Prior to ‘Portlandia’: A Video Guide to ThunderAnt

Portlandia has won a Peabody Award and been picked up for a third season on IFC, but since we’ll have to wait until January 2013 for that, why not take a look back at the internet sketch duo who started it all? Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s mastery of combining subtle and conceptual humor with the most exaggerated urban Pacific Northwest stereotypes possible – including the likes of lethargic activists, crunchy environmentalists, feminist vegans, punk rockers, and the always-elusive liberal elite – began after the two met in the early 2000s and started posting videos under the name ThunderAnt in 2005. Since the premiere of Portlandia in 2011, ThunderAnt’s videos have been made unavailable on their website, but thankfully they’re all preserved on YouTube. Here’s a complete guide to ThunderAnt’s cast of characters who were the first to dream of the 90s.

Feminist Bookstore

Women and Women First bookstore owners Toni and Candace are are two of the most commonly recurring characters on Portlandia, and it’s no surprise considering they go back to the ThunderAnt days, where they appeared four times. Here’s the one that started it all. ( Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 )


Fred and Carrie can’t handle the discovery that their favorite clothing store is closed in the middle of the day (or is it??), and how could they? There is truly no greater human suffering on this planet than when you can’t buy a new v-neck.

One Man Show

I could watch clips of Fred playing self-obsessed poets and performance artists all day, and in “One Man Show” he explores the inner cries of a plethora of stereotypical rednecks, gay men, bluesy old black men (named Ol’ Willie Johns), anti-Native American entrepreneurs, millionairesses, and New Yorkers while Carrie, the lone audience member, swipes through dog photos on her iPhone.


In this video blog, snooty Katchenza chefs Steven and Maggie address some of the negative comments they’ve found on online restaurant reviews, including a complaint about their busboy who had “fresh gaping stab wounds on his back.” Steve’s justification: “Am I the police? No. Are you the police? No. So, let’s stay out of their business – let them have their culture.”

Pet Haven

Portland Pet Haven volunteers Jaymi and Chrysh present a video about the dogs they have up for adoption, including one dog who can’t be around children over 2’5” or another dog who is “brown like China” and has “a dark muzzle like Germany.”

This Is Nice

For any couple who have made the mistake of staying together long after the flame is gone, “This Is Nice” hits a little too close to home: “I…get…scared.”


Saddam Hussein in his true form – a bumbling British rock star giving an interview from his Manhattan recording studio, recounting tales of his early days on the road when he was still scraping for rubles and screening his own band t-shirts.

Film Club

“Film Club” tackles the best and the worst of film buffs and film buff BSers alike.

The Perfect Song

“The Perfect Song” is what would happen if you took a Garth and Kat SNL sketch, took away the cheesy vests and hairstyles, traded Kristen Wiig for Carrie Brownstein, and had both characters playing the part of Garth. So many genius ideas are at work here, like lyrics about frozen goods, going in an ambulance, or columbine (the flower).

Bicycle Rights

Long before the Smooth Moovers and the “so over” hardcore bicycle rider Spyke, Fred and Carrie were bringing bicycle rights to the forefront with these two sneering activists. It might be only 31 seconds, but they get a lot of yelling and scowling done while pushing their bikes on the sidewalk. Activism!

Megh Wright misses Harrisburg, lives in Brooklyn, and answers phones in Manhattan.

Prior to ‘Portlandia’: A Video Guide to ThunderAnt