Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen have gone on some memorable dates. They've investigated the life history of a free-range chicken they were about to consume, fled zombie hordes of moonlighting DJs, and turned "cacao" into their bedroom safe word.
Everywhere they went, they defined 21st-century Portland. Their comedy sketches on Portlandia, the cable TV series that debuted in 2011, cemented this city's national notoriety as a ludicrous playground for pourover coffee and privilege.
Portland had been called "the place where young people go to retire" before—WW alum Taylor Clark described a similar saying as a chestnut in 2007, while also calling the Rose City "America's indie-rock theme park." But Brownstein and Armisen threw open the gates.
Their creative pairing also transformed them: Brownstein went from Sleater-Kinney's riot-grrrl guitar goddess to Portland's anointed cultural balloon-popper, and Armisen turned from droll Obama impersonator into the patron saint of milquetoast. (It's hard to say if men on the streets of Portland always looked like Fred Armisen, or if Armisen has started to look like men on the streets of Portland.)
Their meet-cute, however, has been difficult to pinpoint. For years, the two maintained they could not remember where they first locked eyes. It was, in fact, the day after Valentine's Day.
Brownstein: We used to disagree on the story, but we have come to terms with the fact that there's only one truth: the Internet. We met at an SNL after-party in 2003. Jennifer Garner was the host. Beck was the musical guest. Sleater-Kinney played a show in New York that day.
Armisen: The after-parties at SNL, they're not like big, crazy parties. It's almost like a big dinner party. It's at a restaurant. It almost feels like a wedding.
Brownstein: At the time, Sleater-Kinney had little buttons with our faces on them. Fred was wearing mine.
Armisen: She had this energy that was calm and in the moment. Sometimes situations like that, like a party, it brings out the, "Hey, I've got to run around the party." As much as this word is overused, she was very cool.
Brownstein: I thought that Fred was very funny, warm, effusive. He had an unwavering optimism that's infectious. Fred was shooting a video for some group of John Kerry supporters in 2004, and he asked if I wanted to be a part of it and he flew to Portland. We ended up calling it, "Boink!" Fred played Saddam Hussein, which was someone he was doing an impression of at the time, and he played him like an aging British rock star, like Paul Weller or Pete Townshend. And I played Cindy Overton, who had gotten the first post-bunker interview with Saddam Hussein for her cable-access show.
Armisen: I have no recollection of a moment where we were saying to each other, "What do you think is funny?" That was never a discussion…. There were never any moments of having to change for the other person—a sense of humor, or a sense of style. We never said, "Why are we doing this?"
Brownstein: We're really protective of the friendship. We nurture that first. And then the creative output from that stays vital and inspired.
Armisen: Sometimes I'll think, "This is what the friendship is," and then another week goes by and another month, and it grows. At the risk of sounding dramatic, it's what makes me happy to be alive.
From the Archives:
January 2, 2013: "Voices: Fred Armisen."
December 8, 2011: Portlandia Live Reviewed.
November 3, 2010: Carrie Brownstein cover profile