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Interview with Fred Armisen and Carrie
Brownstein, guest-stars on "The Simpsons" on FOX
FBC PUBLICITY: The Simpsons Conference Call
December 4, 2012/10:00 a.m. PST
Moderator Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by.
Welcome to The Simpsons Conference Call. At this time, all
participants are in listen-only mode. I will now turn the
conference over to Matt Selman. Please go ahead.
M. Selman Hello, reporters, awesome reporters.
D. Martindale This is David Martindale, I write for Hearst
M. Selman Hi, David. How are you?
D. Martindale Iím good, thank you. I think Iíll just start.
How did this episode come to be? This episode with Fred and
how did they become guest stars on the show? Were there a
lot of hoops to jump through? Was it an easy thing to make
happen? Tell me some more about that?
M. Selman How did the episode come about? Hopefully Fred and
Carrie will be joining us soon, but Iím the writer of the
episode, which is called ďThe Day the Earth Stood Cool.Ē
Like everything on The Simpsons, it takes about three years
to make it happen.
The long, boring version of it, while weíre killing time
till the interesting people get here, is that Iíd wanted to
do a show where the Simpsons moved to Portland, because I
thought that would be a funny place for the Simpsons to
visit, and I thought it seemed like that was the kind of
city where Lisa Simpson would think ďThatís the perfect
place for me to live. Thatís my Utopia. Itís progressive and
eclectic and interesting and artistic and cool.Ē
That was the original premise that I wanted to write, and
then I thought where that story might go is that when they
got there everyone else in the Simpsons actually liked
Portland, but Lisa is the only one who didnít like it, the
lesson of it being that sometimes your problems are inside
of you and cannot be solved externally. However, as I was
working on the episode, the show Portlandia aired on
television and that was such an amazingly smart and funny
and well-observed portrait of Portland that I immediately
became depressed and thought ďOh well, so much for that
idea. Iíll have to find a new idea.Ē
M. Roach Matt, weíve got Fred and Carrie on the line now.
M. Selman Oh great. Okay, good.
C. Brownstein Hi.
F. Armisen Iím enjoying listening to this. Continue on, that
was really good.
M. Selman Okay, Iím going to continue with this story. I was
just saying how I wanted to do a Simpsons move to Portland
show and then Portlandia was 8 million times better than
anything we ever would have done. In a way it was a relief
to be destroyed and blown out of the water by that. Thereís
relief in defeat. It can be very comforting.
But then, what if the Portland vibe came to Springfield? We
could always do the story in reverse, do it the opposite
way. That way youíre not doing Portlandia, youíre doing more
of a Ė youíre not going against Portlandia, youíre going
with Portlandia. That was my philosophy. Have Portlandia
come to you instead of going to it.
We had to find kind of a new theme, a new emotional theme,
because the old theme was sort of about can you escape your
problems by moving somewhere else. Then the new theme, which
I also like I think even better, is the idea of if youíre a
parent, do you have to give up being a young person, do you
have to give up being cool?
Homer doesnít feel like a very cool guy, he doesnít feel hip
or with it, and certainly heís feeling kind of old. Then he
meets a dad Ė and Iím a dad and so I know a lot of dads that
make me feel not cool who seem to take their kids to art
galleries and take their kids to rock shows and they havenít
made any sacrifices Ė for the young person, with it, knowing
about music and knowing about art films, knowing about
galleries, knowing about restaurants kind of lifestyle where
a lot of parents obviously have got to cut that stuff off
once youíre in Dad-mode.
So Homer is thrilled to meet a cool couple, played by Fred
and Carrie, who are now on the line, wonderfully, and itís
about Homer trying to be that kind of parent that can have
it all. But the Simpsons arenít really up to it. They canít
really cut the mustard. Thatís the long-winded way.
M. Roach I guess Fred and Carrie can then pick up the story
of how they joined the show.
M. Selman Sure. Yes, howíd you join the show, guys?
F. Armisen First of all, Iíve been a fan of The Simpsons Ė
who hasnít been a fan of The Simpsons forever? Anyway, I was
so blown away that we were even asked to do it at all. Then
the more we kept finding out about the script and reading
it, it was just even better because it was so funny and so
good. I donít know if I can give away too much Ė
M. Selman You can give it away. This isnít Lost.
F. Armisen There is a place in Portland Ė it is Lost,
actually. Thereís a place in Portland called ďVoodoo
Doughnut,Ē which is sort of a tourist Mecca, a local Mecca
as well, with these incredible doughnuts are such a huge
part of it. As I was reading the script, the character who I
get to do, he runs this place and it made so much sense
that, of course, thatís what Homer connects to right away. I
think the doughnut that he gets is a beer keg doughnut and
it just made so much Ė Iím like of course, of course thatís
what connects him to Portland.
M. Selman It was a little tough. How do you say that Homer
wants to be friends with the kind of guy whoís kind of, if
not erudite kind of classy and sophisticated and camp and
cool and knows about bands and independent movies and stuff
like that? But of course, artisanal doughnuts are the
F. Armisen Yes, it was so evident and so clear. The whole
thing was so funny. I donít want to give away too much Ė
M. Selman I donít think youíve given away much.
F. Armisen That, for us Ė Iíll let Carrie take it from here
Ė but they asked us to do it and then we went and recorded
it. We were taking pictures the whole time.
C. Brownstein Yes, it was just about a year ago, actually.
M. Selman It feels like five years ago. It feels like so
C. Brownstein I know, it wasnít a very long time ago. I
distinctly recall in the email exchange between Fred and I
following us being asked that it was just full of
exclamation points. We were very excited and flattered and
everything was just only hyperbole and ecstasy. We were very
honored. It was just really fun.
It was miserable weather up in here in the winter and we
just went down over a kind of break for Christmas. We were
very humbled and star struck by getting to be in the same
room as Dan, you know Homer. We kept turning to each other
and just being like ďI have a scene with Marge.Ē It was very
M. Selman The scenes with Carrie and Marge are, in my
opinion, fantastic. Biased, Iím biased. But the plot there
is that Carrie plays kind of a cool mom named Emily, who is
sort of from the naturalistic school of parenting and heavy
into breastfeeding. Marge feels bad that she bottle-feeds
Maggie and thereís kind of a culture clash there that feeds
into Homerís relationship with the character that Fred
Marge is insecure for formula feeding her baby when thereís
all of these cool La Leche moms that do things so naturally
that Marge is being made to feel suddenly insecure for not
being as good a mom. I think itís a real thing that happens
sometimes. All my kids were breastfed all the way, so I
would never do that to my child. Iíd never put that poison
in their veins.
M. Selman Thanks. Iíll let another guy ask the questions.
R. Owen This is Rob Owen from The Oregonian. I was curious
about your interest in Portland to begin with. Are you from
Oregon? How did that come about?
M. Selman I had never been there until this year. One of our
producers from The Simpsons, Bill Oakley, who now works on
Portlandia, is one of those guys who moved to Portland
thinking ďOh, this place will solve all my problems. This is
the cool city I can live in, unlike uncool L.A.Ē Then he
just Tweets all day about weirdos that make him irritated.
That was sort of the original thing that Lisa would go
through the journey of Bill Oakley. I donít know, what do
you guys think? Do you think that Bill likes it there?
F. Armisen Carrie lives there, but ever since Iíve been
going there, people have sort of pointed me in the direction
of the stuff that Matt Groening incorporated into the show,
you know like Lovejoy and Burnside and everything. I still
get a little thrill every time I see those things and Iím
like ďOh wow, thatís totally The Simpsons.Ē Thatís where it
all came from.
R. Owen But Matt being from Portland didnít have anything to
do with your inspiration Ė
M. Selman No, when the original inception, conception of
this episode of The Simpsons moved to Portland, it
definitely would have been a special connection that this
was, in a way, the inspiration for Springfield. We would
have had fun with that, the Matt Groening connection. Since
Fred and Carrie went the other direction, that stuff kind of
got lost, but I think itís part of the genesis. Is there a
word more important than ďgenesisĒ that we could use for
R. Owen You could pluralize it. The ďgenesiĒ?
M. Selman ďGenesi.Ē
R. Owen You mentioned Voodoo Doughnuts. Is Voodoo Doughnuts
actually in the show, or is there a stand-in for Voodoo
M. Selman Itís a stand-in, yes, but I hope theyíll be
flattered. We didnít try to license it. Itís called Ė whatís
our version called? Ė itís Devil Doughnuts.
F. Armisen Itís Devil Doughnuts, yes.
M. Selman So I think people will get it.
R. Owen Fred and Carrie, these are not Portlandia characters
youíre playing, but could these characters exist in the
F. Armisen In a way. I think theyíre more Simpsons
characters. It seems very specific to that. Itís so funny,
Iím just laughing at those names, Emily and Terrence.
Theyíre such perfect names for the cool parents.
M. Selman Terrence is based on the name of a real cool dad I
know. I told him the other day that Iíd named a character
after him and he was super freaked out.
F. Armisen Itís so funny because itís like those names are
so cool I feel like they named themselves. Thatís too cool.
M. Selman Do you remember the name of your children on the
F. Armisen Yes, it was T. Rex, right?
M. Selman Yes, their boyís named T. Rex and their daughter
is named Corduroy. Thatís sort of cool parents having
interesting names for their kids. Patton Oswalt plays their
kind of pretentious son who Bart has a conflict with. You
guys must know Patton a little bit, right, I assume?
F. Armisen Yes, Patton is on this season of Portlandia, too.
M. Selman Oh he is? Oh wow, even better. Itís all coming
K. Nolan Hi, this is Kyle Nolan from noreruns.net. I first
wanted to say happy birthday, Fred.
F. Armisen Oh, thank you very much.
M. Selman Oh wow Ė happy birthday.
C. Brownstein Happy birthday.
K. Nolan Fred and Carrie, could you talk about how this
experience is different for you versus Portlanida, where you
have your body and facial expressions to provide comedy as
C. Brownstein I think you get in your head a little bit more
when youíre just doing the voiceover because you realize
that youíre completely relying on a singular facet of your
person in terms of how people are going to understand. But
theyíre such great animators. As a performer, youíre still
using your facial expressions and your whole body and this
kinetic energy because you know that thatís going to be
emulated on the screen.
Youíre still with, at least most of the time, other actors.
I think that you just take a leap of faith that you know
that if you do the voicing correctly and you put a lot of
energy into it, that is going to be matched by an image. It
ends up feeling kind of the same; itís just, you know, itís
kind of a different process. It ends up with the same
effect, which is your voice in some awesome drawing of
yourself and it comes together.
K. Nolan How about you, Fred?
F. Armisen Well thereís that, but thereís the other side of
it with Portlandia where weíre always distracted because
weíre worried about ďHow does this end and whatís the joke
here?Ē The fun part of this is itís all sorted out, itís all
on a script, and theyíre ready to go. All we had to do was
just have fun and just let them take care of the rest. So it
was a really nice break.
K. Nolan Was there one character that you were most excited
to be able to do a scene with?
C. Brownstein Homer and Marge. We were very excited.
F. Armisen Homer was right there. Homer. I canít get over
C. Brownstein So surreal.
M. Selman They were great, by the way. The voices are really
funny and their performances were terrific. Thereís really,
I think, another level to this episode. Superficially,
thereís a lot of references to cool, young person, for lack
of a better word hipster culture in this episode, a word I
donít really like, but thereís also a universal thing about
parents feeling old and seeing other parents who are acting
young. Hopefully thatís a universal thing and not just
specific to like all these jokes about skinny jeans and
F. Armisen Do you still have that joke that Patton makes
where they introduce him to the neighbors and he says
ďNeighbors. Yeah I get it.Ē?
M. Selman Yes, and he does a great read on it and you get
that character immediately. Fredís character is very nice
and open to Homer, but unfortunately their son Ė theyíve
exposed him to so much cool stuff that heís become kind of a
pretentious dickwad and an unpleasant and judgmental and
nothing is cool enough for him. So thatís kind of the
unfortunate byproduct of giving your kid everything cool.
F. Armisen ďNeighbors. Yeah, I get it.Ē
M. Selman Itís good when you can meet a character and in the
first line you know exactly who they are. Iím going to send
you guys an early DVD.
F. Armisen Please do.
C. Brownstein Awesome.
M. Selman Savor it ahead of time. Savor it. Whoís next?
E. Wright This is Eddie from MTV Geek. Youíve kind of
mentioned that you wanted to do this Portland episode
before, but Portlandia kind of intimidated you. Did
Portlandia influence this specifically? Are there any
moments that you looked at and took from Portlandia that you
kind of included in the characters?
M. Selman We were really just trying to find fresh areas. We
were trying not to do the things that theyíd done. No
putting birds on it. They had an indoor hide-and-seek league
in the library and we have a reference to a kickball league,
so we were trying to find area they hadnít covered yet. We
were trying to make a harmonious rip-off.
F. Armisen Weíll take it. There are some things Ė Bill
Oakley coming from The Simpsons, we can kind of tell thereís
the way that he thinks that is related to The Simpsons that
worked its way into some of our show as well. Like we had
this brunch village episode that he worked on and a lot of
that has a ton of similarities to Springfield, like itís its
own little planet.
M. Selman There obviously a few bit things. I think thereís
a sign Ė Springfield at some point gets Portlandia-ed out.
We put in a sign that says ďKeep Springfield Weird.Ē We put
in a few big things like that.
F. Armisen You did? When, in the opening credits?
M. Selman No, once the transformation happens.
C. Brownstein I canít wait.
F. Armisen It says ďKeep Springfield Weird?Ē
D. Martindale This is David Martindale again. This oneís for
Fred and for Carrie. You sound like this show is a dim
memory in your head now. Is it kind of weird to make a show
and then let it go off for a year or more before it becomes
a show? Is it weird to have done the show so long ago and
now itís airing? You sound like you donít even remember some
of the elements that are in there.
F. Armisen Yes, but thatís how everything is. Thereís parts
of Portlandia where I have no idea what the editors put in.
That just comes with the territory. Thereís so much
postproduction and shooting is done so early in any medium.
I think you almost purposely forget; itís nice to forget.
M. Selman Did I tell you guys that we got The Decemberists
for the show?
F. Armisen No, I read it.
M. Selman They composed some original scoring for it. They
kind of scored part of the episode, they wrote us original
songs, original orchestral songs. Thatís pretty Portland-y,
right? The Decemberists? Colin Meloy, friend of the show.
Several Decemberists were on Portlandia season 1, right?
C. Brownstein Yes, Jenny and Colin.
M. Roach We have time for a couple more questions.
N. Shapiro Hi, this is Naomi from Superdumb Supervillain and
I was just wondering what their favorite Simpsons episodes
are? I mean, everyone usually has one episode that rings
F. Armisen All of the Halloween ones are amazing. I think
when Jeff Goldblumís character has to do the Planet of the
M. Selman That was ďA Fish Called Selma.Ē
C. Brownstein Isnít there one where Homer smokes weed and at
Camp Krusty? Yes, I like those.
M. Selman Yes, we legalized pot and Camp Krusty.
F. Armisen Thereís one Homer has this really spicy chili and
he goes on a trip. I think Johnny Cash is in it. All of the
Treehouse of Horror ones are just so incredible. Always.
C. Brownstein One I really like was ďWar of the Simpsons.Ē I
donít know, thereís a lot. A lot of them I remember from the
early 90ís, like where Moe gives Homer an idea for a new
drink and it becomes rich and famous, I love that one.
M. Selman In my mind, you guys were on tour in your early
90ís bands watching old VHSís of The Simpsons between shows.
I donít know if that was true or not, but in my mind Ė
C. Brownstein I was still in high school in the early 90ís.
M. Selman Okay, mid 90ís. How am I the oldest person on this
C. Brownstein Also, in the mid 90ís I would unfortunately
not have been on a tour bus yet. It would be a van without
any VHS players. What were those things called? VCRs.
M. Selman If you can still hear us through these strange
noises, Iím super proud of this episode. Iím finishing up
the last audio mix tonight. Iíve worked on the show for 16
years and this has to be one of the things Iím most excited
about over 16 years of the same crazy job. I hope that will
be reflected in the audienceís mutual appreciation.
C. Brownstein Iím really excited to see it, for sure.
F. Armisen Weíre so psyched about it.
M. Selman I could literally go on forever about it. For me,
whatís most exciting about it, The Simpsons have a realistic
relationship Ė I was writing these characters secretly
hoping Fred and Carrie would do them and they did and I
think this brought a realism to the show. Even though the
show is silly, thereís a realism that I think real parents
will be able to connect with. Theyíll feel like ďOh I felt
the way Marge and Homer felt in this episode, like Iím not
cool enough,Ē and how they have different reactions to it.
M. Roach If we have any more questions, we have time for one
more, otherwise we can wrap it up.
K. Nolan Hi, this is Kyle Nolan again. Matt, over the long
time that youíve worked on the show, how have you seen it
change and adapt over the years? Why do you think itís still
so popular today?
M. Selman Itís hard to say. Every episode is different.
Weíre pitching new episodes for season 26 tomorrow and Iíve
still got tons of idea, which is unbelievable. Not that Iím
good, but I think Ė okay, Iím really good Ė but itís more
that the showís just a great mirror and the world keeps
changing, so as long as the world keeps changing, we can
keep running it through The Simpsons meat grinder and to me
it seems fresh and interesting. Hopefully people will think
the Fred and Carrie episode is fresh and interesting. Some
of the hipster stuff they might accuse us of being a little
late to the game on, but once itís in syndication, people
will never know when it aired. Maybe it aired in 2007 and we
were super ahead of it. Thatís one of the greatest things.
F. Armisen All of that stuff gets jumbled together. Itís
M. Selman Itís just a big, super mess. In syndication they
air episodes from 1992 next to episodes from 2012, one after
F. Armisen Weíre going to tell people that Portlandia
influenced Game of Thrones.
M. Selman We should bring Fred and Carrie back for another
F. Armisen Anytime. A repeat character on The Simpsons?
Forget it, thatís the best.
M. Selman Thereís ways to do these things. Just have you
come in and represent something. Whatever we need. We
havenít introduced a lot of great new characters within the
last decade of the show. The first 15 years were when most
of the serious characters were established. Like many great
shows, itís the first 15 years when all the hard work is
done. Iíd be honored if youíd come back in some fashion.
C. Brownstein Weíre already saying ďYes.Ē Weíre saying ďYesĒ
M. Selman You heard it, conference call.
M. Roach Are there any other questions? Letís wrap it up
M. Selman Do you think being on The Simpsons has made
Portlandia the show better? I would say yes. Itís way
F. Armisen Iím going to say yes because itís made me happier
and a happier Fred is what the show needs.
M. Selman I watch Portlandia with my wife and weíre just
staggered at how good it is. It makes me a little bit angry
at how good it is.
F. Armisen Youíre very good to say that.
M. Selman When my wife and I watched that cacao sketch and
my wife was laughing and I was just banging my head against
F. Armisen Oh, come on.
C. Brownstein Thatís the response we want. We want anger.
M. Selman It probably speaks to my own troubles. Like Lisa,
you canít move out of town to escape your troubles.
F. Armisen Thatís right.
M. Selman Thatís also a good theme for a different episode
that Iíd love to tell a story about. The Bill Oakley Story.
F. Armisen That is a true thing, though. Very true.
M. Selman To me, thatís what I love about Portlandia. Sorry,
conference call, for going on. But thereís a truth to
everything in it.
F. Armisen I hope so. Weíre flattered. Thanks for saying all
M. Selman The older you get the more you like to say
portentous things about comedy that sound really lame like
ďWhat is the truth of this? With this mirror weíre holding
up to society, is it reflecting in an interesting way?Ē
F. Armisen I make fun of it and then at the same time Iíll
be in an interview talking about acting and referring to
myself in the third person. ďThe Fred characterÖĒ What have
M. Selman When you start out young you just want to be
insane and silly and get laughs and then when you get older
you care about boring things like themes and ideas and
feelings. Boring, boring feelings.
Any other questions, or should Fred go to his birthday
F. Armisen Iím going to go party.
M. Selman Do you have a new show this week, Fred?
F. Armisen Yes, Iím off to work.
M. Selman Whoís the guest this week?
F. Armisen Jamie Foxx.
M. Selman Oh, awesome. Oh my gosh.
M. Roach Thank you, everybody. Just a reminder, this episode
of The Simpsons airs this Sunday at 8:00 p.m., 7 central and
Portlandia returns for its third season on Friday, January
4th at 10 p.m. on IFC with 2 all new back-to-back episodes.
Again, thanks to Matt, Fred, and Carrie for taking time out
M. Selman Thanks for Fred and Carrie for making this episode
a grand slam of awesomeness.
F. Armisen Weíre honored. Weíre honored that you asked us.
C. Brownstein We really appreciate it, thank you so much.
M. Selman Oh gosh, no, Iím so excited. I canít wait till
Sunday when the Internet hates it. No, theyíre going to love
it. Or love hating it, one of those two.
F. Armisen Itís all the same.
M. Selman Bye, guys. Thank you so much.
Moderator Ladies and gentlemen, that does conclude our
conference for today. Thank you for your participation and
for using AT&T Executive Teleconference Service. You may now
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