Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie make up the Flight of the Conchords, New Zealand's self-proclaimed "fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo," who starred in their own HBO series for two critically-acclaimed seasons. The beloved show was a one-of-a-kind comedy about two guys trying to make it as a musical group in New York City, even though they only seem to have one fan (albeit a very devoted one). On the tenth anniversary of its debut, we're taking a look behind the scenes of Flight of the Conchords.
1. IT WAS A RADIO SERIES BEFORE IT WAS A TV SERIES.
Rhys Darby played Brian Nesbitt, Jemaine and Bret's manager, in the BBC Radio 2 six-part series, like he would later do on HBO (but this time with the name Murray Hewitt). Rob Brydon was the narrator/presenter. Comedian Jimmy Carr played the band's stalker. Some plot points made it to the TV series.
2. NEW ZEALAND TELEVISION TURNED THEM DOWN.
In 2014, Clement recalled that television producers in his home country weren't interested in a TV series with him and McKenzie. “They’d say, ‘Middle New Zealand won’t get it.’ Idiots! I’d go, ‘What are you talking about? I’m from middle New Zealand, and you’re not.’ I always have a working-class chip on my shoulder about those people. Not being too clever is a concern in New Zealand TV. It does really annoy me.” Fortunately, an HBO talent scout discovered their live show in Montreal in 2004.
3. KRISTEN SCHAAL WAS CAST AS MEL BASED ON HER STANDUP.
HBO sent Clement and McKenzie a tape of Schaal's standup and they decided, after "about 30 seconds," that she would be perfect for the role of the band's obsessive fan, Mel. Schaal later said the guys pitched the concept of her character as accurately as possible—though "They never pitched that she was a stalker, but she's ... obviously a stalker."
4. DAVE WAS A CARICATURE OF ARJ BARKER'S ACTUAL PERSONALITY.
Comedian Arj Barker admitted to The Guardian that when he met Clement and McKenzie at an Auckland comedy festival in the early 2000s, it was during a period of his life when he was "partying a lot and drinking" and "chasing girls as much as I could." Clement and McKenzie's first impression of Barker led directly to the creation of Barker's character Dave, the aspiring ladies man.
5. THE FIRST SEASON BUDGET WAS MINUSCULE.
David Costabile (Doug) described the first season budget as "insane," "shoestring," and "so crappy." On his first day, they shot in an abandoned Lower East Side apartment with no running water or electricity. The breakfast catering was one box with 10 sandwiches. By season two, there was more food.
6. MEL'S PICTURE OF JEMAINE'S LIPS DIDN'T COME FROM THE WRITERS' IMAGINATION.
The 2006 documentary Flight of the Conchords: A Texan Odyssey documented Clement and McKenzie's time at the SXSW festival, pre-HBO fame. In the doc, a big fan of theirs revealed that she kept a picture of Jemaine's lips in her wallet (the other two pictures were normal ones of her kids). In the show's first episode, "Sally," Mel shows Bret the picture of Jemaine's lips she keeps in her wallet.
7. BOTH JEMAINE AND BRET WERE PHYSICALLY SICK OVER THE NEW YORK WEATHER AND THE SUDDEN WORKLOAD.
Clement got pneumonia during the first season, and due to the overwhelming workload they both lost a lot of weight. "We looked like skeletons," McKenzie said.
8. DAVID BOWIE DECLINED PLAYING HIMSELF, BECAUSE HE HAD JUST DONE SO ON RICKY GERVAIS' EXTRAS.
After considering Noel Fielding and John Cameron Mitchell, they opted to cast British comedian Dan Antopolski to play Bowie. Technical difficulties caused Antopolski's performance from London to be dropped entirely, so director Troy Miller suggested Clement himself to play the famous musician.
9. CLEMENT HAD TO BE CUT OUT OF ONE OF THE BOWIE COSTUMES.
"My silver jumpsuit was so tight—my legs swelling from the accumulated blood no longer allowed to circulate—I had to be cut out of it. I didn’t care. I was David Bowie and this was art," Clement recalled.
On the last day of shooting the Bowie scenes, Clement was given permission by the makeup and costume departments to walk the Lower East Side in his costume. He ran into Schaal, who not only did not recognize her co-star, she looked frightened.
10. THE SONGS CAME FIRST IN SEASON ONE. IN SEASON TWO, THEY WROTE THE SCRIPTS FIRST.
The show's first season consisted of tunes Clement and McKenzie had written and developed from stage shows, in some cases for almost a decade. In season two, they worked the opposite way. "Well, by the second series it got quite chaotic because when you’re recording TV shows during the week and then going in the studio on the weekend to write the songs for the next week so it was really high-speed songwriting," McKenzie elaborated. "The second season, we started writing songs more for videos so the songs had visual ideas within them that the punch line may not be so much in the lyric, but in the visual of the music video."
11. THE "TOO MANY D*CKS ON THE DANCE FLOOR" WERE CANADIAN.
The song from "Unnatural Love" came about after McKenzie, Clement, and two other New Zealand guys went to a nightclub. "These Canadian guys were like 'Hey, too many d*cks! Too many d*cks! Spread out the d*cks!.' So we just used that and put it into the script to sort of make fun of them," McKenzie admitted to The Sun.
12. MICHEL GONDRY DIRECTED "UNNATURAL LOVE."
Gondry and the Conchords met through a costume designer. Gondry, director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, was one of McKenzie and Clement's idols. Gondry was particularly interested in drumming; he kept asking McKenzie when he was going to come in the studio and drum on the songs.
13. FAMOUS MUSICIANS LOVED THE SHOW.
Daryl Hall claimed he knew the show was going to be "big" after seeing the pilot, and agreed to appear as the World Music Jam Host in "New Fans." Art Garfunkel played himself in "Prime Minister." "I love the deadpan, off-the-wall, let's-play-against-predictability style," Garfunkel told TV Guide after his episode aired. Mick Fleetwood didn't appear in an episode, but he did admit to hearing and appreciating the Rumours joke in "Sally."
14. MCKENZIE SAID THERE ARE PLANS FOR A MOVIE.
that the movie was just in a "throwing ideas around" stage with Clement. They still needed a story at the time. In 2015, Clement confirmed this, before saying the movie is “definitely a couple of years away, at least."