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Possible Title: “They Came, They Saw, They Conchord”: How Flight of the Conchords Riffs on
the American Dream
Possible Epigram: “You know, Jemaine, I’ve been thinking about love. And I guess it’s the very
strongest adhesive. . . . Brown paper, white paper, stick it together with the tape, the tape of
love.” --Flight of the Conchords (“Pencils in the Wind” from “Yoko”)

Introduction
    I.    Hook: Talk about comedy and satire in the post-9/11 world. How people weren’t
          supposed to be ironic anymore (Doniger). How after a self-imposed silence, comedy
          became crass and mean-spirited with movies such as Borat and Team America or
          “awkward” TV shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Office. Contrast that with
          the gentle yet still sly humor of Flight of the Conchords, which isn’t as topical but
          still gets its audience to think about human faults and follies. Give examples of song
          lyrics and lines from the HBO TV show.

      II.      Background on FOTC: Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement
             A. Started out as a stand-up act; tried writing pilot for NZ TV but were rejected
                (Smithies)
             B. After winning comedy awards and producing a BBC radio show, offered TV
                show by HBO (Gillette)
             C. TV show earned predominantly positive reviews (Flynn, Goodman “Musical”)
             D. Since the broadcast of the show last summer, their EP won the Grammy for Best
                Comedy Album, and their upcoming concert tour has sold out.
             E. They’ve thus transformed from a cult favorite into a critical and popular
                success—How did this happen?
             F. Essential Questions: What is so appealing about FOTC’s humor? Why did FOTC
                find mainstream success in the U.S. and not in NZ? What themes/ideas do they
                explore in their stand-up act and TV show and why would they resonate with
                certain audiences? What does their success mean for American culture and for
                comedy?

      III.     Methodology:
             A. Interviewed SF Chronicle TV critic, Tim Goodman
             B. Interviewed Moshe Kasher, local comedian who has worked the stand-up circuit
             C. Interviewed Mark Schneider, music and pop culture aficianado
             D. Read articles/profiles from U.S., U.K., and N.Z. publications as well as online
                blogs and forums
             E. Watched and analyzed all episodes of the HBO show as well as live performance
                clips online

             Thesis: By portraying themselves as the polar opposite of the self-important
             “success-stories” celebrated by the media, the members of Flight of the Conchords
             wryly comment on American values and ideals; their comedy thus serves as a timely
             antidote to the cynicism and exploitation seen in mainstream popular culture.
Body
       IV.      Topic Sentence: To begin with, by constantly referring to their origins as humble
                New Zealanders, McKenzie and Clement parody the American need to grandstand
                and proclaim oneself “number one.”
              A. In live shows, make fun of how small and backwards NZ is (Banter from The
                 Distant Future)
              B. On the show, their manager Murray’s office is decorated with NZ tourism posters
                 that imply low self-esteem. Ex.: “New Zealand: Don’t expect too much—you’ll
                 love it!” (Bowron)
              C. TV shows from NZ are depicted as old-fashioned, dull (“Drive By”)
              D. Constant talk about rivalry with Australia (“Drive By,” “Bret Gives Up the
                 Dream,” “The Australian”)
              E. The New Zealand Prime Minister is portrayed as a simpleton hopelessly behind
                 the times (“Prime Minister”)

       V.       Topic Sentence: The Conchords also puncture the myth of the American Dream;
                by playing hapless musicians struggling to find gigs in New York City, they
                emphasize just how difficult it is to “make it big.”
              A. Bret has to give up the band and take up sign-holding to make money (“Bret
                 Gives Up the Dream’)
              B. Murray is a clueless manager—doesn’t know about music history (“Sally,”
                 “Yoko”) and doesn’t know how to negotiate (“The Actor”)
              C. The band has only one fan, Mel; gigs sparsely attended (“The Actor”)
              D. The racism they experience runs counter to the idea of America as a land of equal
                 opportunity (“Drive By”)
              E. Goodman talks about how this is the opposite of what we see in HBO’s other hit
                 show, Entourage (Goodman Interview)

       VI.      Topic Sentence: In fact, the only place where the Conchords get to be stars is in
                their imagination; the show’s whimsical music videos give McKenzie and Clement
                the chance to mimic and satirize the posturing of big-time musicians.
              A. “Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros” and “Mutha ‘Uckas” parody gangsta rap
                 (“Mugged,” “Drive By”)
              B. “Bowie’s in Space” makes fun of David Bowie’s different personae (“Bowie”)
              C. “Issues (Think About It)” satirizes earnest protest songs like “What’s Going On?”
                 (“Mugged”)
              D. “Doggy Bounce” parodies the bad lyrics and videos of “one-hit wonders” (“The
                 Third Conchord”)

       VII.     Topic Sentence: Unfortunately for Bret and Jemaine, their imaginary stardom
                doesn’t translate into being ladies’ men; their relationship troubles allow the
                Conchords to poke fun at gender roles in the male-dominated U.S. culture
              A. Bret is the one pursued, used, and dumped by a woman in “Girlfriends”
              B. Bret and Jemaine are taken advantage of by a women’s water polo team (“What
                 Goes on Tour”)
      C. Both Bret and Jemaine are dumped by the same girl (“Sally”)
      D. Bret has “body image” issues—a role normally played by women (“Bowie”)
      E. “Sugalumps” parodies the objectification of women in music videos. (“The New
         Cup”)
      F. Clement himself has said NZ is much more open to strong women; NZ has a
         female prime minister (Fink)

VIII.   Topic Sentence: Some critics, however, argue that the Conchords’ comedy is too
        lightweight to have any lasting significance.
        A. Their quirkiness makes it seem like they want to be cute and endearing rather
        than saying anything of substance (Hirschorn)
        B. Some view their musical parodies as merely “pastiche,” which doesn’t have a
        true target (Beckerman)
        C. Some say the “fighting over girlfriends” storyline is repetitive and mimimalist
        (McKenzie)
        D. Counterargument: Nevertheless, these simple repeated motifs give the
        Conchords a recognizable style and give audiences a chance to notice in-jokes and
        continuity (band meetings, “Who Likes to Rock the Party,” Mel’s poor henpecked
        husband, the Conchords’ bike-riding). Moreover, the ongoing jokes about New
        Zealand culture force the American audience to look at their own culture with a
        more critical eye. Example: Two episodes--“A Good Opportunity” and “New
        Zealand Town”—subtly comment on the immigrant labor issues that prevent the
        U.S. from truly being the land of equality and opportunity.

IX.     Topic Sentence: Indeed, the show makes a compelling statement about friendship
        and authenticity. Despite their own faults and interpersonal conflicts, the
        characters stay loyal to each other and to their own art, in stark contrast to the more
        “successful” Americans they meet.
        A. Betrayed by their new band members, who go on to major stardom with a hit
        novelty song (“The Third Conchord”)
        B. Cheer up Murray when he loses confidence as manager (“The Actor”)
        C. Jemaine and Mel work to boost Bret’s self-confidence (“Bret You Got It Going
        On” from “Bowie”)
        D. “Pencils in the Wind” lyrics sum up their outlook
        E. The first season ends with Bret and Jemaine doing an “angry dance” of
        solidarity. Very “un-American”—instead of getting loud and brazen and instead
        of just becoming apathetic; they protest The Powers That Be in their own quiet yet
        emotionally resonant way.

X.      Topic Sentence: The question still remains why the Conchords’ humor would
        strike such a chord in America; why would they find such success here rather than
        in their native New Zealand?
        A. Timing—post-9/11, and during the current war, we need something gentle and
        humane to laugh about
        B. Personality—in interviews, the Conchords are humble about their success—a
        refreshing change from the brashness of most American comics
              C. Use Kasher interview to talk about the good will the Conchords have garnered
              on the comedy scene.
              D. They’re a unique mix of comedy and music that doesn’t come along often
              (Tenacious D and the Smothers Brothers and maybe Weird Al Yankovic are the
              only other major examples); plus their music is actually really good—it covers a
              wide range or genres (folk to rap to disco to rock) and captures the spirit of the
              original songs; plus it gives their show high replay value (Schneider Interview)
              E. Their humor is smart and knowing without being condescending—while
              America, to the outside world, tries to look tough and untouchable, the Conchords
              show that it’s possible to be sensitive and modest and still be admired/respected.

Conclusion: Thus, Flight of the Conchords gives American audiences a chance to escape,
question, and even laugh at what America currently considers “cool.”
--So what: Use Vernon article to discuss the show’s popularity and the Conchords’ new status as
heartthrobs. Ironically, Flight of the Conchords have become part of the popular culture they
have been parodying. Their songs and catchphrases are being mimicked (Goodman Interview).
They’ll only do the show for one more season; this is a good thing, will keep them from
stagnating and overstaying their welcome. In their own way, they’ve achieved the “American
Dream” as immigrants who’ve found success through creativity, hard work, and
interdependence, not the fierce independence that America is trying to project to the world right
now. It’s ironic that it takes a couple of deadpan New Zealanders to show us what America’s
really about.

                                     Works Cited

“The Actor.” Flight of the Conchords: The Complete First Season. By Damon Beesley and Iain
      Morris. Dir. Michael Patrick Jann. Perf. Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie. HBO.
      26 August 2007. DVD. HBO, 2007.

“The Australian.” Flight of the Conchords. HBO. 8 February 2009.

Beckerman, Andrew. “Flight of the Conchords.” Dusted. 22 April 2008. 27 April 2008.
      <http://www.dustedmagazine.com/reviews/4248>

“Bowie.” Flight of the Conchords: The Complete First Season. By James Bobin, Jemaine
      Clement, and Bret McKenzie. Dir. Troy Miller. Perf. Jemaine Clement and Bret
      McKenzie. HBO. 22 July 2007. DVD. HBO, 2007.

Bowron, Jane. “Flight of the Conchords—you’ll love it.” The Dominion Post. 21 September
      2007. Stuff.co.nz. 27 April 2008. < http://www.stuff.co.nz/4209861a20879.html>

“Bret Gives Up the Dream.” Flight of the Conchords: The Complete First Season. By
       James Bobin, Jemaine Clement, and Bret McKenzie. Dir. James Bobin. Perf. Jemaine
       Clement and Bret McKenzie. HBO. 24 June 2007. DVD. HBO, 2007.

Doniger, Wendy. “Terror and Gallows Humor: After September 11?” The Days After. 25 April
       2008. <http://www.press.uchicago.edu/News/911doniger.html>

“Drive By.” Flight of the Conchords: The Complete First Season. By Taika Waititi. Dir.
       Taika Waititi. Perf. Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie. HBO. 29 July 2007.
       DVD. HBO, 2007.

Fink, Heather. “Jemaine Clement Interview.” HeatherFink.com. 8 January 2007.
       25 April 2008. < http://heatherfink.blogspot.com/2007/01/jemaine-clement-
       interview.html>

Flight of the Conchords. The Distant Future. SubPop, 2007.

Flynn, Gillian. “Flight of the Conchords.” Entertainment Weekly. 8 June 2007.
       25 April 2008. http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20043335,00.html

Gillette, Amelie. “Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Conchords.” The A.V. Club. 27 July
        2007. 25 April 2008.
        http://www.avclub.com/content/interview/bret_mckenzie_of_flight_of

“Girlfriends.” Flight of the Conchords: The Complete First Season. By
        Eric Kaplan. Dir. James Bobin. Perf. Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie. HBO. 5
        August 2007. DVD. HBO, 2007.

Goodman, Tim. “Musical misfits hoping for their big break.” San Francisco Chronicle.
     15 June 2007. 20 April 2008.
     <http://www.sfgate.com/cgibin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2007/06/15/DDGIPQF
     45J1.DTL>

---------- Personal Interview. 15 April 2009.

“A Good Opportunity.” Flight of the Conchords. HBO. 18 January 2009.

Hirschorn, Michael. “Quirked Around” The Atlantic. Sept. 2007. 27 April 2008.
       http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200709/quirk

Kasher, Moshe. Personal Interview. 19 April 2009.

McKenzie, Rob. A. “Flight of the Conchords: Be more constructive with your feedback,
     please.” The Ampersand. 24 August 2007. 25 April 2008.
     <http://network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/theampersand/archive/2007/08/24/flight-of-
     the-conchords-be-more-constructive-with-your-feedback-please.aspx>

“Mugged.” Flight of the Conchords: The Complete First Season. By James Bobin,
     Jemaine Clement, and Bret McKenzie. Dir. James Bobin. Perf. Jemaine Clement
     and Bret McKenzie. HBO. 1 July 2007. DVD. HBO, 2007.
“The New Cup.” Flight of the Conchords. HBO. 25 January 2009.

“New Zealand Town.” Flight of the Conchords. HBO. 8 March 2009.

“Prime Minister.” Flight of the Conchords. HBO. 1 March 2009.

“Sally.” Flight of the Conchords: The Complete First Season. By James Bobin,
        Jemaine Clement, and Bret McKenzie. Dir. James Bobin. Perf. Jemaine Clement
        and Bret McKenzie. HBO. 17 June 2007. DVD. HBO, 2007.

“New Fans.” Flight of the Conchords: The Complete First Season. By Duncan Sarkies.
      Dir. Taika Waititi. Perf. Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie. HBO. 19 August 2007.
      DVD. HBO, 2007.

“Sally Returns.” Flight of the Conchords: The Complete First Season. By James Bobin,
       Jemaine Clement, and Bret McKenzie. Dir. James Bobin. Perf. Jemaine Clement
       and Bret McKenzie. HBO. 15 July 2007. DVD. HBO, 2007.

Schneider, Mark. Personal Interview. 28 April 2009.

Smithies, Grant. “Flight of the Conchords.” Sunday Star Times. 16 September 2007. 25 April
       2008. < http://www.stuff.co.nz/sundaystartimes/4203174a24815.html>

“The Third Conchord.” Flight of the Conchords: The Complete First Season. By James Bobin,
      Jemaine Clement, and Bret McKenzie. Dir. James Bobin. Perf. Jemaine Clement
      and Bret McKenzie. HBO. 2 Sept. 2007. DVD. HBO, 2007.

Vernon, Polly. “The accidental sex gods.” The Observer. 10 February 2008.
      25 April 2008. http://observer.guardian.co.uk/woman/story/0,,2253281,00.html

“What Goes on Tour.” Flight of the Conchords: The Complete First Season. By Paul Simms,
      .Dir. Paul Simms. Perf. Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie. HBO. 12 August 2007.
      DVD. HBO, 2007.

“Yoko.” Flight of the Conchords: The Complete First Season. By James Bobin,
      Jemaine Clement, and Bret McKenzie. Dir. James Bobin. Perf. Jemaine Clement
      and Bret McKenzie. HBO. 8 July 2007. DVD. HBO, 2007.

				
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