Flight of the Conchords is still one of New Zealand's top exports
Their HBO series propelled Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie to fame. The comedy team has been playing to sold-out venues in Europe and has a concert coming up at the Hollywood Bowl. Murray would be proud â€“ not to mention their fan.
May 27, 2010|Katherine Tulich, Special to the Los Angeles Times
Brian Tamborello, Brian Tamborello
It could have easily been a scene from their much-loved HBO series as the receptionist in the Glasgow hotel struggled to find the name of Jemaine Clement, one half of the comic duo Flight of the Conchords. "Who? Can you spell it?" she pleaded.
If only Murray, their inept but enthusiastic manager on the show, was there to brag how Flight of the Conchords is one of New Zealand's top exports â€” right behind lamb, wool and making avatars.
While the second season of the series wrapped last year and Clement and his cohort Bret McKenzie decided to nix the third season, the two have been touring sold-out venues in Europe for the last month before playing their only L.A. gig at the Hollywood Bowl on Sunday.
"It's not till you get out on tour that you realize the impact," said Clement on the phone from Glasgow once we're finally connected. It's their first European tour in five years and their two-night stint at Wembley Arena sold out in a matter of hours. What changed? "Well, we have an audience now," Clement was quick to quip.
In only two seasons, the series became a cult hit with a devoted fan base. But the Conchords are a seasoned live act, having performed together since 1998 as regular favorites at comedy festivals around the world. They were nominated for a prestigious Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival in 2003 and won a 2007 Grammy for best comedy album, for their EP "The Distant Future."
"We really see the live shows as something totally separate from the TV show, even if the audience may not see it that way," Clement continued. 'We still get people shouting out for Murray. I think they think he organized the gig."
The smart-but-sweet loser personas perpetuated by the scripted TV show â€”â€“ casting the two as fish-out-of-water musicians struggling for success in New York City â€” have developed a devout fan base, with audience members often dressing as characters or wearing T-shirts emblazoned with quotes.
Despite their success and critical cachet, the two say it was an easy decision to quit the show. "We had a great experience with HBO and even though it was great fun and always a challenge to do, we felt like we had done it," McKenzie said. "There was really no need to do a third season unless we wanted to do it purely for the money."
"I think we just took on too many jobs, writing the scripts and the songs as well as acting. It was 14 hour days and it was incredibly difficult," added Clement.
The two seldom give interviews and prefer to answer in short comic quips while actively deflecting any questions about their personal lives. Clement is married with a young son and McKenzie married New Zealand publicist Hannah Clarke last year, welcoming their first child, a daughter named Vita last August. They admit family has been an important consideration in making the choice to end the series and return to their homes in Wellington on the lush North Island of New Zealand. "It's just a much nicer place to live and definitely having a kid makes you want to spend more time in New Zealand," McKenzie said.
According to Casey Bloys, senior vice president of HBO Entertainment, the guys have "an open invitation" to return. "They both have kids now, and life changes. Those things you can't control, but they were such a pleasure to work with," Bloys said. "If they want to come back in some form or another, we would have them back in a minute."
The concert at the Hollywood Bowl on Sunday will be a show reunion, of sorts, with Arj Barker, who played their clueless friend Dave; Kristen Schaal, who played their obsessive fan Mel; and Eugene Mirman, who played their landlord, all appearing, each doing a separate warm-up stint. "It's the first time we've all been together since the show ended," McKenzie said. "We're hoping to figure out a 'We Are the World' kind of song that we can all perform together."
"They really stand alone," Barker said. "Not only are they funny, but they are great musicians. They improvise so well, every show is different."
Bigger venues have meant some changes to their decidedly lo-fi style, including large video screens on either side of the stage as well as musical additions. "We have the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra," Clement deadpanned. "Well, we call it an orchestra, but it's really just our mate Nigel who plays cello."
Onstage they move easily from comic chat to songs that parody just about every musical style, including rap and dance, even medieval folk tunes. Songs from their last series and album release, "I Told You I Was Freaky," are often given a new twist such as a slow a cappella soul version of the sickly seductive "Sugalumps," while "Hurt Feelings" opens up more comic observations on how rappers have feelings too.
With no set plans for any future Conchords collaboration, the pair are happy to pursue other projects for now. Having cut his teeth in a lead role in the Kiwi dark romantic comedy, "Eagle vs Shark" in 2007, Clement seems poised to propel his TV presence into the big screen. He has already completed his part in the upcoming "Dinner for Schmucks" and a voice role in the animated "Despicable Me" (both featuring Steve Carell). He is also set to play a villain in the third "Men in Black" installment. "The Hiphopopotamus is very excited to be working with the Fresh Prince," he notes (referring to one of the Conchord rap incarnations).
McKenzie is working on other scripts and music projects, but in the meantime he has more pressing plans once the tour wraps: "I have a cousin who is getting married and I am going to the wedding."
Flight of the Conchords
Where: Hollywood Bowl, 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Price: $25 to $60
Info: (323) 850-2000; http://www.hollywoodbowl.com