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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)

IFC_Portlandia-S8_best-of-skits_subaru-blog

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

Uncle-Buck

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…