Portlandia star Carrie Brownstein takes your questions.

Jan 11, 2012

Carrie Brownstein will be online to discuss "Portlandia," now in its second season on IFC, her music career with Sleater-Kinney and Wild Flag and more.

Would you please tell us some about your background. When did you first study music and acting, when did you first perform, and how did your career develop?

I grew up in a suburb of Seattle. I was always drawn to performing. I took improv and acting classes during the summers and was involved in middle and high school plays. But when I discovered indie and punk music in high school, those things sort of took over. I am not a trained musician. I bought a guitar and didn't return to acting for many years. 

How do you stay creative? What feeds your creativity?

I read a lot; fiction and non-fiction are the mediums I find most edifying and inspiring. I watch movies and listen to music and take lots and lots of walks. Nature is a nice reset button for me, it's how I get a lot of thinking done.

You write, perform music, act. What can't you do? Do you prefer writing or music or does it change over time? Do you also think having these multiple talents make you more aware and better at doing each?

OMG, I don't do A LOT. I am a horrible visual artist. I can't fix a car, sew, knit, cook, etc. Statistically, there is more I don't do than do. 

How connected do you feel to the people you are satirizing? Are you doing it from the inside or are you on the outside looking in?

I am definitely on the inside. So many of the characters on Portlandia are permutations of myself. 

I just picked he up the Wild Flag LP from the Merge website. Love the song Future Crimes - very Mission of Burma... I hope that's not an insult. Where did you record the record?

I love Mission of Burma, so thanks! We recorded in Sacramento, CA of all places. (a city much weirder than Portland, btw)

What is your reaction to the success of "Portlandia"? When you first began working on it, did you expect it would be this big?

I'm very flattered and I feel lucky. We never went into it thinking anything other than we wanted to make the kind of show we'd want to see. 

You are an amazing guitar player, especially your solos. Who are among your most notable influences in the music world?

Television, Jimmy Page, Ike Turner, Ricky Wilson of the B-52's, Wire. Lots of post-punk. 

Carrie is the heart of Portlandia really a love note to the quirkiness of the city? Or are do you actually think that it's a silly place? P.S. When my husband and I are fed up with our 8-5 work-a-day gigs, we sing "the dream of the 90s is alive in Portland" to each other.

It is totally a love letter. And I do think it can be silly. But one aspect doesn't preclude the other. I love it here. 

It wasn't your voice, but your character mis-prounounced Willamette as Will-uh-met during the camp song. Are you aware of the blowback?

I think we'll recover. For the record, I DO know how to pronounce "Willamette."

How much of your show is improv, if at all?

The dialog is 95 % improvised. But we write out scripts in order to provide an infrastructure, for character, story arc, beats, etc. 

What skit, gag or character on Portlandia has made you and Fred and the crew crack up the most?

From last year, Dumpster Divers. From this year, it was that scene with Kumail in the restaurant. We were all crying. 

When did you first meet Fred Armisen? How did you get him to be in "Portlandia"?

I met him in 2003 at an SNL after-party that he invited my band to. We already had a bunch of mutual friends. We started making short videos under the moniker "ThunderAnt." I didn't get him to be in Portlandia, we just got into it together. :)

Carrie, you were so open about your life in the recent profile in the New Yorker. Did you feel happy about the story? I really enjoyed it, and I"m so glad you're making music again in Wild Flag -- "Romance" was one of my favorite songs of the year.

I was very happy with the story. I think Margaret Talbot did a great job of contextualizing everything. 

I have a handful of friends in their 30s from Portland who were so excited about Portlandia. They were fully aware that it would take the city's eccentric/alternative lifestyle and have some fun with it. Now when I ask them about it they feel that the show no longer celebrates Portland in the comedic sense but has veered to an uber-mocking of its culture with exaggerated "so typical of Portland" jabs in a sort of "this city is so cliche" context. As someone who comes from the city, what would you say to Portlanders who feel the show might be type-casting the locals and culture and affecting the city's image in a negative way?

If the show is poking fun at anyone, it's me and Fred. I don't feel separate from the characters or the situations on the show. On the other hand, I have no desire to be overly accommodating to people's sensitivities. That's a difficult place from which to create. So if the show touches on a nerve, that's okay too. I love Portland and I think the show is part of a broader conversation that many of us are having about the ways in which we live. 

How many of the characters you and Fred play on Portlandia are people you actually know? The nuance you guys have with these characters make it seem like these people are really out in the world.

I know these people because they are parts of who I am! Or they're my parents. 

What's it like meeting new friends in Portland now after creating a show that pokes fun at Portlanders? How do people respond to you?

One night I was hanging out with a friend and she asked if I was doing research. For the record, I wasn't. And when I'm out and about it PDX, I'm not doing research in general! 

Which Portland neighborhood inspires you the most?

I love most of the North and NE neighborhoods. But I also love what's happening over on Division and Clinton these days. I spend a lot of time on Alberta. 

What is your favorite Portland beer?

I am not a big beer drinker but I like Hopworks.

How do you manage balancing a show like Portlandia (and a Portlandia Tour!) with what's happening in Wild Flag? Where does your personal life fit in?

What personal life?

Are we gonna get to see Portlandia take on a Timbers soccer game? The combination of how seriously/earnestly soccer "supporters" take themselves (I am one) plus the quirkiness that the Portland fans add to it is just begging for a skit from you guys.

Yes. Wait for it....

But, as with many things on the show, the Timbers is just a small part of a more absurd piece. 

What other US city do you think is ripe for satire?

With the right wit and witticisms, I think someone could find satirical elements just about anywhere. 

I heard that Kristen Wiig is going to be on the 2nd season, I'm a big fan of her!...did you enjoyed working with her?

It was amazing. She is a genius. And one of the nicest people. I am answering this question only in cliches, but they are all true. 

What was your reaction to Margaret Talbot's article in the New Yorker? Particularly its focus on the relationship between you and Fred Armisen. Was she trying to make something more out of it than is really there, or do you agree that it is a unique and in some ways perplexing relationship worthy of public interest?

I liked it a lot. I don't think she was trying to make something more of it. We do have a version of a love affair. It seemed like the most consistent through-line and I wasn't bothered by it at all!

How do you feel about the state of women in music? Are there bands today that impress you?

So many. I'm really excited that both The Shins and The Magnetic Fields have records coming out this year. I loved the PJ Harvey and Drake records from last year. St. Vincent is one of the best out there in general. I love Eleanor Friedberger too. I also like Deertick and Deerhunter (and probably some other deer bands that I don't know about). 

What would you recommend for someone trying to break into improv comedy?

If you live somewhere with a UCB or Groundlings then take classes! Otherwise, make videos or put on shows with your friends. Even just a basic acting class can get you more accustom to being open and fearless and stepping outside of your comfort zone. 

Why no Portlandia tour stop IN Portland?

We did our first show there on December 27th!!

What are the chances you guys will skip down to FL while you're on tour in Atlanta?

If FL was literally skipping distance there would be a much better chance. 

Do you ever see any of your characters venturing outside of portlandia? I'd love to see skits where maybe there is a feminist book store conference in D.C. or something.

I would like to do something next season wherein we go to another city (and not in the fake way that we went to SoCal in the opener of Season 2.) 

What was your experience there? I have been here for 3 years and still feel the bdays.

I actually loved working at W+K. There are so many creative people there, really smart and cool and motivated. I was not a great employee but I was happy to be there for the short time that I was. I thought the inter-agency emails were pretty intense; tough crowd!

How can you keep a straight face when filming as "Lance"?. That character is so creepy yet I can't turn my eyes away!

Playing Lance is an out-of-body experience. I close my eyes and go for it. What a dude. What a moustache. 

Have you considered parodying any of Portland's co-op groceries? Maybe People's or Alberta? The level of absurdity that goes on in the world of "alternative" eating preferences seems perfect for your show.

We had an idea for a co-op sketch but we didn't end up shooting it. It was all about scheduling (the sketch ideas was)

What kind of response have you gotten from the online feminist community regarding the Women for Women First sketch?

Lots of love. The actualy bookstore that we shoot at--In Other Words--have been huge supporters. We did a benefit for them over the summer. 

Do you think if you had the opportunity to do a Portlandia movie, would you be up for it?

That would be amazing, Yes!!

Hey, thanks everyone for these great questions. Sorry I didn't get to answer all of them. And sorry for any typos!!


In This Chat
Carrie Brownstein
Carrie Brownstein co-created and co-stars in the IFC sketch comedy show "Portlandia" with "Saturday Night Live" veteran Fred Armisen. Brownstein founded and fronts the band Wild Flag and was a guitarist and vocalist for the band Sleater-Kinney.
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