The Late Movies: Portlandia

Tonight: sketch comedy by Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein about Portland, Oregon. As a longtime Portland resident, I can tell you that these videos are made with love and respect for the inherent contradictions of Portland's youth culture. Portland isn't so much a place as it is a state of mind -- a sort of blissed-out, shaggy-haired, "Wow, is is still raining?" kind of thing, that's equal parts ridiculous and wonderful. This is a place where a bumper sticker reading "Keep Portland Weird" is found on 25% of cars. We accept people who have a lack of ambition (and people who are ambitious about small things); we know it's sometimes ridiculous, and we love it.

Armisen and Brownstein launch their Portland-based sketch series Portlandia on IFC in January. Below is the first official clip from the show, plus some older sketches the duo made before signing the TV deal.

The Dream of the '90s is Alive in Portland

This has already become the official theme of Portland. I used to work two blocks from where this was shot -- it's a smallish town. I cannot tell you how many Portlanders love and agree with this.

Armisen: "Remember when people were content to be unambitious? To sleep till eleven, to just hang out with their friends? I mean they had no occupations whatsoever...maybe working a couple hours a week at a coffeeshop?" Brownstein: "Right. I thought that died out a long time ago." Armisen: "Not in Portland. Portland is a city where young people go to retire."

Portland Pet Haven

Armisen: "This is Sissalee. She's a Dachshund, she's fourteen years old, really active, and wants to live in a home with no children and no adults."

Feminist Bookstore

Brownstein: "I fire-walk in my bathroom sometimes, just when I get out of the shower...."

Feminist Bookstore Part 2

Brownstein: "I don't want to play anything that would be offensive to somebody, or make somebody feel like they're having sex." Also, secret neti pot reference.

The Perfect Song

Brownstein (who is, by the way, formerly of Sleater-Kinney): "So I was thinking on the sixth chorus we could do something like, 'la-da-da-da-da-da, if you'd walk with me in the rain, if you held my hand and didn't call my insane, I'd love you more, I'd take you to the grocery store.'"

Featuring a special appearance by Corin Tucker and Lance Bangs wearing an Electrelane tee-shirt. Now that's Portland.


Armisen: "I am full-on sick from the food at this place. I vomited so much that my doctor called me 'A New Era in Food Poisoning.'" Brownstein: "I feel like 'A New Era' in anything is a compliment, and that's what we're trying to do with Katchenza, so...."

This is Nice

A meditation on satisfaction, validation, and existential aloneness. Recommended for fans of Jim Jarmusch.


If you can handle a lot of anger over nothing, check out Closed. "I don't wanna feel like this anymore!" Most things in Portland are closed sometimes. It happens. It can be rough. My favorite YouTube comment: "I? really appreciate the anger involved."

The Funniest Word in the English Language? 'Booty,' According to New Survey

Some words, regardless of their meaning, are simply more chuckle-worthy than others. To determine which expressions in the English language are truly the most comical, Smithsonian reports that psychologists at the University of Warwick in the UK conducted a survey in which they asked people to rate the “humor value” of a sampling of chosen words. They recently published their findings in the journal Behavior Research Methods.

The researchers selected nearly 5000 words, and then used Amazon’s online crowdsourcing tool Mechanical Turk to ask more than 800 individuals to rank the humor value of 211 randomly chosen words from the list, on a scale from 1 (humorless) to 5 (humorous). Likely not surprising to anyone with younger siblings, the funniest word ended up being “booty,” with an average ranking of 4.32. In descending order, the remaining top 12 words—which all received a score of 3.9 or higher—were “tit,” “booby,” “hooter,” “nitwit,” “twit,” “waddle,” “tinkle,” “bebop,” “egghead,” “ass,” and “twerp.”

Why these words are so funny remains fuzzy. But when they analyzed their findings according to age and gender, the researchers did find that sexually suggestive words like “orgy” and “bondage” tended to tickle the funny bones of men, as did the words “birthmark,” “brand,” “chauffeur,” “doze,” “buzzard,” “czar,” “weld,” “prod,” “corn,” and “raccoon.”

Meanwhile, women tended to laugh at the words “giggle,” “beast,” “circus,” “grand,” “juju,” “humbug,” “slicker,” “sweat,” “ennui,” “holder,” “momma,” and “sod.” As for people under the age of 32, they were amused by “goatee,” “joint,” and “gangster,” while older participants liked “squint,” “jingle,” “burlesque,” and “pong.” Across the board, all parties were least amused by words like “rape,” “torture,” and “torment.”

Although humor is complex and dependent on elements like syntax and delivery, the study's researchers say that breaking comedy down to single-word units could demystify its essence.

“The research initially came about as a result of our curiosity,” said Tomas Engelthaler, the study’s lead author, in a press release. “We were wondering if certain words are perceived as funnier, even when read on their own. It turns out that indeed is the case. Humor is an everyday aspects of our lives and we hope this publicly available dataset allows future researchers to better understand its foundations.”

[h/t Smithsonian]

Chris Weeks // Staff // Getty Images
Watch the Original Spinal Tap Short Film
Chris Weeks // Staff // Getty Images
Chris Weeks // Staff // Getty Images

Spinal Tap formed in 1979, five years before the classic film This is Spinal Tap premiered. They performed on TV and began developing their personas as idiotic heavy metal monsters.

When the band, along with director Rob Reiner, went to pitch their mockumentary to production companies, nobody "got it." It wasn't clear what an unscripted comedy pseudo-documentary would feel like. So Reiner asked for the screenplay fee—$60,000—to be paid up front as a budget for a short proof-of-concept film.

That skimpy budget went a very long way, allowing the group to produce The Last Tour, a 20-minute Spinal Tap film exploring some of the plot (and many of the songs) that appeared in the later film This is Spinal Tap. There's a surprising amount of concert footage, as various bits that were repeated in Tap (some interview clips were even used in Tap unaltered).

The Last Tour is delightful because it shows a well-developed idea being implemented on the cheap. The wigs are terrible, the sound is spotty, but the vision is spot-on. The characters and the core story of the group (including a string of dead drummers) is already in place, and we get to see the guys improvise together. Tune in (and be aware there's plenty of salty language here):

(Note: Around 4:38 in the clip above, we see Ed Begley, Jr. as original drummer John "Stumpy" Pepys in the "Gimme Some Money" video. Stumpy died in a gardening accident, of course.)


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