Comedians Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen devise dozens of characters–from combative hipsters to bohemian artisan picklers–for their sketch comedy series Portlandia.
“We have a lot of impulsive characters,” says Brownstein. “Which I think is one way of being creative, to just fling yourself fearlessly toward something and then to make sense of it later.”
How do they consistently churn out these quirky, relatable scenarios without burning out? “I think the thing that’s worked for us the most has been limitations,” Armisen says. “Budget limitations help us become more creative with how we shoot things. Time limitations, as frustrating as it can be, it makes the best out of making something.”
Having something to push against, agrees Brownstein, forces them to define themselves and their work. “You want to feel that there’s an urgency or something at stake. If you’re boundary-less, there are no parameters, there’s no definition … You have to find ways to justify why you’re doing something … I think that’s important, for people who are self-employed or entrepreneurs. The sense is that, I get to be my own boss, I get to do everything. No. You find a point of view within that. You create your own path, but make sure there’s a path there. That you’re moving along something and finding ways of pushing against something.”
Having limitations can be stressful, sure, but that’s another part of the process. “I think mitigating anxiety is important if you’re going to juggle projects,” Brownstein says. “The anxiety can become bigger than the work. So you have to be willing to have something not go exactly as planned. That kind of nimbleness keeps you alert and keeps you striving a little bit more.”