On the second season of the culty IFC Channel comedy “Portlandia,” Eddie Vedder plays a hot dude with a not-so-hot Eddie Vedder tattoo. Johnny Marr plays a cyclist disgruntled by imcompentent bike valets (they’re the worst, right?). And St. Vincent? “I wouldn’t quite say she plays a cop but… she is part of the crew to help redesign the cop uniforms in Portland,” says Carrie Brownstein, who created and stars in the show alongside “Saturday Night Live” comedian Fred Armisen.
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“One person who surprised me in his wit and his acting ability was Johnny Marr from the Smiths,” says Brownstein, also the leader of punched-up indie rockers Wild Flag and formerly of riot grrls Sleater-Kinney. “Johnny was so witty and funny, and kept us on our toes.”
Marr, Vedder and St. Vincent’s Annie Clark are just a few of the musicians taking a trip to “Portlandia” during the show’s second season, which returns Friday (Jan. 6, 10 p.m. on IFC). From Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock playing a vinyl records enthusiast to folk fairy Joanna Newsom struggling to transport a harp, the circumstances in which characters find themselves are equal parts absurdity and accuracy.
“Everytime we bring someone onto the show there’s always a bit of a guilt, like, ‘Sorry we are about to throw you into this ridiculous situation,'” Brownstein jokes.
The situations are indeed ridiculous. The snap judgment is that “Portlandia” satirizes all flavors of hipsterism — vegan, organic and taking itself too seriously, of course. But the dreaded “h-word” (hipster) is a complicated one for Brownstein. “Fred and I are very much of the communities we portray. We know these people, we are these people.”
She continues: “To me, the term [“hipster”] is benign. Is it a way of dressing? Is it a lifestyle? Is it about the possessions somebody owns? Is it because they have a beard… because there are so many kinds of beards! To me, it is a shorthand for something that people are a little bit threatened by, because it is always used as a derisive term. No one is ever gushing, ‘He was just an amazing hipster!’ The moment you throw that word in, you are undermining any aspect of that person.”
Still, it’s a term Brownstein and Armisen, who’s drummed in bands since the ’80s, are probably used to hearing. The two shared a circle of friends steeped in punk rock, finally meeting in 2003 at a Sleater-Kinney show in New York and soon forming ThunderAnt, the viral experiment that spawned many of “Portlandia’s” signature skits.
“It’s odd to me looking back that the kind of collaboration that we did embark upon wasn’t music,” Brownstein says. “It seems strange… why did he assume that I was going to be capable of comedy? Then again, it’s not exciting to just say, ‘Hey do you wanna come over and jam?'”
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Brownstein still finds time to jam plenty, balancing both the premiere of “Portlandia” and Wild Flag, who released its self-titled debut on Merge in September, during 2011. As is the case with Portlandia: The Tour, a six-city jaunt that mixes goofy singalongs with guests like Dana Carvey, some things are the perfect storm of both. Brownstein’s experiences in rock’n’roll, however, have made the leap into acting a bit easier.
“In high school when I discovered punk rock and guitar, it was as if a wrecking ball came into my life and dismantled any other interest I had,” she says. “It was so immediate and accessible and I just veered into the direction, but I never lost my interest in acting. There have been moments when I have been nervous or scared [about acting] but I’m very much a scrapper. I can come and fight and claw my way through anything, then turn around and make sure the destruction wasn’t too bad. But I don’t think I could do this if I hadn’t spent 10 years on stage getting comfortable with who I was as a person or as a performer. I was a lot more shy and introverted at the age of 24.”