Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein dish on the fifth season of their cult-hit show

By Gillian Telling
Updated January 08, 2015 09:05 PM
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Augusta Quirk/IFC

“These hazelnuts they are local?”

You already may be able to quote the best lines (“Put a bird on it!”) from Portlandia, the hilarious sketch comedy show that pokes fun at the gluten-free, locally sourced world of Portland and its residents – and if you’re a fan, you won’t want to miss the premiere of the new season Thursday night. (Spoiler: They’ll show you how Candace and Toni, from the Women and Women First bookstore, first met many years ago.)

The show’s creators, writers and stars, Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, stopped by PEOPLE to tell us how they come up with their absurdist characters, and plenty of other juicy behind-the-scenes info.

They think about a setting first, and then develop the characters
“We come up with a location first,” says Armisen of their character brainstorming sessions. “Like, who works in, or who exists in this kind of place?” Brownstein agrees. “We think in terms of context, like people’s relationship to their environment. Who populates this kind of area? What kind of couples? How do couples engage with each other here? It’s very observational.”

Portlandia could be in any town across the county
“Portland is just a setting,” says Brownstein. “It’s a placeholder for a state of mind, and the way people live in cities across the U.S. and even the world. That’s why it’s so relatable. I mean, this stuff is everywhere. Of course, there are really interesting people to draw from in Portland.”

They’re not opposed to mocking themselves
“We do it every year!” says Armisen. Brownstein says, “Sometimes the characters are just a permutation of who Fred and I are. You take a small aspect of your personality, and you amplify that. Like if you sense yourself being needy or touchy-feely, then that becomes Peter and Nance.”

Carrie originally came up with "Put a bird on it!"
“It came out of nowhere,” says Armisen. “Carries was like, ‘You know what I’ve noticed? People just put birds on things and call it art.’ And that was one of the first things the show ever did. Even though it’s been a while, people still say it to me all the time.”

They can’t help but laugh while filming
“It’s all very improvised,” says Brownstein. “So we surprise each other a lot. Fred is a brilliant improviser and loves running with a tangent to the point of absurdity, and it gets very bizarre, and brilliant and awesome.” Armisen adds, “Oh we crack up all the time.”

Watch the season premiere of Portlandia Thursday on IFC at 10 p.m. ET.