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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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Final Countdown

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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Rev Up

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.

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Give Back

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…