Interview with Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, guest-stars on "The Simpsons" on FOX - Primetime TV Show Articles From The TV MegaSite

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By Suzanne

Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, guest-stars on "The Simpsons"

Interview with Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, guest-stars on "The Simpsons" on FOX 12/4/12

Final Transcript
FBC PUBLICITY: The Simpsons Conference Call
December 4, 2012/10:00 a.m. PST

Michael Roach
Matt Selman
Fred Armisen
Carrie Brownstein

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 Newspapers.

M. Selman Hi, David. How are you?

D. Martindale I’m good, thank you. I think I’ll 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 I’m the writer of the episode, which is called “The Day the Earth Stood Cool.” Like everything on The Simpsons, it takes about three years to make it happen.

The long, boring version of it, while we’re killing time till the interesting people get here, is that I’d 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 “That’s the perfect place for me to live. That’s my Utopia. It’s progressive and eclectic and interesting and artistic and cool.”

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 didn’t 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 “Oh well, so much for that idea. I’ll have to find a new idea.”

M. Roach Matt, we’ve got Fred and Carrie on the line now.

M. Selman Oh great. Okay, good.

C. Brownstein Hi.

F. Armisen I’m enjoying listening to this. Continue on, that was really good.

M. Selman Okay, I’m 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. There’s 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 you’re not doing Portlandia, you’re doing more of a – you’re not going against Portlandia, you’re 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 you’re a parent, do you have to give up being a young person, do you have to give up being cool?

Homer doesn’t feel like a very cool guy, he doesn’t feel hip or with it, and certainly he’s feeling kind of old. Then he meets a dad – and I’m 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 haven’t made any sacrifices – 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 you’re 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 it’s about Homer trying to be that kind of parent that can have it all. But the Simpsons aren’t really up to it. They can’t really cut the mustard. That’s 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, how’d you join the show, guys?

F. Armisen First of all, I’ve been a fan of The Simpsons – who hasn’t 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 don’t know if I can give away too much –

M. Selman You can give it away. This isn’t Lost.

F. Armisen There is a place in Portland – it is Lost, actually. There’s a place in Portland called “Voodoo Doughnut,” 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, that’s what Homer connects to right away. I think the doughnut that he gets is a beer keg doughnut and it just made so much – I’m like of course, of course that’s 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 who’s 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 connector.

F. Armisen Yes, it was so evident and so clear. The whole thing was so funny. I don’t want to give away too much –

M. Selman I don’t think you’ve given away much.

F. Armisen That, for us – I’ll let Carrie take it from here – 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 long ago.

C. Brownstein I know, it wasn’t 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 “I have a scene with Marge.” It was very surreal.

M. Selman The scenes with Carrie and Marge are, in my opinion, fantastic. Biased, I’m 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 there’s kind of a culture clash there that feeds into Homer’s relationship with the character that Fred plays.

Marge is insecure for formula feeding her baby when there’s 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 it’s a real thing that happens sometimes. All my kids were breastfed all the way, so I would never do that to my child. I’d never put that poison in their veins.

M. Selman Thanks. I’ll 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 “Oh, this place will solve all my problems. This is the cool city I can live in, unlike uncool L.A.” 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 don’t know, what do you guys think? Do you think that Bill likes it there?

F. Armisen Carrie lives there, but ever since I’ve 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 I’m like “Oh wow, that’s totally The Simpsons.” That’s where it all came from.

R. Owen But Matt being from Portland didn’t have anything to do with your inspiration –

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 it’s part of the genesis. Is there a word more important than “genesis” that we could use for this episode?

R. Owen You could pluralize it. The “genesi”?

M. Selman “Genesi.”

R. Owen You mentioned Voodoo Doughnuts. Is Voodoo Doughnuts actually in the show, or is there a stand-in for Voodoo Doughnuts?

M. Selman It’s a stand-in, yes, but I hope they’ll be flattered. We didn’t try to license it. It’s called – what’s our version called? – it’s Devil Doughnuts.

F. Armisen It’s Devil Doughnuts, yes.

M. Selman So I think people will get it.

R. Owen Fred and Carrie, these are not Portlandia characters you’re playing, but could these characters exist in the Portlandia universe?

F. Armisen In a way. I think they’re more Simpsons characters. It seems very specific to that. It’s so funny, I’m just laughing at those names, Emily and Terrence. They’re 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 I’d named a character after him and he was super freaked out.

F. Armisen It’s so funny because it’s like those names are so cool I feel like they named themselves. That’s too cool.

M. Selman Do you remember the name of your children on the show?

F. Armisen Yes, it was T. Rex, right?

M. Selman Yes, their boy’s named T. Rex and their daughter is named Corduroy. That’s 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. It’s all coming together.

K. Nolan Hi, this is Kyle Nolan from I first wanted to say happy birthday, Fred.

F. Armisen Oh, thank you very much.

M. Selman Oh wow – 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 well?

C. Brownstein I think you get in your head a little bit more when you’re just doing the voiceover because you realize that you’re completely relying on a singular facet of your person in terms of how people are going to understand. But they’re such great animators. As a performer, you’re still using your facial expressions and your whole body and this kinetic energy because you know that that’s going to be emulated on the screen.

You’re 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; it’s just, you know, it’s 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 there’s that, but there’s the other side of it with Portlandia where we’re always distracted because we’re worried about “How does this end and what’s the joke here?” The fun part of this is it’s all sorted out, it’s all on a script, and they’re 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 can’t get over it.

C. Brownstein So surreal.

M. Selman They were great, by the way. The voices are really funny and their performances were terrific. There’s really, I think, another level to this episode. Superficially, there’s a lot of references to cool, young person, for lack of a better word hipster culture in this episode, a word I don’t really like, but there’s also a universal thing about parents feeling old and seeing other parents who are acting young. Hopefully that’s a universal thing and not just specific to like all these jokes about skinny jeans and stuff.

F. Armisen Do you still have that joke that Patton makes where they introduce him to the neighbors and he says “Neighbors. Yeah I get it.”?

M. Selman Yes, and he does a great read on it and you get that character immediately. Fred’s character is very nice and open to Homer, but unfortunately their son – they’ve exposed him to so much cool stuff that he’s become kind of a pretentious dickwad and an unpleasant and judgmental and nothing is cool enough for him. So that’s kind of the unfortunate byproduct of giving your kid everything cool.

F. Armisen “Neighbors. Yeah, I get it.”

M. Selman It’s good when you can meet a character and in the first line you know exactly who they are. I’m going to send you guys an early DVD.

F. Armisen Please do.

C. Brownstein Awesome.

M. Selman Savor it ahead of time. Savor it. Who’s next?

E. Wright This is Eddie from MTV Geek. You’ve 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 they’d 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 hadn’t covered yet. We were trying to make a harmonious rip-off.

F. Armisen We’ll take it. There are some things – Bill Oakley coming from The Simpsons, we can kind of tell there’s 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 it’s its own little planet.

M. Selman There obviously a few bit things. I think there’s a sign – Springfield at some point gets Portlandia-ed out. We put in a sign that says “Keep Springfield Weird.” 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 can’t wait.

F. Armisen It says “Keep Springfield Weird?”

D. Martindale This is David Martindale again. This one’s 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 it’s airing? You sound like you don’t even remember some of the elements that are in there.

F. Armisen Yes, but that’s how everything is. There’s parts of Portlandia where I have no idea what the editors put in. That just comes with the territory. There’s so much postproduction and shooting is done so early in any medium. I think you almost purposely forget; it’s 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. That’s 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 true.

F. Armisen All of the Halloween ones are amazing. I think when Jeff Goldblum’s character has to do the Planet of the Apes musical.

M. Selman That was “A Fish Called Selma.”

C. Brownstein Isn’t 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 There’s 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 “War of the Simpsons.” I don’t know, there’s a lot. A lot of them I remember from the early 90’s, 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 90’s bands watching old VHS’s of The Simpsons between shows. I don’t know if that was true or not, but in my mind –

C. Brownstein I was still in high school in the early 90’s.

M. Selman Okay, mid 90’s. How am I the oldest person on this call?

C. Brownstein Also, in the mid 90’s 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, I’m super proud of this episode. I’m finishing up the last audio mix tonight. I’ve worked on the show for 16 years and this has to be one of the things I’m most excited about over 16 years of the same crazy job. I hope that will be reflected in the audience’s mutual appreciation.

C. Brownstein I’m really excited to see it, for sure.

F. Armisen We’re so psyched about it.

M. Selman I could literally go on forever about it. For me, what’s most exciting about it, The Simpsons have a realistic relationship – 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, there’s a realism that I think real parents will be able to connect with. They’ll feel like “Oh I felt the way Marge and Homer felt in this episode, like I’m not cool enough,” 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 you’ve worked on the show, how have you seen it change and adapt over the years? Why do you think it’s still so popular today?

M. Selman It’s hard to say. Every episode is different. We’re pitching new episodes for season 26 tomorrow and I’ve still got tons of idea, which is unbelievable. Not that I’m good, but I think – okay, I’m really good – but it’s more that the show’s 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 it’s in syndication, people will never know when it aired. Maybe it aired in 2007 and we were super ahead of it. That’s one of the greatest things.

F. Armisen All of that stuff gets jumbled together. It’s great.

M. Selman It’s just a big, super mess. In syndication they air episodes from 1992 next to episodes from 2012, one after the other.

F. Armisen We’re going to tell people that Portlandia influenced Game of Thrones.

M. Selman We should bring Fred and Carrie back for another episode.

F. Armisen Anytime. A repeat character on The Simpsons? Forget it, that’s the best.

M. Selman There’s ways to do these things. Just have you come in and represent something. Whatever we need. We haven’t 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, it’s the first 15 years when all the hard work is done. I’d be honored if you’d come back in some fashion.

C. Brownstein We’re already saying “Yes.” We’re saying “Yes” right now.

M. Selman You heard it, conference call.

M. Roach Are there any other questions? Let’s wrap it up now.

M. Selman Do you think being on The Simpsons has made Portlandia the show better? I would say yes. It’s way better.

F. Armisen I’m going to say yes because it’s made me happier and a happier Fred is what the show needs.

M. Selman I watch Portlandia with my wife and we’re just staggered at how good it is. It makes me a little bit angry at how good it is.

F. Armisen You’re 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 the wall.

F. Armisen Oh, come on.

C. Brownstein That’s the response we want. We want anger.

M. Selman It probably speaks to my own troubles. Like Lisa, you can’t move out of town to escape your troubles.

F. Armisen That’s right.

M. Selman That’s also a good theme for a different episode that I’d love to tell a story about. The Bill Oakley Story.

F. Armisen That is a true thing, though. Very true.

M. Selman To me, that’s what I love about Portlandia. Sorry, conference call, for going on. But there’s a truth to everything in it.

F. Armisen I hope so. We’re flattered. Thanks for saying all of that.

M. Selman The older you get the more you like to say portentous things about comedy that sound really lame like “What is the truth of this? With this mirror we’re holding up to society, is it reflecting in an interesting way?”

F. Armisen I make fun of it and then at the same time I’ll be in an interview talking about acting and referring to myself in the third person. “The Fred character…” What have I become?

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 celebration?

F. Armisen I’m going to go party.

M. Selman Do you have a new show this week, Fred?

F. Armisen Yes, I’m off to work.

M. Selman Who’s 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 today.

M. Selman Thanks for Fred and Carrie for making this episode a grand slam of awesomeness.

F. Armisen We’re honored. We’re honored that you asked us.

C. Brownstein We really appreciate it, thank you so much.

M. Selman Oh gosh, no, I’m so excited. I can’t wait till Sunday when the Internet hates it. No, they’re going to love it. Or love hating it, one of those two.

F. Armisen It’s 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 disconnect.

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