Sketching Out Portlandia's Musical Layers

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Music in Comedy Television Notes on Laughs, 2017, pp. 142 - 156
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Sketch comedy is not new. It has its roots in variety television and radio, and further back in vaudeville, music hall, nineteenth-century theatre “afterpieces,” and even Renaissance commedia dell’arte (Neale, 1990: 182). American show Portlandia (2011–present) is a conventional TV sketch comedy in that its sketches include a variety of devices such as satire, parody, slapstick, and catchphrase comedy (Mundy and White, 2012: 123), and there are musical number sketches (common to many sketch shows such as Saturday Night Live). But Portlandia is arguably the only sketch show so far—at least in the English-speaking world—to fully integrate popular music. Music not only features in the show in a variety of ways to be discussed in this chapter, but the show also uses a music industry model both in its structure and in the way it is produced and promoted (Powers, 2014). Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, the stars and co-creators of Portlandia, use music as one their principal devices for generating storylines and depicting characters.
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