“That was indoors! I could post a picture of a family member in a coffin, and someone would put, “Put a bird on it!”
KRISEL: I remember in season 3, we would go to this restaurant and we’d get the salad, and if you wanted chicken on it, [the menu] just said, “Put a bird on it,” That was how you would order it. And right on the podium.”)
ARMISEN: We were really happy with [the sketch], but it wasn’t until a year later when people would say to me, “Put a bird on it!” that I realized it was something. ARMISEN: I wasn’t used to Jon as a director. Right before the shoot, we talked about “Yes, this is a really good conceptual observation, but what is this weird dynamic between the people?” That became the formula for all the sketches. “Put.” “Put.” “Put.” He wanted us to separate the words. ARMISEN: They still do. BROWNSTEIN: I have illustrator friends that felt more self-conscious about putting birds in their illustrations. That became, “You’re blowing that in my face,” and he was really annoyed. Show Full Article ET/PT — and ends its entire run next year — let’s get a bird’s-eye view of the bit that helped it soar: “Put a Bird on It!”
Portlandia flew onto the sketch-comedy radar, somewhat literally, in January 2011: Its second episode offered up a deft, daffy dagger to hipster-craft pretension with the part-commercial, part-outtakes masterpiece “Put a Bird on It!” Cheery how-to artisanal gurus Bryce Shivers (Fred Armisen) and Lisa Eversman (Carrie Brownstein) visit a Portland store to transform teapots and totes into art simply by affixing bird images to them. It even re-entered the zeitgiest last year when a bird landed on Bernie Sanders’ podium during a campaign speech in, yes, Portland. JENNIFER CASERTA (IFC president): It truly was the identifier—you didn’t even need to say “Portlandia.” It really was the beginning of something special for us. We’re trying to show the underbelly of that. (“What are the odds of that?” raves Armisen. We didn’t even really know what the format was going to be. That was so crazy. They are really buttoned up and fastidious, but they’re secretly rage-filled and angry. BROWNSTEIN: I remember the pigeon handler. All the time. KRISEL: It looked good enough that you kind of get the idea. [“Put a bird On it!”] is repeated the number of times in the sketch, and one of the things that often helps a catchphrase become a catchphrase is something that gets said over and over. There was a craft explosion, and birds did seem like a shorthand: “This isn’t your average piece of paper — this is stationery now.” Or: “Now that there’s a bird on it, you should put a frame around it.”
Cracking the hosts’ passive-aggressive relationship was key to the sketch—and to the show. I was crossing my fingers. The button is the irony of us being grossed out by a little bird. … The person who played the shopkeeper, Katie O’Grady — a Portland resident who we still use in the sketches now— her performance is very positive. Here’s these two characters that are presenting “Put a bird on everything,” but then the mantra of the piece that Fred came up with was, “What happened to my cup? I remember thinking, “Let’s try a commercial-y thing—but as if one of those Beatles movies made a commercial—stop-motion, jump-cut.” The piece has a very chopped-up feeling, so I remember thinking, “This is nothing.” It felt like this didn’t work, but I knew it was going to all be put together later and would work. And I feel too self-conscious wearing things with birds now. It happened late in the planning stages. I was first in line of being a sucker. It was just a guy like, “You want my pigeon?”And the pigeon was good… Once we submitted the first cut to the network, [then IFC development and production VP] Dan Pasternack was like, “Is there some way you could end this? But when a real pigeon flaps into the store, things devolve into ewwws (oh, the irony!) and utter chaos and destruction. It’s the best. BROWNSTEIN: Put a crack in the veneer of preciousness…. Just give it a button?” And I was like, “Okay, I have this crazy idea…”
DAN PASTERNACK: That’s when he came up with Fred throwing a vase and it strikes the bird, which falls to the ground, dead. So it’s ruined birds for me. People are trying to live these certain lives, and the same way that we present ourselves on social media is just this very small view, and it seems very perfect. CARRIE BROWNSTEIN (star, co-creator): I remember going around to little boutiques in Portland, and I felt like it was kind of an insult to my intelligence that just because there was a lampshade with a bird stencil on it, that somehow elevated it to a place of art. KRISEL: And it wasn’t a professional movie pigeon. BROWNSTEIN: People yelling it. The shoot, which took place on the very first day of production for the show, was somewhat a leap of faith. [Note: It involved digital-editing magic, not animal cruelty.] And the button was Carrie vomiting because then Fred went, “Ew, gross!” So I said, “Put the “gross!” back at the end after they kill the bird, so they’re saying “gross!” to the bird. This was all brand-new. PASTERNACK: The fact that “Put a Bird On It!” was shot on day 1 of the Portlandia pilot, to me, speaks to how clear the vision for that show was from the outset. FRED ARMISEN (star, co-creator): As we were coming up with ideas [in 2010], Carrie made this observation that birds are everywhere. Those characters are a really good example. BROWNSTEIN: At first we were thinking of a more low-key artisan couple. I suspected the same thing might happen with the Spike character when he was screaming “Bicycle rights!” I thought, “Oh, that’s sort of a thing too.” But “Put a bird on it!” rose above to become emblematic of exactly what was special about the show. I didn’t understand what was happening, but I trusted it. Before Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s IFC sketch series Portlandia wraps up its seventh season tonight at 10 p.m. PASTERNACK: [The popularity] made absolute sense to me because it was as specific and as unique to what would be great about the show as any single sketch we did in the first season. KRISEL: That was for the first episode we made. It’s just a weird animal to have on set. Here, the Portlandia players relive the sketch that began on a wing and a prayer. The sketch became a signature bit—see: the bird perched atop the show’s logo—and took hold in the vernacular and in knockoff-merch form. Then we realized that we wanted it in a slightly Wes Anderson [vein]…
JONATHAN KRISEL (Co-creator, director): A little more twee. That they were a little more controlling of things. So that was awesome to just get that little note to push it over the edge. BROWNSTEIN: When I post on Instagram, there is inevitably a comment no matter what I post that says “Put a bird on it.” It’s always incongruous. What did you do with my cup?” Which never made it into the actual piece. Never does she play the usual part in a sketch where they’re going, “Who are these crazy people?” She was actually along with us, which really is a theme that’s stayed through the show. It’s shorthand for “This is artistic.” We had a big laugh—I thought those people were such dummies—and I went back to my apartment, and my doormat had a raven on it.