Holy smokes, I Live in New Zealand.

Flight of the Conchords, Vol. 2.
June 14, 2008, 3:05 pm
Filed under: Ask a Canuck, Music | Tags: ,

(Volume 1 can be found here.)

Andrew asks, “How big are Flight of the Conchords down in their homeland?

Part 1: The Part Where Joe States the Obvious

No bigger than anywhere else right now.  Any time something involves them, the story makes it onto the front page of the two news websites that I usually visit (Scoop and the New Zealand Herald).  They have a sort of “Canadian media star” thing going on here, in that the whole country swoons when they do really really well.  Such events include winning a Grammy award last year for best comedy album, and their show being picked up in Australia.

What can I tell you?  Basically, they met up at university in Wellington and became flatmates, where I’m sure they spent a lot of time being creative.  As part of their other ventures, Brett was performing with various Wellington bands (including The Black Seeds) and Jemaine was writing with Taika Waititi, who is now a leading screenwriter in this country.  Jemaine and Brett started playing shows around Wellington and made it onto local television there, which led to their breakthroughs.

Part 2: Pilots Don’t Take Flight

Flight of the Conchords performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (the fringe of fringe festivals) in 2002, 2003 and 2004.  Their first album (“Folk the World”) was released as well.  It was enough to get them a chance at a pilot with TVNZ.  However, TVNZ never produced the show.  There are a series of interviews (post-Grammy award) that repeat the story of how TVNZ had never really done sketch-driven comedy before.  As such, they dithered on what to do with the pilot, and ultimately both parties went their separate ways.

Amazingly, NBC (yes, that NBC) also sought out a pilot from the Conchords, and also decided not to take it to air.

Part 3: A Door Closes, A Window Opens 

The Fringe success led to an advertising feature (for phones in Britain) and then THE big breakthrough, the one I’m pretty sure nobody in my audience knows about – their award winning, 2005 radio series (also titled, Flight of the Conchords).  You can buy it this November; I certainly do not know of any recordings of it that exist.  The core of the TV cast was there (Brett, Jemaine and band manager Murray/Rhys Darby), as well as legendary New Zealand musician Neil Finn, who I mentioned a few times in my New Zealand Music Month posts

The Conchords took their act to the US comedy festival circuit and scored an appearance on Letterman.  Sub Pop Records signed them to start making albums, which led to a 2007 release – it made it to #14 in New Zealand.  That led to HBO giving them a look, and HBO has always been quite adventurous in choosing shows to air and, as such, the rest is history.

Part 4: The Part Where Joe Actually Answers the Question

They are popular.  Not HUGE or BIG, but popular. 

Everyone knows them, for obvious reasons (big success story, small country).  I think they are more popular outside of New Zealand than in New Zealand, only because there are more fans in their demographic outside of New Zealand than in New Zealand (the “critical mass” theory).  Plus, you can’t argue against that amazing American hype machine. 

They have the same type of fans here (that “cult crowd” of other artsie types, the indie crowd, and so on and so forth).

  • When I was in Melbourne, the house I was staying in brought over the Flight of the Conchords DVD, mostly for their own interest but they did say that I probably knew more about them than they did.
  • You can watch episodes of the show on the really long distance flights (the ones with the gigantic 787 planes) on Air New Zealand.
  • Their latest album debuted at #2 in New Zealand (the same week it went to #3 Stateside) but made it up to #1 pretty fast. 
  • Remember the episode where the lads entertain a threesome, only to discover it’ll be a “Devil’s Threeway”?  Two dudes?  Guess what?  Such an offer actually happened a few months later.

1 Comment so far
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they show conchord episodes on air canada flights now. though that ill likely stop now, what with all the layoffs and permanent flight cancellations. thanks for answering my question!

Comment by andy d

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