Interview: Fred Armisen on Portlandia

January 20, 2011

Yesterday we talked to Carrie Brownstein about Microsoft and the world’s crush on Riot Grrrl. Today we turned to her partner Fred Armisen for an east coast counterpoint. He touched some on playing Obama, being a New Yorker, public design and riding the bus. Portlandia start's airing on IFC this Friday night at 10:30, you can preview the pilot right now on Hulu.

I feel like New York has a crush on Portland. In the course of a couple years city people have become enamored with heritage clothing, Stumptown Coffee, the Ace Hotel.
Yes! The New York Times has done style articles about it. But I guess I’m the embodiment of that love affair. I love going there. I love the flight there; it’s always exciting for me when I’m on my way to Portland. I don’t know what it is. They’re very different cities, but there are qualities about Portland that are just so attractive.

So why not move there? Have you ever wanted to?
I like the amount that I go there. I visit and I spend lengths of time there, but New York is my home. This is where I want to be. But I love spending extended periods of time there. There’s something Utopian about it: The smell, the way the houses are made. I love people’s style, their choices in jackets. You see a lot of dark colors and dark plaids, which I like. And the trolleys or whatever their public transportation is, they go everywhere.

The MAX light rail and the Streetcars downtown. Riding their buses was pretty bogus though. But I guess buses everywhere are bogus?
They stop too much. I’ve taken the bus in New York a couple times and I’m like, why are we stopping again?

How long have you and Carrie been friends?
We’ve been friends since early 2000s. It might go back longer, but we don’t really remember how we became friends. We have mutual friends and we just started seeing each other, we’d bump into each other and next thing we knew we were good friends.

Are Portland's dining options better than New York's?
No. They’re different but equal. Portland has really good food, and in New York you can get really quality food. I’m not saying that as a copout; I really like both cities. There's this one barbecue place that’s near the Jupiter Hotel in Portland that I like especially. It’s very simple, they don’t give you many options. I love when there’s not many options.

What’s the best thing you’ve ever gotten at Powell’s?
Oh my god. There are two things. One is a book about World War I called Guns of August, but there’s another thing I bought as a joke. It was a map, a protest map. A really angry map that’s like, “Weapons of mass destruction? How about here in the United States!” and it’s a map of the United States with little arrows pointing to different places like, “Nuclear arms are made here!” It’s huge, it’s a big map. And there’s little skulls representing where there’s poisoning. “There’s all this ammonia here near this river!” And I laughed, I had to buy it. Who is going to hang up a poster like this? Why would you want to be confronted with such negativity? But they put so much work into it. Like, wow they are really concentrated on this. The tone was like, “This is it! Look at that!”

What is the best place to smoke weed in Portland?
I don’t do any drugs, but Portland has a lot of nice public spaces. There’s a park that I lived near in the Pearl district in a renovated area near Union Station. It’s really ultra-modern now, all this glass and steel buildings. There’s a park there that looks like an architect designed it, it’s very modern and artsy, and it makes me giggle. It makes me laugh a little bit because it’s so forward thinking. It wouldn’t exist in any other city, but it’s so indicative of what Portland is like. They’re like, “We want totally creative people.” And the park is crazy looking: there’s steel beams sticking out of it and a little lake with a boardwalk, it’s Asian looking but also industrial. I don’t know what it’s called.

You play Obama on SNL. When he came to Portland during the presidential campaign he drew one of his biggest audiences was like his biggest audience. What would Barack do in Portland?
Portland is such a bicycle-friendly city. I don’t know if I’m right about this, but I’ve seen a lot of pictures of him on bicycles with his family. There would be a lot of bicycling involved, a lot of safe bicycling.

What have you been listening to?
I just started listening to a band called Holy Sons and I really like them a lot. I like Marnie Stern, and I’m still listening to Jim Callahan a lot, even though his record came out last year.

Interview: Fred Armisen on Portlandia