Flight of the Conchords spread their wings at the EmmysSource
The rise of Flight of the Conchords
Published: 10:13AM Thursday September 17, 2009
By Max Bania
Source: ONE News
They may not be bigger than Jesus just yet but with every new award that comes their way, the gospel of the self-proclaimed fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo a capella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo in New Zealand continues to spread.
From their live shows, to their hot-selling debut album, to their critically-acclaimed HBO comedy series , Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie are not-at-all-quietly shaping a cultural phenomenon. It used to be that a New Zealander travelling through the US would be incessantly quizzed about the All Blacks. Now, all the locals want to hear about is Flight of the Conchords.
The 2007 Wellingtonians of the Year are everywhere: Starring in advertisements for Outback Steakhouse, making movie cameos and even showing up in Jemaine's home town of Masterton to donate $70,000 to his alma mater .
And every time you think their popularity could soar no higher, you're proven wrong. Now, they stand nominated for an Emmy for best comedy; the holy grail of television awards that would sit fittingly alongside their 2008 Grammy for best comedy album .
With long-running animated sitcom Family Guy and edgy media satire 30 Rock expected to provide the stiffest competition, winning the award would place them alongside some staples of America's TV diet.
And the nominations don't end there: Jemaine will compete with the likes of Steve Carrell, Charlie Sheen and Alec Baldwin for the best actor gong, while the show has also earned nominations for best writing, best directing, best original music and lyrics, and best sound mixing for a comedy or drama.
It's an extraordinary ascent for a comedy duo whose humour was once deemed "too Wellington" for mainstream New Zealand tastes. These days their hilarious set plays and absurdist musical rhapsodies are earning belly laughs from Lincoln, Nebraska to Manhattan's trendy Lower East Side, not to mention the more comedically-refined pastures of Great Britain and beyond.
Former flatmates while at Wellington's Victoria University, Jemaine and Bret could scarcely have imagined the arc their career would take when they formed the Conchords in 1998.
Back then, they had a modest underground following, performing in local Wellington joints and the occasional national comedy revue. Jemaine made a living providing radio and television voiceovers; Bret found fleeting (and hazy) movie exposure as an extra in Lord Of The Rings.
It wasn't until 2002 that the duo attracted international attention when they first performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Two years later, their Flight of the Conchords radio series, which aired on BBC Radio 2, earned them a bronze Sony Radio Academy Award. As their fame grew, they remained true to their in-and-out-of-character persona: Deadpan, introspective, and self-deprecating to the point of farce.
While their musical escapades earned widespread acclaim and respect, it wasn't until their irrepressible talent collided with the sphere of television that they reached their creative zenith.
With talks of a third season on the way, there seems to be no stopping the Conchords' momentum. So how is it that a low-budget, ultra-low-key series featuring "a combination of hopeless losers" (as Bret told ONE News' Tim Wilson in 2007) has so emphatically won the hearts and minds of America, where so many of its deadpan predecessors failed so miserably?
It doesn't hurt that Americans are less wary, and more inclined to be disarmed by the comic stylings of a couple of camera-shy Kiwis than they are by their comic counterparts across the pond. And the Conchords' penchant for catchy musical interludes gives them a quirky cross-genre appeal.
But Bret has his own typically-modest secret to their success to share. "I think they find it funny, just the way we talk," he told ONE News.
But if the Conchords do pull off a coup and secure the best comedy series Emmy, even they may have to revise their opinions of themselves upward.
Perhaps they'll start calling themselves the third most popular guitar-based digi-bongo a capella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo in New Zealand.
Find out how the boys get on at the Emmy Awards on Monday September 21 with our live blog