The top groupies in the audience for Portlandia the Tour have been a gay couple from Napa that attended the Los Angeles show last night dressed in matching "Put a Bird on It" t-shirts. They've been to every show on the tour so far. Portlandia actors/creators Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein are apparently so chummy with their fans that Brownstein proudly announced that the Napa couple has been together for a whole 14 years.
Portlandia, a sketch comedy on IFC that skewers the various liberal social groups known for populating Portland, Ore., has attracted a loyal cult following of comedy nerds since it first aired last year. Even people from Portland reportedly like watching their town be mocked.
But how does a television show go on tour? The show at the Echoplex in Echo Park had new live sketches, live performances of songs made famous from the episodes, video clips from upcoming episodes, a question-and-answer period, and then a short concert with The Bangles' Susanna Hoffs at the end, all totaling in at about 90 minutes. Armisen said it was the first show they had ever done at a venue that doesn't have seats. Concerned, he asked the crowd if they felt comfortable. Most people said no.
The show began with the actors reading aloud each other's text messages. Brownstein said that one text she received from Armisen made her feel particularly uncomfortable: "Your birth was not a birth at all but the death of all others."
She texted him back: "Of all the people I know, you are one of them."
In a more serious moment, Armisen confessed to the packed house that he doesn't have his own Twitter account because he just isn't confident enough to write jokes in 140 characters: "I actually don't think I have the wit."
During the Q & A period, we learned from Brownstein that the old woman who lectures Armisen during the show's hide-and-seek sketch is Ellen Bloodworth, an actress who used to date Jerry Orbach and perform on The Second City stage in Chicago. "We feel like she could be the next Betty White," Brownstein said.
"The punk rock version," Armisen added. They explained that Bloodworth, a grandmother, recently got a tattoo of an Academy Award statue on her arm. "She just awarded herself."
In person, Armisen and Brownstein have the same goofy and nerdy senses of humor seen on their show. No mean-spirited frat humor or even cynical political commentary here. In fact, the audience was much more snarky than the performers. When a girl asked Armisen and Brownstein for pictures, she got booed by the impatient crowd. Someone yelled, "How juvenile!" But Armisen and Brownstein asked the girl to pass her iPhone to the stage and then took awkwardly close photos of each other.
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The actors later introduced the couple from Napa that had been to all of their shows. A few crowd members grumbled when the couple got a chance to talk on the microphone and read aloud their list of pre-written questions. But Armisen hushed people, sincerely telling them how much he liked seeing the couple at each show. "We just want to thank you for all you've done to make this so special for us," his loyal fan replied.
Another fan shouted during the show that Armisen is the best actor on Saturday Night Live.
Before performing a song the characters had written for the Portland mayor on the show, Brownstein said, "Every show is just like a warm little love fest, and we love it."