John Keister on Portlandia: Carrie Brownstein's Great, but the Show's No Almost Live

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Nothing against Portland, but Seattle put the Pacific Northwest on the cultural and economic map. And nothing against Portlandia, but Almost Live put the Pacific Northwest on the comedic map. So we figured it'd only be appropriate to ask Almost Live legend John Keister what he thought of IFC's hot new sketch show, which stars SNL's Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, late of Sleater-Kinney, in a variety of archetypal roles.

"I think it's an enjoyable show, [but] it's not one I would immediately call my friends and say, 'You've gotta see this,'" says Keister. "It's really minimal and mellow, much like Portland itself. One of the funnier things was Kyle McLachlan as mayor saying, 'Don't make it look like it came from Seattle.' I actually experienced that this summer when I was helping a friend get a business started. He was talking to prospective waitstaff, saying 'We're gonna be Seattle fast, not Portland mellow,' and that's not what they want to hear down there. I think they capture that pretty well in the show. They're doing a lot of stuff that we did in making fun of the self-righteous nature of vegan-types. We actually did one of those bits; with us it was Alan the Salmon [instead of Colin the Chicken]. We had a lists of Alan's likes and dislikes. They took it a little further by actually going to the farm."

Yet that's about where the similarities end, opines Keister. "It's very different from our show. I think the funniest thing they've done is that [music] video. I was really excited when I saw that video, but I kind of don't think the rest of the show lives up to it. It's amusing, but they miss a lot of chances at buttoning up the bits. They just sort of go and don't pay off, kind of in the way that SNL sometimes creates a character, but doesn't really button it up. And the feminist bookstore, we've seen that 20 years ago."

"When they had Aimee Mann as their housekeeper," Keister continues, referring to Portlandia's most recent episode, "they had a great opportunity to do a really funny bit, but fell back on, 'Hey, Aimee, you missed a spot.' I felt kind of disappointed in that. They've got the look, feel, and vibe really correct, but I don't think they're doing much with it. You're on the verge of laughter, but it seems to me they miss the punchlines."

Interestingly, the one performer Keister is unabashed in his admiration for is Brownstein. "Brownstein is very funny. I think she's better than Fred Armisen; she's got real potential. She's definitely the best thing about that show."

Brownstein may live in Portland now, but where's she from originally? Seattle, of course, thus cementing our theory that nothing good happens on the tax-free side of the Columbia unless it happened here first.

 
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