'Portlandia' comes to Chicago

“I just saw a bunch of copies of RedEye; I’m in Chicago right now!” Fred Armisen said during a recent conference call in which he and his “Portlandia” co-creator/star, Carrie Brownstein, phoning from Portland, were promoting their the hit IFC sketch comedy show.

Armisen, who lived in Chicago in the 1980s and ’90s, when he played drums with punk band Trenchmouth and worked as a drummer for “Blue Man Group,” and Brownstein, the guitarist-vocalist from riot grrrl band Sleater-Kinney and indie-rock group Wild Flag, are in the midst of a nationwide tour to promote Season 2 of “Portlandia.” On Wednesday, they’ll both be in Chicago for a sold-out show at the Hideout to play music, screen sneak-peek clips from Season 2 and share anecdotes about the series and the various characters they’ve created.

What was the inspiration behind the tour? Did you want a direct audience connection?

Carrie Brownstein: That’s part of it. I think that Fred and I, in different aspects of our lives—for Fred, “SNL,” but also he does a lot of live shows and I perform with my band—we’re used to it; we really appreciate the direct connection that a live show brings with the audience and it’s kind of an earnest, palpable way of just relating to the people that watch what you do.
With “Portlandia,” we’ve never really had the opportunity to visit with and spend an evening with some of the people that are enjoying the show. For us, it’s a natural extension of what we like to do anyway. When we were given the opportunity to do that with “Portlandia,” we jumped on it.

The Hideout is a perfect venue atmospherically but it sold out in a minute. Why didn’t you choose a larger venue?

Fred Armisen: We want it to feel kind of like you’re visiting us in a living room. One of my favorite things about the show is the use of all those crazy wigs. Will you be breaking out any wigs during the live show?

CB: Potentially. I think one or two wigs might be—

FA: Yes, they might make their way up there.

Do you know which ones?

FA: Yes. Is it a secret or should we say something?

CB: I think we should keep it a secret.

In “Portlandia,” a lot of the humor comes from these confused characters who are trying—but failing—to do the right thing. What are some of those situations like in real life for the two of you?

CB: I just feel constantly flummoxed in situations—the recycling one is definitely true for me. There are coffee shops here that break down the recycling and compost into five or six different categories and it really just brings out the contrarian in me where I just want to throw everything on the floor or in the trash. It’s very hard.

I have a Whole Foods near my house and I do have a reusable bag but I always forget to bring it. Even though I should, like, not care and just get the paper bag, I end up buying another reusable bag and making a big performance thing out of it, like, “Hey, everybody, I’m buying another reusable bag.” So basically now I’m a hoarder of reusable bags because I just buy a new one every time I go. I feel like I’m constantly up against those kinds of things.

FA: For me, I always feel bad for people who are, like, cab drivers. And it’s really dumb of me to feel bad for them—they’re apparently doing fine—but I always think, “I don’t want to pay with a credit card; I’ll pay cash because they probably could use the cash.” It’s this false sense of being responsible for everybody in the world and feeling bad for everyone, which is not even asked of me, you know?

It also makes no sense. I mean, they have a credit card machine; it’s fine, but I always feel like, “Sorry, I hope you don’t mind if I use a credit card.” It’s just silliness.

“Portlandia” makes use of so many iconic Portland-area locations. What are your favorite iconic Chicago locations?

FA: I would say the Rainbow. And that whole run along Milwaukee Avenue, right by Damen and North. There is something about that corner—that Flat Iron building and then the train tracks right next to it. That, to me, is iconic for Wicker Park and because of that, Chicago.

Julia Borcherts is a RedEye special contributor. metromix@tribune.com

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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