season 5

Call Him Al

“Weird Al” Talks Comedy Bang! Bang!, His Upcoming Tour, Favorite Videos and More

Weird Al comes to Comedy Bang! Bang! starting June 3rd at 11P on IFC.

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With a career spanning five decades, “Weird Al” Yankovic has defined the song parody genre and become a beloved pop culture icon. Starting June 3rd, you’ll be able to catch him as the brand new Comedy Bang! Bang! bandleader Fridays at 11P on IFC.

We recently chatted with Al about joining Scott Aukerman on the new season, his upcoming tour, favorite CB!B! characters and his future dream projects. (Hint: it might involve actors spontaneously breaking into song.)

The Comedy Bang! Bang! bandleader gig seems like a natural fit for you. Did it take any time to get acclimated?

Weird Al: Yeah. It’s a slightly different skill set. The accordion is my main act, but I don’t use it on the show at all. It’s a keyboard setup. The actual setup is a little bit of a combination of what Reggie [Watts] had and [Kid] Cudi had. And a few extra things thrown in. So I’m trying to do my own version of what they brought to the show.

You’ve been on the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast and the show many times. Do you have a favorite CB!B! character?

Weird Al: I’d probably have to say Doctor Time. Every time Scott wants me to do an evil character, he’s always got a bad English accent. [Laughs] Any time my character goes evil, he becomes sort of British.

Any favorite guests you’ve worked with?

Weird Al: Gosh, I love them all. Paul F. Tompkins is always fun. His Andrew Lloyd Webber character, Cake Boss, everything he does. And Andy Daly as well. They’re so versatile and so amazing at improv. That’s the one thing I was a little nervous about because I’ve never been super confident with my improv skills. But Comedy Bang! Bang!, particularly the TV version, is good for that because it’s all heavily edited. So it kind of gives me permission to try out whatever comes to my mind, so if it really sucks, they’re not gonna use it. [Laughs]

Scott Aukerman Weird Al

Your upcoming tour is a continuation of your Mandatory Fun tour from last year. Any new elements to the show?

Weird Al: Well, it is the same tour, so it’s not that much different. I might freshen some video a little bit. I’m hoping to use a bit or two from the current season of Comedy Bang! Bang! and slip that into the show somewhere.

The tour starts June 3rd in St. Petersburg, Florida and ends September 24th at Radio City Music Hall. How do you keep up the pace? 

Weird Al: It’s just a mindset. I’m really only working for two hours a day, so I basically just save up my energy for the show. I relax, surf online, watch satellite TV, read a book, rest my voice, and then give it all I got when I’m onstage.

Looking back at your vast song catalog, was there ever a parody that came to you immediately upon hearing the song?

Weird Al: Yeah, that’s happened a few times. More often than not, I have to think about it and analytically work out all the variations on a theme that I can and pick out the one with the most potential. But there’s been a few times where the idea came to me spontaneously. I think the first time I saw Michael Jackson’s “Bad” video, before it was even over, I thought, “Oh! I gotta do ‘Fat’! Super-plus-sized actors trying to get through a turnstile on a subway! I gotta do that!”

Do you have a favorite of your many hilarious videos?

Weird Al: Oh boy, it’s hard to say. “White and Nerdy” has been my biggest hit and that was a really fun video to do. But in terms of making a video, “Tacky” was really fun to do because it was so easy and I got to work with amazing people like Jack Black, Margaret Cho, Kristen Schaal, Eric Stonestreet, and Aisha Tyler. And we knocked it out in a couple of hours. We were having so much fun while making it, I kinda wish we weren’t so efficient and professional. [Laughs] I could’ve done that all night.

Was it filmed all in one take or was it stitched together?

Weird Al: That was all one take. Some people say, “Oh, I see where the edit is,” but it was all one shot. We did a total of six takes, and I think four of those takes were usable, but the last one was the best.

And you were directing while performing?

Weird Al: I directed that one, yeah. We location scouted and found a building in downtown LA that I thought was good for the shoot. I’ve since seen that building in a lot of other movies and TV shows — I think it was used in The Big Lebowski and a few others. It was difficult because I start the video in one set of clothes and I also end the video in a completely different set of clothes. So while the cameras were off me, because there’s only one elevator in the building, I had to run down five flights of stairs, quickly change my clothes, and hit my mark for the end. And after the take, we’d all just watch what we did, and say, “OK, let’s do it again.”

Is there a director you’d love to work with in the future?

Weird Al: Oh gosh, yeah, but I mean, music videos are notoriously low-budget so that’s why I end up directing them myself. [Laughs] But I’d love to be in a movie codirected by Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino.

Do you have a particular genre of music that you love parodying the most? Or is it more of the moment and different for each song?

Weird Al: It doesn’t necessarily revolve around personal taste so much. It really depends more on the song than the genre. But I found rap songs tend to lend themselves to parody, mostly because there’s a lot of words to play with. A lot of pop songs are repetitive, and that’s sometimes been an issue. With rap, there’s no shortage of syllables to mess around with.

Given that you’ve been so prolific and done so much, is there any type of art left that you’d like to dip your toe in? Dramatic acting, perhaps?

Weird Al: Well, if Spielberg and Tarantino want me for their film, I wouldn’t want to turn them down. But there’s no burning desire to do drama. I love doing comedy and feel comfortable doing that. Writing a musical might be something I do down the line. I don’t know when but I might take a shot at something in that area. Other than that, I’ve done pretty much all I wanted to do in my life so far. A lot of it not successfully. [Laughs] But I took a stab at it and feel gratified by that.

You’ve had such a eclectic career in music and comedy. What do you attribute your longevity to?

Weird Al: [Laughs] I don’t know what I’d attribute the longevity to. There’s a modicum of talent, but it’s mostly because I surround myself with very talented people. I’ve got a great support group, I’ve got the same band since the early ’80s, and I’ve worked with the same people for decades. And I got a very loyal fan base and I love what I do. And somehow I’ve been very lucky and it’s worked out so far.

Watch “Weird Al” in an episode from the new season of Comedy Bang! Bang! right now, before the season premiere on Friday June 3rd at 11P.

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