Folk comedy duo The Flight of the Conchords
are off to Hollywood - just as soon as they can find the airfare,
says Sarah Catherall.
"The idea of us going to Hollywood
is just so ridiculous," Bret McKenzie says with a laugh.
McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, better known as comedy duo Flight
of the Conchords, don't know who will be in the audience at
the 20th Century Fox comedy theatre when they perform their
cult comedy show Folk the World in less than a fortnight.
And though they have no idea what to expect they've booked
their flights anyway - and are now scratching around for cash
to get there.
"It's definitely a wild card. It's a goal among a lot
of comedians to play for industry people, for Fox or one of
the big TV places. We could potentially get spots on TV comedy
shows, but we really don't know," Clement says.
McKenzie, 26, and Clement, 28, are the first Kiwi comedians
invited to the TV giant's prestigious theatre. It was an honour
they couldn't turn down.
Ann Maney, a Fox talent scout, spotted them performing their
folk comedy show, strumming acoustic guitars and singing comic
songs, at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two months ago. Maney
uses Edinburgh as a recruitment ground; she spotted Irish
comic Ed Byrne there, which led to him appearing on Conan
O'Brien's US talkshow.
But when she asked the Conchords if they were going to be
in Los Angeles in early November, their response was typically
"We were like, "ah, nah". She told us we should
do a gig at her comedy theatre. It was like, cool," McKenzie
McKenzie has inadvertently become a superstar in a weird corner
of the internet for his role as an elf extra in The Fellowship
of the Ring. His brief stint on-screen saw him spotted and
admired by Lord of the Rings enthusiasts who then nicknamed
him "Figwit" - an acronym of Frodo Is Great; Who
Dark-haired and finely built, McKenzie has spawned websites,
one of which even sells T-shirts boasting his elfin face.
He doesn't own a Figwit T-shirt. Clement tried to buy one
but entered the wrong credit card details.
"Maybe my family will buy me one for Christmas,"
McKenzie jokes. Figwit fans got wind he was at the Edinburgh
Fringe Festival, turning up to performances. McKenzie found
it "really surreal" meeting adoring female fans
afterwards. "Someone should time how long he is in the
film, because he's probably in it for 10 seconds," Clement
mutters, as he slouches in his seat and strums his guitar.
A British comedy website, Chortle, raved about the Edinburgh
show, citing its "beautifully underplayed performance
of atmospheric music and killer dialogue, delivered in earnest
deadpan". Another reviewer described their show as "the
future of funky folk. It's dirty, non-PC and funny as folk".
The pair are university drop-outs. McKenzie "dribbled
on for ages" studying music and English at Victoria University,
where Clement tried to study theatre and film but gave up.
In 1998, they were living together in an old villa in Mt Victoria
and performing in local productions, mainly comedy.
Clement was writing and acting in Skitz and performing with
another comedian, Taika Cohen, in Humourbeasts, a comic production
which won the Billy T comedy award in 1999. McKenzie was playing
the keyboard (he is a member of dub band The Black Seeds),
but the flatmates both decided they wanted to learn the guitar,
and started writing songs.
They can't recall how it happened, but one night they were
playing their guitars at Wellington's Indigo bar. "We
thought we were going to be the band that played that night.
We had about three songs we had written. But we just started
being the comedy act. People were laughing at our songs and
we went back every two weeks," Clement recalls.
The rest has fallen into place. They don't have a manager
and each overseas gig has opened another door. Their Edinburgh
performances led to a stint on a BBC radio show, Fringe Cuts.
They hope to get to the northern hemisphere again next year,
as they've been invited to perform in Iceland in March. They're
not making money yet and the Edinburgh shows left them in
"Most comedians are more serious about comedy than we
are," says Clement. "What we do is a hybrid of us
playing music and comedy."
They continue to act, and TV ads have helped pay Clement's
rent - he graces screens as the wheelbarrow-spinning lad in
that DB Export advertisement. He also co-wrote and acted in
the yet-to-be-released film, Tongan Ninja, and he produces
animated short films through his production company Fifty
The pair describe themselves as writers, actors, comedians
and musicians, and like to choose which cap to wear in a given
situation. At parties, they're musicians, never comedians
"because people say, Otell us a joke' and they expect
us to make them laugh", says McKenzie. But when clearing
customs, they are writers. "If we're musicians or even
comedians, we get searched," Clement says.
They're staging Folk the World at the Classic comedy club
in Auckland next weekend, hoping to raise enough funds so
their Hollywood performance doesn't leave them out of pocket.
Scott Blanks, director of the Classic, says the Conchords
are popular because they are modest and understated. "They're
quite shy too and that appeals to New Zealand audiences. They're
so low-key about how good they are. It would be impossible
for them to be tall poppies," he says.
McKenzie has a different way of putting it. Sucking another
Snifter lolly, he says perhaps they appeal "because a
lot of comedians actually want to be rock stars. They wear
cowboy hats and make-up. We're not that way. We're a little
bit country bumpkin".