April 23, 2009

NOWHERE, SLOWLY TO SOMEWHERE, QUICKLY:

Flight of the Conchords: fasten your seatbelts: Two years ago Flight of the Conchords was a tiny blip on the world comedy radar. Now the cult series about two New Zealand musicians trying to crack the big time in New York is going supersonic. (Andrew Pettie, 23 Apr 2009, Daily Telegraph)

Clement, 35, usually plays bass guitar; McKenzie, 32, acoustic guitar. Both sing. And despite describing themselves as New Zealand's 'fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo a cappella-rap-funk comedy folk duo' they are the hottest ticket in musical comedy. In 2007 their EP The Distant Future won a Grammy. Last year they entered the US charts at No 3 with an eponymous album, thereby making them the highest-charting New Zealand act ever in the US (Crowded House reached No 12 in 1986). The album has since gone platinum. On television, the first series of the Conchords' HBO sitcom, co-written and directed by Bobin, and which follows the duo's doomed attempts to crack the big time in New York, won four Emmy nominations. The second series has just aired in America to critical acclaim; it transfers to BBC Four in May.

Clement and McKenzie met in 1998 while studying film and theatre at Victoria University in Wellington. McKenzie grew up there; his father was a horse breeder, his mother a dance teacher. Clement, who describes himself as 'part Maori, part European', grew up in Wairarapa, an hour north of the capital. His father worked in a slaughterhouse, his mother in a cheese factory. The pair simultaneously dropped out of university to pursue careers in music, or comedy, or both. Briefly, and unsuccessfully, they took themselves seriously as musicians. But their audiences found it impossible to do the same and their comedy folk crossover act was born.

For several years, the Conchords went nowhere, slowly. Both did other jobs: Clement wrote radio ads and sketches for a 'terrible' New Zealand comedy series called Skits; McKenzie worked on solo comedy projects and toured with bona fide (non-comedy) bands. The pair were barely scraping a living as they hopped between continents and comedy festivals, sleeping on sofas, gigging where they could and honing their act.

The Conchords' oeuvre is difficult to define, bar the fact that their songs are usually a pastiche of one or more musical genres, from gangsta rap to children's television tunes, from David Bowie to Barry White. Although both Clement and McKenzie are accomplished musicians, it is their lyrics that set them apart. During Issues (Think About It), a parody of Marvin Gaye's What's Going On?, they sing: 'They're turning kids into slaves / Just to make cheaper sneakers / What's the real cost? / Cause the sneakers don't seem that much cheaper. / Ooh, why are we paying so much for sneakers when you get them made by little slave kids? / What are your overheads?' '


The Wife is permanently banned from listening to the BBC show when driving.



Posted by Orrin Judd at April 23, 2009 8:02 AM
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