Daily Northwestern Q & A

Racists, bigots and chauvinists, but not drug-users

Flight of the Conchords is winning over the world, but they just want to eat cake
By Joel Handley

Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie are two comedians who have found success playing struggling musicians as Flight of the Conchords. Armed with two guitars, seven chords and a couple killer falsettos, they've reclaimed the world of musical-comedy from Jack Black's grubby hands and rejuvenated a post-Sopranos HBO. Since their series premiered last summer, their stars have been rising steadily. But the soft-spoken, mild-mannered New Zealanders aren't too keen on fame.

Their show tonight at Northwestern's Cahn Auditorium sold out in 45 minutes. To get tickets, some fans even slept at Norris University Center. Others stood in line through the early morning hours. When I spoke to Jemaine and Bret over the phone Tuesday, I asked how all this attention made them feel. They said they were a bit nervous because they hadn't played together in a while.

In conversation, as in concert, they work well as a pair. They finish each other's thoughts and can help each other through faltering answers. We talked for half an hour about their past, future, fame and secret powers. Here's the abridged conversation:

Q: You just recently won a Grammy for Best Comedy Album for your EP "The Distant Future." How did you feel about your win? Has it changed anything?
Jemaine: It changed our life in New Zealand for the last week we were there, 'cause it's quite big news there. We'd go down the road, and every third person, strangers, would say congratulations to us.

Q: Did you like that, or did it get annoying?
Jemaine: It's a little scary to tell you the truth. We were like principals at a huge school, just 'cause everyone knew us, and that's sort of what it felt like. I don't really like it, to be honest. It's nice, and I can see that it's nice, but it's been quite sudden. So it was quite weird.

Q: How are you dealing with the fame?
Jemaine: It feels like when I went to a new school, across town, and I was the only new kid there. It just puts you on this uneven footing with people. It feels like people have got something on you, they know something about you, and you don't know anything about them. They can comment directly on your life, and it's really weird.

Bret: It alters the world around you slightly. There are probably more good things than bad things. Like, you might get a free piece of cake.

Jemaine: And you can't complain about things like that. I'm sure there'll be more cakes.

Bret: It's flattering that people like the show so much. We just make sure we have a clear exit to get out of there.

Q: Your song "Issues (Think About It)" jokes about child slavery and AIDS, and you have others that address racism and sexism. Are you just going for laughs, or are you trying to make people think too?
Bret: The song's parodying a genre that deals with issues, so we had stuff from that area. And some we believe in, and I guess some we don't.

Jemaine: I don't like to wear clothes if I know slave children made them.

Bret: And we're not racist.

Jemaine: Well, one of us isn't racist. One is. (laughs)

Bret: And one of us is a chauvinist. And the third Conchord is a bigot.

Q: Which one's which?
Jemaine: That'll have to remain a secret.

Q: Do you have any secrets you can share?
Bret: I have the ability to fly, but I don't use it anymore. The air in the city in the U.S. doesn't work for me very well.

Jemaine: And it's a different gravity on Earth. New Zealand's a different planet.

Bret: Jemaine can hear people's thoughts.

Q: Do you know what I'm thinking right now?
Jemaine: You're probably thinking we're on drugs.

Q: I wasn't, but are you?
Jemaine: No. We just ramble.

Q: You seem to be a big hit with stoners.
Bret: A lot of people think we must get high and then write songs.

Jemaine: Which we don't. But I do like stoner comedy, even though I don't really like drugs. (mumbles with Bret) I can say that. I know it's not cool to say that.

Bret: It's not that we don't like them, it's that we don't use them.

Jemaine: I don't like them. I don't like the idea of them. But, I do love a lot of drug influenced things - like Jimi Hendrix's music, Cheech and Chong's comedy.

Bret: I don't use drugs, but I'm a big fan of alternative realities.

Jemaine: I grew up around drugs, and that put me off to them.

Bret: I grew up with drugs a little bit, but then I gave up. I was out of control.

Jemaine: My dad was a big hippie, and he used to grow marijuana plants. And we used to go out to the country, down into these forests, and anyway, the concern was the police would be around - I think right then I decided I'd never do drugs and I still haven't.

Bret: Jemaine still has a problem with the cops. He doesn't trust the po'.

Jemaine: Even though I don't do anything illegal.

Jemaine: Once when I was young, I graffitied my own toilet at home, in pencil. It said something about how "The Pigs Suck" or something like that and my mom was screaming, "who wrote 'The Pigs Suck' on the toilet? " It rubbed off. Fortunately, it was in pencil. It was a lonely rebellion against the police force.

Bret: Yeah, pretty underground.

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