'Portlandia's' Carrie Brownstein On Being The One Woman Nominated In Her Emmys Category

Carrie Brownstein is a musician and the co-creator, co-writer and co-star of "Portlandia."

Hit sketch comedy series Portlandia ended earlier this year, but star Carrie Brownstein's coming away from it with an Emmy nomination for directing an episode — and she's the only woman in her category. She's also the only nominated director that stars in her own show.

She said there's quite a ways to go in the representation department.

"There's so much systemic inequality that, just because we have an awareness that it exists, doesn't really mean that things will change overnight," Brownstein said. "We're still dealing with structures of patriarchy and capitalism, and we can't just sort of assume that talking about it will bring about change that's linear and accumulative."

A perfect level of representation may be out of reach.

"I think the work is just not done. The work is probably never done," Brownstein said. "If history has taught us anything, it is a constant dedication to progress and change and learning. Yeah, hopefully it will be different next year. I'm excited to be nominated and I wish there were more women along with me."

Brownstein's a renaissance lady. She wrote for NPR Music while also being the subject of music blogs herself as co-founder of feminist punk groups like Excuse 17 and the legendary Sleater-Kinney. Now she's most prominently known as an actress, but she still considers it a "hobby."

In 2003, Brownstein paired up with former SNL star Fred Armisen and started putting out sketch comedy online. It eventually turned into content for Portlandia, which was picked up by IFC in 2010. It went on to earn numerous Emmy nominations, including another for Outstanding Variety Sketch Series this year.

The show's multitude of characters dealt with their own struggles over politics, representation, and other social issues.

"A lot of our characters, their ideals and idealism were always running up against these obstacles. And a lot of the obstacles were just the younger self," Brownstein said. "Whether it was being anti-corporate or anti-capitalist, or just living a certain way, and then realizing, Wait, can I still live that old way and take care of my family? How does that make them feel when they look in the mirror, and they see a person they never thought they'd turn into? I'd rather figure out the 'who' of it. Then you're leading with compassion, I think, instead of poking fun at someone."

Brownstein and Armisen have taken distinct approaches over the years to ruthlessly yet lovingly satirizing Portland (though Brownstein now lives in Los Angeles). Brownstein goes at her performances from a critical commentary angle while Armisen's is all absurdist performances. Their success lies in the space between their techniques.

"I think we just believed in each other enough, and believed in the structure of what we'd created enough to know that this could be a surprise, but it would probably be better than what we had in mind," Brownstein told us. "You have to believe that arriving at a place you didn't think you'd arrive is actually better than you predicted. And if you all have faith in that process, there is something unknown about it. ... Then you can go forward and have it not feel like a compromise."

One of this season's best segments showed Armisen and Brownstein as true-crime podcast hosts, working at a police station with a live band following them around.

"Obviously we'd all been listening to Serial, and specifically I think it was S-Town that had just come out, and we were just talking about the ways that sometimes some true-crime podcasts kind of fetishize the rural, the other, or exoticize small-town America in a way that can be kind of condescending, but also just flummoxing in some ways."

Brownstein and Armisen have a lot of options in front of them — here's hoping it remains as wonderfully thoughtful and weird as everything they've done so far.


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