Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!

Writer, Musician Carrie Brownstein Plays Not My Job

Carrie Brownstein. i i
Merge Records
Carrie Brownstein.
Merge Records

Carrie Brownstein founded Sleater Kinney, the coolest band to come out of the Pacific Northwest. She now has another awesome band called Wild Flag. She's a writer, music journalist and the creator and star of the brilliant sketch comedy show Portlandia about Portland, Ore.

We'll ask Brownstein three questions about the famously rigid city-state of Singapore, the diametrical opposite of Portland.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.


And now, the game where we ask people with many talents to use exactly none of them. So, Carrie Brownstein is and/or was the founder, lead guitarist and singer for Sleater-Kinney, the coolest band to come out of the Pacific Northwest.

She's got another awesome band called Wild Flag. She's a writer, a music journalist and she's the creator and star of the brilliant sketch comedy show "Portlandia" on IFC. It's now time to find out what she can't do. Carrie Brownstein, welcome to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!



SAGAL: So I just want to say I am a huge fan of your show "Portlandia." Can you describe it for people who don't know it?

BROWNSTEIN: If you don't know it, I suppose I would call it a sketch show. It's a comedy. It's a little bit absurd. It's a series of vignettes that all take place in Portland, but Portland is sort of a stand-in for certain parts of Chicago or Madison or Austin or Brooklyn. And it's me and Fred Armisen, who also happens to be on "Saturday Night Live." And it's satirical and weird. It's definitely weird.


SAGAL: It's definitely weird.


BRIAN BABYLON: It's sort of like you just make fun of, like, NPR listeners the whole show.


SAGAL: Yeah.

BROWNSTEIN: Yeah, that was the pitch that we made to IFC.

SAGAL: Pretty much.

BABYLON: In season one, there's the dumpster diving episode. And you make this noise of like concern, like, oh, oh. Like, I think that's the funniest noise I ever heard in my life.


BABYLON: Because I work with somebody who makes that noise and I hate them.


BABYLON: Thank you very much for helping me release the rage.

SAGAL: That would be annoying. I will tell you, we're going to talk about favorite bits. My favorite bit is the couple you play where you play the man.


BROWNSTEIN: Oh Peter, really?

SAGAL: I love that bit. It is so distressing.


SAGAL: Because...

BROWNSTEIN: Yeah, that says a lot about you.

SAGAL: It does.



SAGAL: You've got Fred playing the woman, in a wig and a dress and sometimes negligee. You've got you playing the man, in a mustache, sideburns, sleeveless t-shirt and boxer shorts. Where did you get that guy? Is he like some guy you've known?

BROWNSTEIN: No. I mean, yes and no I guess I should say.


BROWNSTEIN: I will say, as a woman, when you put a mustache on, you find out a lot of things about yourself.


SAGAL: Give me some examples.

BROWNSTEIN: There's just a certain swagger. Now I know why men, you know, grow out the facial hair. Like there is just a certain level of confidence but also just a certain level of sleeziness.

MAZ JOBRANI: Thank you.



JOBRANI: This is Maz. I'm the only guy with facial hair, so I appreciate that.

BROWNSTEIN: Yeah, go for it, buddy.

SAGAL: Yeah.


JOBRANI: What about some of the guest stars? You guys had like Aimee Mann cleaning your house.

SAGAL: Yeah, that was a great bit. It was like you and Fred discovered that your housecleaner is Aimee Mann.


JOBRANI: Do you guys just put offers out to these people or how does that work?

BROWNSTEIN: Fred and Aimee have been friends. And she is, you know, not only an amazing musician but kind of known for sort of seamlessly going back and forth between music and comedy.

She also is just - a lot of these people just kind of want an opportunity to make fun of themselves or have a moment that displays some levity that they might not show in their music. But I really did have, for a while I had somebody that came to clean my house that turned out to be in a band that I really loved.

SAGAL: Oh really?


SAGAL: That's based on truth. So like you're looking at the guy cleaning your house and you're like, oh, I have your records?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. I absolutely had their record. And they're, you know, I mean it's hard when you want somebody's autograph to also want them to clean your toilet better.


SAGAL: Speaking of bands, after Sleater-Kinney broke up then went on hiatus, you actually took a job for a while at an ad agency.

BROWNSTEIN: I did do that, yeah, for six months.

SAGAL: Why did you - I mean, you were like, oh wow, you've been a rock star for god knows how long, it's time to pursue your dream of working in a cubicle?


BROWNSTEIN: Well, in some ways I had sort of the opposite experience of other people that are sort of dreaming of being in a rock band. I was dreaming of like corporate lunches and just like...


BROWNSTEIN: And I'm not really joking. Like the whole idea to me was really appealing. But it turns out I'm not very good at working with a traditional boss.

SAGAL: Really?


SAGAL: How did you find that out? What happened?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, we went to - so, like you said, I was in a rock band for a while and we had a company meeting and the first thing that the head of the company said at the meeting was "this is rock and roll." And I just thought, you know what, it's not.


SAGAL: So when you failed in your dream of being an office drone, did you have to go back to the drudgery of show business?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, no, then you know where I went after that was NPR.

SAGAL: Yeah. Oh man, when you've hit bottom...



SAGAL: That's terrible. I'm so sorry. Yeah, you were a very popular blogger for NPR music, right? Your blog was called Monitor...

BROWNSTEIN: Monitor Mix.

SAGAL: Monitor Mix.

BROWNSTEIN: Yeah. And I loved it.

SAGAL: I just find it like from rock star to advertising office drone to NPR blogger.


SAGAL: I would say you were going the wrong way.


SAGAL: I have one more question for you. This is from our intern Kate Casey, who's a big fan of yours and she insisted that I ask you this question. Carrie Brownstein, why are you so awesome?


BROWNSTEIN: Wow. It's weird when my parents write in and ask questions like that.


BROWNSTEIN: I'm so not awesome. I don't know what the - you know, if there's like an un-awesome. But anyway, thanks, thank you. That's such an intern question, by the way.

SAGAL: It is.

JOBRANI: Put on the mustache and you'll feel awesome.


BABYLON: Yeah, if she puts on that mustache, she can answer that question.

BROWNSTEIN: Yeah, that is right. It that why you're wearing a mustache.

SAGAL: To be awesome.

JOBRANI: Goatee, the whole thing.

BROWNSTEIN: Oh, you have a goatee as well? I'm glad this is radio.


JOBRANI: And I'm bald.


BROWNSTEIN: Wait, did Peter just say that or...

SAGAL: No, no, that was...


SAGAL: That was Maz.

JOBRANI: We're both bald.

BABYLON: Everybody's bald.

SAGAL: Everybody's bald, pretty much. Well, Carrie Brownstein, we're delighted to have you with us. We have asked you here to play a game we're calling?

CARL KASELL: You're not in Portland anymore.

SAGAL: So you're a proud and vocal resident of Portland, known for its permissive lifestyle. So we were looking around for the diametrical opposite of Portland and we came up with the famously rigid city state of Singapore. So we're going to ask you three questions about Singapore. If you get two right, you'll win our prize for one of our listeners, Carl's voice on their home answering machine. Carl, who is Carrie Brownstein playing for?

KASELL: Carrie is playing for Jon Murphy of Maywood, Illinois.

SAGAL: All right.


BROWNSTEIN: All right.

SAGAL: Ready to play?

BROWNSTEIN: I am. I want to do well by Jon.

SAGAL: All right, here we go. Many things will draw a fine in Singapore or Singaporia, I guess, including doing what? A: slouching while walking down the street? B: failing to flush a public toilet? Or C: making smacking noises while eating?

BROWNSTEIN: Huh. I'm going to go with the middle one, with B.

SAGAL: The failing to flush a public toilet?


SAGAL: You're right, yes, that's it.



SAGAL: They care a lot about this in Singapore. If you don't flush the toilet after you use it, you will be fined.

JOBRANI: I wish they did that at Soldier's Field.

SAGAL: There you are.


SAGAL: See? It's not so bad. Getting back to the theme of dictatorships having their place.



SAGAL: Now there are some things that are allowed in Singapore, but you have to get permission first, such as which of these? A: hugging someone in public? B: singing within the earshot of other people? Or C: having a nap in a public park?

BROWNSTEIN: Huh. So I feel like it's between the nap and was the first one, hugging?

SAGAL: Hugging, yes.

BROWNSTEIN: I'm going to go with the public nap.

SAGAL: You're going to go with the public nap.


SAGAL: You need permission before you can have a nap, lie down, have a little snooze?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, wait, what was B?

SAGAL: B was singing within the earshot of other people.

BROWNSTEIN: I mean that makes sense but how can you control that? I'm going to stick with public napping.

SAGAL: Public napping. No, I'm afraid it was hugging someone.


SAGAL: Hugging someone. In Singapore it is illegal to hug someone in public if you do not get permission from them first. "May I hug you?" Yes, you may.

JOBRANI: Is it written permission?

POUNDSTONE: Oh I thought you meant permission from someone else.

SAGAL: No, no, no.


BROWNSTEIN: Me too. Me too. We need a do over on that one.

POUNDSTONE: Yeah. That was hazy.

JOBRANI: The Office of Hugging, you've got to like submit your application.

SAGAL: Exactly.

POUNDSTONE: Weeks ahead of time.

SAGAL: It may not matter, because if you get this last one right you'll win. Here we go. Now, Singapore's one time Supreme Leader Lee Kuan Kew was once asked about Singapore's famous ban on chewing gum. You all know that, right? You can't have chewing gum in Singapore. Well he said people who want to chew gum should do what? A: swim half a mile offshore and chew all you want? B: trying a banana? C: get a life.

BROWNSTEIN: Wow. I mean get a life seems like a phrase - no, I'm going to go with, I think, and this seems like a healthy option.


BROWNSTEIN: Is to chew a banana.

SAGAL: Try a banana?

BROWNSTEIN: Yeah, to try a banana.

SAGAL: You're right, that's what he said.

POUNDSTONE: All right.


SAGAL: He was interviewed...


SAGAL: In 2000, after he retired from running Singapore and he was asked about people who like to chew gum to aid their concentration. And he replied, quote, "if you want to think, try a banana." Carl, how did Carrie Brownstein do on our quiz?

KASELL: Carrie, you had two correct answers.


KASELL: So you win for Jon Murphy.

SAGAL: Well done.

POUNDSTONE: All right.


SAGAL: Congratulations.


JOBRANI: Way to go.

SAGAL: So your band Wild Flag is about to start its US tour, which is fabulous, and "Portlandia" is in its second season on IFC.

Everybody should go see it. It's absolutely fantastic and funny. Carrie Brownstein, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME!

POUNDSTONE: It was great.


SAGAL: It's so great to talk to you.

BROWNSTEIN: All right, you take care.

SAGAL: Bye-bye.



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