Spending Our Stimulus Checks on Kiwis

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If you still haven’t found something hopeful to latch onto in this election year, here is cause for optimism: Flight of the Conchords, a comedy-singing duo from New Zealand, is enjoying widespread popularity on American TVs, computers, and music-sales charts. Think of what this means! It means that a decade of reality TV, crappy sitcoms, and half-assed pop music haven’t necessarily destroyed the American sense of humor. Because Flight of the Conchords is funny–really, really funny–and Americans actually get it.

The duo, Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, have a hit show on HBO (the second season is scheduled to begin next January), concert clips that have racked up millions of YouTube views, and a new album (self-titled) that debuted at #3 on the Billboard 200. Their May 13 concert in Minneapolis sold out almost immediately; as the enthusiastic guys sitting behind me helpfully explained, it was one of just 12 stops on their U.S. tour.

I’d seen their show, and seen their YouTube videos (if you haven’t had “Business Time” e-mailed to you at some time during the past year, you should get some funnier friends), so I was excited for the concert–but unsure how they’d spice it up enough to justify the $35 ticket price. That wound up being no problem. Everything, from their singing to their aimless chit-chatting, was hilarious. Yes, most of it was probably scripted, but their between-songs banter was brilliant and random. At one point, they set out to discuss “the issues,” including saving the whales. “Which is difficult,” Jemaine pointed out, “because they’re heavy.”

They mostly play guitar, but they like to rock out on strange, tiny instruments too: Bret had a cute little red keytar, Jemaine had a silver digital saxophone about the size of his forearm, and at one point they brought out a “rockin’spiel–it’s very similar to a glockenspiel,” Jemaine explained, “it’s just more rockin’.” They busted out more than a few crowd favorites, including “The Most Beautiful Girl (In the Room),” “Mutha’uckas,” “Bowie,” and “Business Time,” which included a bonus sitting-in-chair-sexy-dance by Jemaine.  

It may have been the rowdiest I’ve ever seen a Minneapolis crowd (though in all fairness, I’ve never been to a hometown Prince show). Various come-ons, including one high-pitched marriage proposal, were screamed across the room by lovestruck women; I’m guessing the guys are used to such overtures, since they seemed pretty unfazed. The notes thrown onstage by fanladies disarmed them a tad, though, and were perhaps so raunchy (or so drunkenly, illegibly scrawled) that they refused to share them with the audience.

The duo’s strangely broad appeal can be summed up thusly: Last month, Jemaine and Bret appeared in Bust, as two of the feminist mag’s “Men We Love”–but also in the much-maligned lad-mag Maxim. A friend of mine offers a cynical explanation for their popularity in such disparate camps–that 80 percent of their humor lies in the kiwi accent–but I’m going to keep hoping that Flight of the Conchords heralds changing times on the comedy-performance horizon.  

Photo courtesy of Sub Pop Records.

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