“Portlandia” may be the most offbeat of the many alternative sketch comedy shows permeating cable TV today, though co-creator Jonathan Krisel swears he doesn’t set out to provide viewers an oddball experience.
“I feel bad that it’s [weird] … I guess it’s a badge of honor,” Krisel told TheWrap on a Wednesday phone interview timed with the following evening’s Season 5 finale.
That said, tonight’s episode coincidentally (or not) does explore “what is a ‘weirdo,'” he teased, adding, “The stakes are high.”
The particularly plot-driven installment surrounds a news story that grips the town, as a taxidermy store burns down, resulting in a whodunnit and subsequent trial. The action-packed season closer promises the return of many fan-favorite characters. Krisel hopes viewers enjoy the storyline, because “The Weirdos” will recur on the show’s previously ordered future seasons.
“Weird” or simply unique, the comedy stylings of Krisel, Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein have obviously worked for the show and its cable channel, IFC. This season though, the trio changed up the format anyway, while keeping the comedy consistent and not over-produced.
“I’m always trying to stay conscious of not losing the Season 1 art-project energy,” Krisel explained to TheWrap. “That’s the best part of the show.”
And then he revealed the real “secret thing” behind his show’s winning ways: Armisen and Brownstein know their characters “really deep down.”
“It isn’t just a sketch character for one thing, and then dump [it],” Krisel said, citing that the popular “Put a Bird on It” conceptual joke, for example, is secondary to the actual characters. “This is one of the only sketch shows having recurring characters not doing the same bit every time.”
And the man who has “Tim and Eric,” “Kroll Show” and “Funny or Die” on his resume should know the scene — especially because he also spent two half-seasons at the most successful, mainstream sketch comedy show ever, “Saturday Night Live.” There, Krisel teamed with Andy Samberg while the other two members of The Lonely Island, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, were off doing other projects.
Krisel was extended an offer to stay in NBC’s famed Studio 8H, but he left for the start-up “Portlandia” and “Kroll Show” instead, which were more his sense of humor — and of course, his babies.
And though “SNL” is an influence and dream job for anyone employed in the genre, Krisel credits Bob Odenkirk and David Cross’s “Mr. Show” with creating the current-day “sketch boom,” as he calls it. After all, “Mr. Show” was pre-taped, it had deeper-running jokes and an offbeat sensibility. And it came at the right time, as film students joined theater geeks, transforming live stage shows into pre-taped pieces thanks to more available technology.
The resulting comedy was far subtler, more naturalistic and relatable to Krisel. It was less loud, it could be re-shot and edited. Those possibilities allowed sketch comedy to effectively replace another art form from a societal standpoint, Krisel opined.
“In the ’90s, music was the thing that you defined yourself by,” he said. “Music is largely a background-wallpaper, Pandora, Spotify thing at this moment — and comedy has really become the more defining characteristic.”
“You can tell a lot about a person by what comedians they like,” he added.
Krisel believes that social commentary is “non-existent” in music today, but hyper-prevalent in comedy.
“Music is now beautiful and very cinematic and well-produced,” he concluded. “Jon Stewart — that’s where you go for your angst and your passion.”
The “Portlandia” Season 5 finale airs Thursday at 10 p.m. on IFC.