HBO Takes Flight with a Pair of Very Funny Musicians
Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, Flight of the Conchords
In an upcoming episode of HBO's Flight of the Conchords
(premiering Sunday at 9 pm/ET), series stars Jemaine Clement
and Bret McKenzie
spoof Crocodile Dundee's famous "That's not a knife" line. It's an interesting tip of the cap considering they're looking to bring their own brand of comedy to the United States from the Southern Hemisphere, just as Paul Hogan did two decades ago. TVGuide.com chatted with the New Zealand musical-comedy duo about their new show, which follows the misadventures of a Kiwi music duo transplanted in New York City.
TVGuide.com: You guys have only done a few appearances on American television, and now you have your own series about to launch on HBO. Are either of you experiencing any nervousness — cold sweats, insomnia, etc?
Jemaine Clement: You know, the first time we met with the board at HBO we got all good comments. Then the next time there were a couple of negative comments. A few people said they didn't like it. That gave me that cold feeling.
Bret McKenzie: But if they don't like it, we can just leave the country. We'll do the show in China. It'll be about a band from New Zealand trying to make it in China.
TVGuide.com: To be honest, that sounds like it has even less of a chance of working, due to the whole language-barrier thing.
Jemaine: But imagine the comic possibilities....
Bret: The misunderstandings would be endless. Basically, we want to make comedy for the world's superpowers. We want to create allies to protect New Zealand in a global conflict. We've been trained by our government in musical comedy. We were selected as infants. Instead of training Navy SEALs, they train comedians to go out and make friends with other nations.
TVGuide.com: Well, I've seen the first few episodes and comedically you seem to be accomplishing your mission.
Bret: I hope so. Otherwise, we'd get put in prison for treason.
TVGuide.com: I found a clip online of you two in an interview with New Zealand's national news. The reporter seemed somewhat concerned about the fact that you'll be representing the country.
Jemaine: And rightly so. For some people, we'll be the only representation of New Zealand people since Frodo.
TVGuide: So did you pretty much go into this looking to structure each episode's story line around your songs?
Bret: You pretty much cracked it.
Jemaine: It's good you asked it as a question, though, rather than saying, "It's obvious you've created contrived story lines around your songs."
TVGuide.com: I was trying to give you the benefit of the doubt.
Jemaine: That's a bad idea.
Bret: It was an experiment in creating a show using our existing material. Sometimes it works more successfully than other times, but it definitely creates an unusual style.
TVGuide.com: Comedian Rhys Darby shows up a lot playing your manager, Murray. I've got to ask, is that Rhys' real hair or is he wearing a wig?
Jemaine: That's his real hair. He has very thick hair.
Bret: It's very lustrous.
TVGuide.com: Wow. It's so helmet-like.
Jemaine: We try to comb it down, but it just keeps getting ridiculous.
Bret: You'll notice that his hair changes a lot through the season as we try to make it more realistic. We've actually brought in different stylists to try to deal with that hair, and no one's been able to crack it. There actually wasn't a stylist on the East Coast who could handle it, so we ended up flying a stylist in from Ireland who had a lot of experience with red hair.
TVGuide.com: Good idea. In one of your upcoming episodes you include the song "What You're Into." It's the only group-sex food-fetish love song I've ever heard.
Bret: It didn't start out as a food-fetish song, but it developed that way.
Jemaine: It started quite innocently really.
Bret: You'll notice the song is based on words that rhyme with "dude," and that's why "lewd" and "food" popped in there as well. So it's really more a result of words that rhyme.
TVGuide.com: It holds it together well. Many times you guys have kind of a late-'70s soft-rock vibe. Were you influenced by duos like Loggins and Messina and Seals and Croft?
Jemaine: It's funny you mention that. One of our producers is always playing that stuff for us. He always plays Kenny Loggins.
Bret: In one episode we actually have a tribute to Kevin Bacon's Footloose dance routine. It has a real Kenny Loggins feel. But yes, a lot of our music is influenced by '70s artists, and our music producer Mickey Petralia also has us blending in some '80s influences. In the show we're always very aware of other two-man bands, and in one episode we managed to get Daryl Hall to make a cameo. We got to meet Hall of Hall and Oates!
TVGuide.com: What was that experience like?
Bret: It was incredibly humbling.
Jemaine: He was always humming his tunes when he was around us, and we told him that had to stop.
Bret: The crew was starstruck. We were talking to him and he told us that he and John Oates had always wanted to do a musical TV show and never got to do it.
TVGuide.com: So you're realizing the dream that Hall and Oates never did?
Jemaine: Yeah, but we probably would have preferred to be multiplatinum-selling musical artists. I think they feel confident that they went the right way.
TVGuide.com: What do you say to critics who call you the folk version of Tenacious D?
Bret: Go f--- yourselves.
Jemaine: Fair enough.
Bret: We actually started the band before we knew about Tenacious D.
Jemaine: But we'd heard comparisons before we'd seen them. I don't mind though; I like Tenacious D.
Bret: I'm happy to have them as brothers in the world of musical comedy.
TVGuide.com: You're touted as New Zealand's fourth-most popular folk parody duo. If your HBO show is a success here in the States, do you foresee your ranking being affected?
Bret: We might make it up to third.
Jemaine: I think we'll lose popularity for leaving the country.
TVGuide.com: Is that at least partly due to anti-American sentiment in New Zealand?
Bret: Oh, yeah. A lot of my friends would never work here. They tell me I've sold out.
Jemaine: Please don't write any of this. And if you must, at least make sure to attribute that last comment to Bret.
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