Portlandia the Tour Does Durham

Before you read any further, if you’re intending to see any of the last two showings of Portlandia: The Tour, STOP READING THIS POST IMMEDIATELY!!


Quit reading, or you’ll regret it.  That’s not a threat. It’s a promise.

Ok, hopefully that worked. If you’re still reading, know you’ve been warned.

Let’s get back to the task at hand…  Portlandia: The Tour came to Durham, NC last night. The moment the tickets for this show went on sale, I bought myself one. I didn’t know if I’d go with anyone, I didn’t know what else I was doing that night, I just knew that I’d be there, and I’d be laughing.

If you’re not aware, Portlandia (click here for some clips on Hulu, they’re worth a minute or two if you enjoy laughter and joy… do you?) is a fantastic television show on IFC which acts as a satirical look at the ridiculous residents of Portland. You know the ones, every town has them. Those too-hip-for-thou hipsters that shop at thrift stores, whose main mode of transportation is bicycling, and whose main food groups are cigarettes and coffee.  At least, that’s how they’re portrayed in Portlandia.

I love this show, and I feel like I’ve seen these “Portlandians” in many of my travels (most of the time in Carrboro, the hip artsy next-door neighbor of Chapel Hill). The best thing about Portlandia, though, is that they don’t mock these folks in a mean-spirited way. And Fred and Carrie both mentioned during the show last night that their inspiration for the characters comes a lot from pieces of their own personality.


My fatal mistake before seeing this show, however, was that I’m just too curious for my own good. Unsure of what kind of format the show would be in, how long it would be, or what I could expect, I started searching online for reviews.


I basically robbed myself of any and all elements of surprise, and kind of set myself up for the worst.  When you read the words of another (for instance, the under-enthused Dan Zak at the Washington Post), you can’t help but have your own expectations tainted with their thoughts.  And so a seed of doubt was planted…

I had a great seat, right in the center of the orchestra seating in the Carolina Theatre.  The venue was fantastic, in my opinion, offering reasonably comfortable seats AND bottles of (affordable!!) craft beer at the concession stand.  I nabbed a Ruthless Rye IPA (Sierra Nevada) and scampered back to my seat before the show started.

So smooth

The show started off with a little dialogue between Fred and Carrie relaying texts that the other had sent to each of them to the audience.  Hands down, the funniest line was from Fred to Carrie: “Your birth was not a birth at all, it was the death of all others.”

Cue raucous laughter.

They, along with their bandmates, played the show’s infamous “The Dream of the ’90s”, and even included a quick jab at Chapel Hill to rile up the crowd (which, ironically, included a TON of UNC students…)  Highlights of the rest of the show?

  • Durham recon discussion with John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats (a Durham local) and the audience, who piped in about their favorite biscuits, food trucks, coffee shops, restaurants, and record label. There was a great Bojangles vs. Biscuitville vs. Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen debate, which Sunrise dominated, and it relayed a lot of authentic Durham love.
  • A reading of the poetry penned by a 7-year old Freddy Armisen “Dracula sucks blood, and so do I.”  You can’t make this stuff up.
  • Fred’s father (also named Fred), a Durham resident, coming out on stage to recreate a photo from when the Armisen family ventured to London in Fred’s youth.
Smattered throughout the show were video clips from upcoming episodes of Portlandia. I found one vignette about an overzealous couple gearing up for a hike particularly hilarious ($5,200 is TOTALLY worth it when buying a handheld GPS…) and Barbara Streisand (thanks to Jay Dav for correcting me, I meant JUST Barbara, former partner of the feminist bookstore) makes a surprise visit to the Feminist bookstore and is quite hilarious.  If you’ve never watched the show, sorry if that doesn’t make sense.
If you have, you’re in for a treat.

Sneaky Phone pics are GREAT for lousy quality!!

The Q&A session at the end allowed for a solid amount of audience interaction, which I think Fred and Carrie do pretty well with.  I liked this part the most because, as it was unscripted and dependent on the questions from the audience, it was impossible to spoil the surprise (hell, I think even Carrie was a little surprised when one audience member requested her actual address in Portland… Creeper.)
I raised my own hand and requested the answers to the three questions that’d been asked to the Durham crowd, re: Portland.  Their answers?
Favorite Coffeeshop: Stumptown
Favorite Foodtruck: Fred couldn’t remember the exact name, but said it was a BBQ truck that did “pure BBQ goodness”  (Maybe Eclectic Eatery?)
Favorite Bar: Aalto Lounge
You know, just in case I head to Portland in the near future.  Other highlights included when Fred was asked if he was romantically in love with Carrie.  His response?

“Cacao to that.”  (Check out the Cacao clip for a better understanding.)

There was an off-key singalong at the end featuring more audience participation (whoda thunk that it’d be so tough to musically add the words “Durham North Carolina” to a tune?) and a few songs by the Zooey Deschanel lookalike in a Canadian tuxedo (denim on denim) who I later learned was Eleanor Friedberger of…. Eleanor Friedberger.  Definitely not hip enough to catch on that she was more than a musician I should’ve heard of by now.  Oh well.

I laughed at times.  At other times, I was thankful that my phone was smart enough to allow me to read Twitter.  Overall, I’m stoked I went, for about $40 (with taxes and Ticketmaster fees included in that price) it was a combination of a stand-up comedian, a mini-film festival, and a concert. I’ll take it. Carrie Brownstein is a fantastic example of a female musician/performer that has her shit together, and can hang with anyone. I think her style of humor throughout the whole show was what I connected to the most. Fred sometimes took it a little too far in any direction, and sometimes felt hokey, but together… that’s where they really shine.

All that being said, I’ll NEVER make the mistake of researching a live variety-show-esque performance like this pre-attendance.  I need more life-spoiler alerts.

Have you ever seen Portlandia?

What area near you is most like Portlandia (read: full of hipsters, hippies, scene kids, granola type folks… you know the ones)?

8 thoughts on “Portlandia the Tour Does Durham

  1. K I skimmed over most of the post, per your warning, but I get the impression that Portlandia should be my next Netflixcapade. Since three seasons of United States of Tara lasted a whopping 3 days, I’m looking for something new!

  2. Just wanted to let you know that was Penny Marshall, not Barbara Streisand. Who look nothing alike. Wondering how you could confuse those two. Lol

    • HA! Oops, this post was typed during lunch hour and while the character’s name was Barbara, she was NOT Barbara Streisand. How could I have confused the two? It was very easy considering I have no idea who Penny Marshall is (well, now I do, but only after looking her up following your comment!) Thanks for the heads up, and for reading!

  3. Nice review! Haha, I think Portlandia is absolutely brilliant, but as someone who lives in Portland it’s really hard to watch. It’s too real! I want my relaxation time to be fantasy.

  4. eleanor friedberger is also in a little band called the fiery furnaces. if you have not heard of them, or heard them, then that’s on you.

    • Ha, that is on me. And, as I mentioned, I’m not quite hip enough to have known anything about her other than she plays music (and the only reason I know that is because she performed music in front of me.) Not certain if that was criticism or ribbing, but before Portlandia, I’d never EVER heard of her/heard her. My bad!

  5. Pingback: Lifestyle Changes and Family « Food, Sweat, and Beers

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