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Carrie Brownstein Shares 5 Insights Into The 'Portlandia' Mindset

 Three years ago Carrie Brownstein joined Think Out Loud to talk about the The Dream of the ’90s and the beginning of the new show she had created with Fred Armisen called Portlandia. At that point the question was whether or not jokes about Portland would resonate for a national audience. They did.

Recently Brownstein returned to Think Out Loud to talk about the beginning of the fourth season (and news that they’ve already signed on for a fifth). The new season includes guest appearances by the Trailblazers and other local favorites like Dan Savage.

So what’s new? Here are five takeaways from the fourth season:

1. Portlandia Is Not a Place — It’s a Mindset

So, Carrie Brownstein dropped this bomb:

In response to Brownstein’s annoyance that people take the show as a skewering of Portland or hipsterdom, she rebutted Portlandia isn’t a place; it’s “a mindset.”

“I think Portlandia is a space that we possess where we feel a little bit of un-comfort, searching for guidance at a time where there’s a lot of voices telling us how to live and how it should be … I think the reason people outside of Portland have related to it, even around the world, [is because] it is more of a mindset than a place,” said Brownstein.

Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen

Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen

Chris Hornbecker/IFC

2. Stay Hungry

Due to the accolades Portlandia has received for its past three seasons (like a Peabody), Brownstein, a celebrated writer and musician, discussed the pitfalls of going into a successful project with a sense of entitlement:

“It’s good to go in with every season — or any album or whatever you’re doing — feeling you like have to prove it, feeling like you may not have the audience, not taking for granted that there will be viewers or listeners.”

3. Save the ‘Self-Aggrandizing Noodle Fests’ for the Jam Bands

Think Out Loud‘s Dave Miller asked Brownstein how comedy improv is different from riffing as a musician on a stage. Below is their exchange:

Carrie Brownstein: There are some differences. Especially on stage you have an audience to cheer you on, you can gauge how gratuitous or grandiose you’re getting.

Dave Miller: Can you tell?

CB: (Laughing) A little bit. I can tell as an audience member. If I’m watching a band that I love start to sort of wind around a note for a song … 

DM: Kind of noodle for themselves.

CB: Yeah, just a self-aggrandizing noodlefest. I feel myself tuning out. Even though we all want to claim that we love improv and jamming, most of us actually don’t and we want a three-minute song, including myself. (Note: Brownstein doesn’t really dig Phish, if that explains anything …)

DM: Something tight and crystalline and great.

CB: Yes. With music you have that built-in litmus test with the audience. Being on set you don’t have that as much. Once the director yells action, until he or she says ‘cut,’ you keep going. You don’t necessarily know if something is sort of fumbling around. You can feel it, but then often later that ends up being a good thing or a bad thing.

[Semi-related: Sleater-Kinney’s 2:40 track: Dig Me Out, 1997]

4. Laughing + Crying = Better

Over the course of four seasons of Portlandia, how does Brownstein feel she’s grown as an actor? “I think I’m less concerned about having something be funny, and more concerned about having something feel authentic or have a relatability factor to it.”

What Carrie Brownstein takes away from Louie C.K’s show:

“I think that things that are often the most funny are things that make you feel like you’re not sure whether you could laugh or cry,” said Brownstein.

5. Leave Them Wanting More

So, four seasons of Portlandia — when’s quitting time? As Brownstein told Dave Miller, “With any endeavor it’s nice to stop while you’re ahead.” Yep the classic “leave them wanting more.”

Well, this would be a perfect place to stop then, right? Nope.

“Well, the fourth of anything is usually pretty good,” Brownstein said. “I think that’s like The Clash’s Sandanista! And if you don’t know what that album is, you should stop watching TV and go buy a record.”

And as for Sleater-Kinney reunion?

“I don’t know where we’re going. But I do think there is probably more to say.”

To hear the full Think Out Loud conversation with Carrie Brownstein, click on the audio player at the top of the article.

Portlandia Carrie Brownstein

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