Flight of the Conchords: Our fourth most popular comedy-folk duo

By Russell Baillie

Our films have been there. Our music and books too, occasionally. But our comedy has never really found the door that leads to that mystical platform known as "the international stage".

Yes, many of our best funny folk have found various stages in various foreign live spots. But as a domestic platform for our comedy, local television has long been shaky and unforgiving. And with every failed attempt, our self-esteem about how funny we are as a nation has taken a battering.

Then, this year, along came Flight of the Conchords, the Wellington-bred duo of Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie who billed themselves as "New Zealand's fourth most popular folk-comedy duo".

After taking their talents to a short BBC radio series, they got their own show on the world's coolest programme producer, HBO, which eventually turned up on Prime TV in New Zealand.

On the show they played permanently baffled versions of themselves. That they were from New Zealand - like, dude, where? - in New York trying to get a big break in the entertainment business was part of the joke as was their, er, our accent.

They roped in some mates - Rhys Darby as Murray their manager was a fixture on the show, and some episodes had director-writer Taika Waititi - who had cast Clement in his movie Eagle Vs Shark - and Duncan Sarkies in the credits.

But getting the HBO green light still meant figuring out how to turn their deadpan but melodically gifted stage act into 12 episodes of television in which they weren't just actors.

After five days of shooting, their weekends would be spent writing scripts and recording the music. That hard work has paid off. The show rated well enough in its 10.30pm slot and earned enough critical raves for HBO to sign them up for a second series. Although, Clement said, they still had to think about it.

"We've got other things we want to do as well. The only reason I would want to do it is to do it better. I think we've started some good things and we're all just learning. It was a pretty high pressure place to have your first thing shown."

In the meantime, they are still earning plaudits.They've got a Grammy nomination for their latest album The Distant Future, which features some of the songs featured in the show, like the classic boudoir anthem Business Time: "You know when I'm down to just my socks it's time for business/that's why they call them business socks."

Yes, not only have Clement and McKenzie succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of most Kiwi comedians, they're bringing socksy back.

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