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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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Inauguration Alternative

Bill Murray On Repeat

It's a movie "Murray-thon" all-day Friday on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs courtesy of GIPHY

Democrats, Republicans and Millennials agree: 2017 is shaping up to be a spectacle — a spectacle that really kicks into high gear this Friday with the presidential inauguration. Not only will the new POTUS swear in, but all the Country’s highest offices will be filled. It’s a daunting prospect, and to feel a little anxious about it is only normal. But if your anxiety is snowballing into panic, we have a solution:
Bill Murray.

He’s the human embodiment of a mental “Happy Place”, and there’s really no problem he can’t solve. So, with that in mind, how about we all set aside reality for a moment and let Bill take the pain away by imagining a top-shelf White House cabinet filled exclusively by his signature characters. Here are a few hypothetical appointments for your consideration…

Secretary of Defense:
Bill Murray from Stripes

His incompetence is balanced by charm, and dumb luck is inexplicably on his side. America could do worse.

Secretary of State:
Bill Murray from Lost In Translation

A seasoned globetrotter steeped in regional traditions who has the respect of the whole wide world. And he kills Costello in karaoke, which is very important.

Press Secretary:
Bill Murray from Ghostbusters

“Cats and dogs, living together. Mass hysteria.” Dude knows how to brief a room.

Secretary of Health and Human Services:
Bill Murray from What About Bob.

A doctor-approved people person who knows that progress is measured in baby steps.

Secretary of Energy:
Bill Murray from Groundhog Day

Let’s be honest, this world is going to need a lot of do-overs.

Feeling better? Hold on to that bliss. And enjoy a healthy alternative to the inauguration brouhaha with multiple Murrays all Friday long in an IFC movie marathon including Kingpin, Zombieland, Ghostbusters, and Ghostbusters II.

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Home Run

Hank Azaria Gets Thrown A Curve Ball

Brockmire Premieres April 5 at 10P

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

Unless you’ve somehow missed every episode of the Simpsons since 1989, then surely you know that Hank Azaria is one of the most important character actors of our time. He’s so prolific and his voice is so dynamic that he’s responsible for more iconic personalities than most folks realize. Basically, he’s the great and powerful Oz — except that when you pull back the curtain the truth is actually more impressive. And now Hank is coming to IFC to bring yet another character to the TV pop culture hive mind in the new series Brockmire. Check out the trailer below.

Based on the following Funny or Die short and co-starring Amanda Peet, Brockmire follows the story of imploded major league sportscaster Jim Brockmire as he tries to resurrect his career by calling plays for a floundering minor league team in a podunk town.

The series is written by Joel Church-Cooper (Undateable) and produced by Funny or Die’s Mike Farah and Joe Farrell, meaning that there’s funny in front of the camera, funny behind the camera–funny all around. Sounds like a ball to us.

Brockmire premieres April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Car Notes

Portlandia On People Who Can’t Park

Portlandia returns tonight at 10P on IFC.

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If flagrant bad parking takes nerve, then retaliatory note writing takes neuroses. Watch Fred and Carrie take passive aggression to next level in Car Notes, the new Portlandia web series presented by Subaru. The first episode is yours right here and now, and you can see every installment of Car Notes anytime online, on the IFC app and on demand.

Portlandia returns tonight at 10P on IFC.

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