A quirky, chummy ‘Portlandia’

Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein (pictured in New York earlier this year) brought their free-form humor to Berklee on Monday.
Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein (pictured in New York earlier this year) brought their free-form humor to Berklee on Monday.

“This is fun for you guys, right?’’ When Carrie Brownstein asked the Berklee audience that question toward the end of Monday’s road-tour version of “Portlandia,’’ her charmingly loose sketch-comedy television show with Fred Armisen, she intended it as a self-deprecating joke about the five-piece band taking its time deliberating about what to play next. Intentionally or not, though, she wasn’t really joking. The meandering back-and-forth not only didn’t grind the show to a halt, it was precisely what the audience came to see in the first place.

Not that it was entirely clear beforehand what the performance would entail, exactly. What it wasn’t was the TV show transplanted to the stage. There were video clips from upcoming episodes. There were songs. There was an audience Q&A. There was even cake. More than anything, there was the rambling, easy-going rapport of Armisen and Brownstein, casual and confident like they were sharing funny, odd jokes with longtime pals.

That meant only being in character twice: once as feminist bookstore owners Candace and Toni (the only time they were in costume) and during the opening text-message duel, where a floridly effusive Armisen expressed frustration over the distant formality of Brownstein’s messages, one of which concluded, “Generically yours, a citizen.’’ She also shared a birthday card to her mother on which the then-12-year-old Carrie had signed her last name, implying that even those characters weren’t too far from their real personalities.


Much like the comedy on “Portlandia,’’ there was no agenda that was pushed particularly hard. With Brownstein’s Wild Flag-mate Rebecca Cole on keyboards and Telekinesis frontman Michael Benjamin Lerner on drums, they played only two songs from the show. They otherwise backed guests Eleanor Friedberger (on two of her own indie-pop songs) and J Mascis, who soloed with his usual grace and aplomb on the slow burn of Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer.’’

The result was simultaneously low-key and freewheeling, with no driving urgency to stick to “Portlandia’’ proper. For 90 minutes, Brownstein and Armisen were just hanging out, riffing on one another’s ideas and playing music. It seemed like a good place to be.

Marc Hirsh can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @spacecitymarc.