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Flight Of The Conchords: 12 Facts About The Kiwi Cult Classic Comedy You Probably Forgot About

"Flight of the Conchords" premiered on HBO in 2007 and ran for 22 episodes across two critically acclaimed seasons. This off-beat musical comedy series amassed a loyal fanbase in its short time on the air and retains a loyal cult following to this day. The original songs were as catchy as they were funny and the part scripted, part improvised scenes in between were never short of hilarious.

Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement play fictionalized versions of themselves as two New Zealanders who head to America to make it big with their musical act, the titular "Flight of the Conchords." In reality, McKenzie and Clement spent years performing their musical stand-up act as the self-proclaimed "fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo in New Zealand." Their TV show counterparts don't enjoy the same success that the real duo found and instead struggle to get by in poverty in New York City in comedic fashion.

The show is packed with stand-up comedians in both cameo and recurring roles from their ineffectual but well-intentioned manager played by fellow Kiwi, Rhys Darby, to their obsessive lone fan, Mel, played by Kristen Schaal. Comedians Eugene Mirman, Arj Barker, Aziz Ansari, Will Forte, Demetri Martin, Kristen Wiig, Jim Gaffigan, Greg Proops, Eddie Pepitone, Judah Friedlander, and Patton Oswalt all hold memorable roles. With rumors of a potential reboot circulating since 2021, let's dive deeper into the series and its creators to explore some lesser-known details about this cult classic Kiwi comedy.

The series was first made as a radio show

Before "Flight of the Conchords" became an HBO series in 2007, it existed in a couple of different forms. Plenty of fans will be familiar with the stand-up comedy iteration of the Kiwi duo, but they might not be familiar with the half-step they took between.

In 2005, BBC Radio Two produced an audio-only version of "Flight of the Conchords." Though set in London instead of New York City, the basic premise of the BBC series and the HBO series are the same. Both follow fictionalized versions of the duo as they head to a big city in search of success. Besides being audio-only, the big stylistic difference between the radio and TV versions of the series is that the radio version presents itself as a mockumentary, complete with interviews and a radio host presenting everything as reality, played by Welsh comedian Rob Brydon. Darby was a part of the radio series from the beginning, and he would of course join the main duo on the transition to HBO while the rest of the cast changed.

The full radio series consisted of six half-hour episodes and utilized a similar balance of dialogue-driven comedy scenes interspersed with musical numbers. Outside of the songs, the radio version of "Flight of the Conchords" was almost entirely improvised, and some of the scenarios between the Conchords and Darby were carried over to the HBO series a couple of years later.

They won a Grammy for the show's songs

"Flight of the Conchords" had been performing their musical comedy act around the world in the years leading up to the TV series getting greenlit on HBO. Their debut recording was the 2002 live album, "Folk the World," then they had a dormant stretch for the next few years as they worked on the BBC radio show and got the HBO series show ready. 2007 was a massive year for the Conchords. Not only did the HBO series premiere but they also released an EP titled "The Distant Future."

This EP consisted of five songs, all of which were included in the TV series as well. For "The Distant Future," the Conchords won best comedy album of the year at the Grammys. The duo would go on to release two additional full-length albums: the self-titled "Flight of the Conchords" and "I Told You I Was Freaky" released in 2008 and 2009. Both were also nominated for best comedy album, but only their debut EP took the win. Following the 2009 release of "I Told You I Was Freaky" and the end of the HBO series in the same year, Clement and McKenzie went their separate ways for a time and the band largely dropped off the radar.

Bret and Jemaine were named two of the sexiest men alive in 2007

It may or may not come as a shock to viewers of the series — considering their awkward personas and how many of the show's episodes revolve around them being terrible with romantic relationships — but Clement and McKenzie accrued reputations as sex icons almost as soon as they hit HBO. During the first season of "Flight of the Conchords," Clement and McKenzie both appeared on Salon's list of the sexiest men alive. 

The list was a rundown of the 26 sexiest men of the year, and the duo shared a joint spot at number 16. Salon writer Mary Elizabeth Williams specifically noted that the two are a packaged deal, the only such exception on the list. To set your barometer, the number one spot in 2007 went to Jon Hamm, and the Conchords appeared one spot above the cartoon character, Strong Bad, from "Homestar Runner," so there was plenty of variety.

The following year, The Guardian profiled them in a piece called "The Accidental Sex Gods." When interviewed about their newfound sex appeal, Clement and McKenzie were both surprised, with Clement saying that it was, "quite weird. Especially because I've never really been that ... confident in that way." The two played up the rock star personas of sleeping around with groupies but later revealed that they were both engaged already before they became internationally famous and never partook in that wild side.

Making Season 2 was miserable

"Flight of the Conchords" only lasted for two seasons but it was not a case of a poorly viewed show being canceled due to low ratings. The series was relatively popular right out of the gate, and the second season reached an even wider audience both in the U.S. and internationally. In fact, the Season 2 premiere racked up as much as triple the viewing figures of the first season. Fans were left clamoring for more when Season 2 ended just 10 episodes later; clocking in at two episodes fewer than Season 1. Sadly, a third season of the show never followed.

As far as HBO was concerned, the show could have kept going, but McKenzie and Clement made the decision to call it quits. Their decision was largely driven by how grueling they found the second season to make. Part of the trouble was that most of the songs for Season 1 were ready to go before HBO greenlit the series, but they had exhausted their musical back catalog by the time they got to Season 2.

This meant not only writing an entire second season's worth of new teleplays but also devising another album or two worth of music simultaneously. Years later, Clement would tell Entertainment Weekly that "Flight of the Conchords" was more difficult than making his other shows — "What We Do in the Shadows" and "Wellington Paranormal" — because "we were making music for it at the same time."

The duo reunited a decade later

Season 2 of "Flight of the Conchords" was a big success, but Clement and McKenzie went their separate ways for the most part shortly after the series went off the air. It wasn't so much a band breakup as it was a reprieve from the constant close proximity work they were doing together. When speaking to The Guardian in a retrospective of their split, Clement said, "We were tired of working together," with McKenzie adding, "It's not like we were tired of each other's company. It just wasn't fun."

After almost 10 years of working independently of each other, McKenzie and Clement got back together for the HBO reunion, "Flight of the Conchords: Live in London" in 2018. "Live in London" was a stage show filled with new musical numbers and a couple of old favorites. The duo proved that they didn't miss a step in the intervening decade, and their new songs and banter interludes were just as funny as ever.

This was their only major reunion, but they did actually cross paths in the entertainment world on two prior occasions. In 2010, the year after "Flight of the Conchords" ended, Clement and McKenzie both lent their voices to characters in the season 22 premiere episode of "The Simpsons." They also had a bit of overlap on "Muppets Most Wanted," though they didn't share any screen time; Clement appeared in a supporting role while McKenzie created original music for the film's soundtrack.

Jemaine Clement is carving out a niche in nudist cinema

In the past couple of years, Clement has starred in two different nudist movies. The first was "Patrick" in 2019. This bizarre Dutch film from "Peaky Blinders" director Tim Mielants tells the story of a nudist camp handyman searching for his favorite hammer after it is stolen.

The second was "Nude Tuesday" released in 2022, which is an especially strange film as it utilizes made-up gibberish language for 100% of its dialogue. The production of "Nude Tuesday" involved the cast improvising all of their lines in a fictional language dubbed Zøbftańlik, which is intended to sound vaguely Scandinavian but was entirely invented for the film. Oh, and everyone on the cast also happens to be fully nude for the final third of the movie.

All of the improvised footage was cut together and given subtitles by a third party who hadn't seen the script and wasn't on set. These comedic subtitles then turned the gibberish into jokes and unfurled the story as the subtitler interpreted it in post-production. The English version of the film was subtitled by actress and comedian Julia Davis, but other comedians were brought in to write the subtitles in different languages for the film's release in other countries, meaning the jokes and parts of the story change drastically depending on where in the world the film is watched.

Bret McKenzie retreated from stardom but won an Oscar

Since the end of "Flight of the Conchords," Clement has led a successful multi-hyphenate career as a prolific actor, writer, and producer with the 2014 movie, "What We Do in the Shadows," which was subsequently spun off into two different TV shows — "Wellington Paranormal" and "What We Do in the Shadows" for FX. As an actor, Clement has had notable roles in huge movies like "Men in Black 3" and "Avatar: The Way of Water."

McKenzie on the other hand hasn't been in the spotlight to anywhere near the same degree. He has acted in only a handful of small roles since the show went off the air in 2009, and the totality of his work as a writer and producer has been confined to "Flight of the Conchords." McKenzie told The Guardian in 2008 that he would prefer for his celebrity status to go away.

McKenzie has remained involved in entertainment, however, creating original songs for the likes of "The Simpsons," and both "The Muppets" and "Muppets Most Wanted." For the first "Muppets" movie, McKenzie won the best original song Oscar for his number, "Man or Muppet." He has also pursued musical projects completely divorced from the film and television industries and was a member of both The Black Seeds and the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra.  He began performing as a solo artist under his own name and released his first album in 2022, titled "Songs Without Jokes."

Rhys Darby wrote poetry on set

Darby plays what is essentially the third lead in "Flight of the Conchords" as the band's floundering manager, Murray Hewitt. The HBO show was Darby's big break, with the prior BBC radio incarnation of "Flight of the Conchords" being his first acting gig ever after making a name for himself as a comedian. In an HBO interview conducted during the shooting of the series, Darby was asked what he liked to do between takes. He answered, "I'm a creative writer. I like to do a bit of poetry." Some of Darby's poetry can be found online and touches on subjects like global warming and the end of the world as predicted by the Mayan calendar. 

Most of Darby's time since the "Flight of the Conchords" days has been spent acting in projects like "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" and its sequel, as well as "Guns Akimbo," "Hunt for the Wilderpeople," and the HBO Max series, "Our Flag Means Death," or voice acting in animated fare like "Bob's Burgers," "Trolls," and "Arthur Christmas." Outside of acting, Darby has also written and subsequently performed many stand-up comedy specials over the years and created the TV series, "Short Poppies," in which he also played all of the lead roles. Outside of the entertainment industry, Darby also wrote a regular opinion column in the New Zealand Herald newspaper. 

The show was nearly a mockumentary

Before HBO caught wind of "Flight of the Conchords," the duo first tried to get the series made in their home country of New Zealand. In a filmed interview, Clement revealed that they pitched their idea to TVNZ and made the pilot episode, but the series was rejected. What seemed at the time like a massive disappointment turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it allowed them to take their show to significantly larger international audiences via HBO a couple of years down the line instead.

The version of "Flight of the Conchords" that was pitched to TVNZ was significantly different from the series that would eventually arrive on HBO. The initial premise still had the duo as unsuccessful musical comedians, but it would have been presented as a mockumentary rather than the traditionally scripted comedy that it later morphed into. They were to be incorporated into archival footage "Forrest Gump" style, and the show would have progressed through the years with Clement and McKenzie tackling various music genres throughout history.

Pieces of the original mockumentary pilot exist online, and it can be thought of as a trial run for the more refined series that would come afterward. Some jokes made the transition from one iteration to the next, as did some of the songs with an early version of "Bowie's in Space" appearing in the rejected mockumentary pilot and eventually showing up halfway through the first season.

Our Flag Means Death might not exist without Flight of the Conchords

Beyond both being comedies and starring Darby, "Flight of the Conchords" and "Our Flag Means Death" don't seem to have much in common at face value, but the 2022 HBO Max series likely wouldn't exist without the 2007 show. The other key linkage between the two is Taika Waititi.

Long before he became a big-budget blockbuster filmmaker with "Thor: Ragnarok" and an Oscar winner with "Jojo Rabbit," the writer, director, and producer cut his teeth in the industry by writing two and directing four episodes of "Flight of the Conchords." Clement had earlier starred in Waititi's debut feature film, "Eagle vs Shark," and even before that, the two had co-written, co-directed, and co-starred in the short film version of "What We Do in the Shadows." 

Waititi and Darby first met while making "Flight of the Conchords," and they formed a lasting relationship. After the HBO series finished, the two collaborated together on "What We Do in the Shadows," "Wellington Paranormal," "Hunt for the Wilderpeople," and of course "Our Flag Means Death," which they star in together as hero and villain. Waititi also directed the pilot and executive produced the series. While much of the show is scripted, Darby and Waititi go wild and improvise their scenes together since the two have so much history and chemistry.  Darby is acting for Waititi again in his upcoming sports comedy, "Next Goal Wins," set for release in 2023.

Jemaine Clement had pneumonia during filming

The budget for "Flight of the Conchords" wasn't particularly high and their shooting schedule was extremely tight. Making the show was demanding and took a major toll on those involved, particularly McKenzie and Clement. The two worked themselves to the bone to make the series at the high level of quality they aspired to, but all that hard work incurred some consequences.

Much of "Flight of the Conchords" was shot outside in New York City during the colder months. Clement came down with pneumonia in the middle of the shoot and their schedule was so tight that they couldn't afford to take any time off to let him recover. Instead, Clement powered on and kept filming through the illness. Of the experience, he told The Guardian, "I couldn't really breathe. Or speak."

In simply watching the series, you would have no idea he was suffering so much behind the scenes. Clement and Mckenzie also revealed losing so much weight due to the high-pressure nature of making the series that they began looking "like skeletons." The two pushed themselves as hard as physically possible to make the show great, and their sacrifices weren't in vain.

A revival of the TV show could happen, but one of the Conchords might not be interested

Though there has been some overlap between McKenzie and Clement in all of the years since the HBO series ended, there has never been a full-blown revival of the TV show. The closest fans got to a revival was the "Live in London" special, but this was a return to their musical stand-up act rather than a reboot of the series. In a day and age where every old TV show seems to be getting a modern reboot, "Flight of the Conchords" seems ripe for a return as long as the original team is all on board. Clement has gone on record as being interested in a revival of the series, but McKenzie might not be interested.

Three years after their "Live in London" reunion, Clement told Entertainment Weekly that he was hoping to bring "Flight of the Conchords" back to screens in some form, saying, "I emailed Bret twice in the last week, and he hasn't replied to either of those." Clement described a potential scene of him and McKenzie back in their fictionalized personas of trying to make music together over Zoom during the pandemic while Darby as Murray tries to mediate. McKenzie might not have replied immediately, but that doesn't mean a reboot is completely off the table. Whatever happens, fans can be certain that a revival would never fly without these three all back together.