Kiwi Comedian Brings 'Smash Hit' Projects to U.S.

Jemaine Clement, one half of New Zealand's fourthmost popular folk-parody duo, has a lot on his plate this summer: Eagle Vs. Shark, a new indie comedy to rival Napoleon Dynamite; a comedy sketch show on HBO launching June 16; and, later this summer, a digi-folk-parody comedy CD, "Flight of the Conchords," from Sub Pop records. Clement is a smash hit in New Zealand and hopes to succeed in the U.S. as well.

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REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

So you've never heard the name, Jemaine Clement, or New Zealand's fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo-acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo, Flight of the Conchords.

(Soundbite of song, "The Hip Hopopotamus Vs. The Rhymenoceros)

Mr. JEMAINE CLEMENT (Member, Flight of the Conchords): (Rapping) They call me the hiphop-popotamus. I got flows that glow like phosphorus. Poppin' off the top of this esophagus. I'm not a water dwelling mammal from Africa that's moved to the metropolis to be taught how to breakdance. Where did you get that preposterous hypothesis? Did Steve tell you that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CLEMENT: (Rapping) What he's got to do with this? What kind of rapping name is Steve?

ROBERTS: Clement isn't even sure you've heard of New Zealand.

Mr. CLEMENT: A lot of people think it's in Europe. It's just completely in the opposite direction.

ROBERTS: But it's only a matter of time before Jemaine Clement is everywhere. Clement co-stars in a TV series called "Flight of the Conchords" coming this month from HBO. He's got a new comedy CD coming out, and you can catch Clement on the big screen, in the awkwardly romantic indie-comedy "Eagle Vs. Shark."

In the film, he plays a geeky video store clerk who finds love despite being completely self-obsessed. Jemaine Clement was far from self-obsessed when he came to our New York bureau this week to explain the differences between American comedy and what makes the kiwi laugh.

Mr. CLEMENT: It's very different. In the whole country, there's only one dedicated comedy club, and that's not in the town that I live in. It's in Auckland. I live in Wellington.

ROBERTS: What do you find that Americans don't understand about New Zealand?

Mr. CLEMENT: We have something that we call tall poppy syndrome, which is sort of cutting down someone who stands out.

ROBERTS: What did you call the syndrome?

Mr. CLEMENT: Tall poppy syndrome. (Unintelligible) that the poppy that's exposed to the elements and won't survive. And it's quite a negative aspect to our culture and Americans don't even seem to understand the idea, which is good.

ROBERTS: Yeah. Standing out - not usually anathema to most Americans.

Mr. CLEMENT: Yeah. People really want to stand out here. It's very different.

ROBERTS: Was there any talk at HBO about you trying to adopt an American accent?

Mr. CLEMENT: No. They never mention that.

ROBERTS: Can you do an American accent?

Mr. CLEMENT: My American accents tend to be based on movies, so they'll be like. So what? How you doing? I kind of - do when it goes with my face that people will think that I talk like that.

ROBERTS: Yeah, keeping up that how-you-doing voice for 12 episodes I think would have worn a little bit.

Mr. CLEMENT: Yeah. Yeah.

ROBERTS: I want to talk to you a little bit about "Eagle vs. Shark," which opens next week, yeah?

Mr. CLEMENT: Yes.

ROBERTS: The title comes from a costume party that your character, Jarrod, has, and Lily, played by Loren Horsley, crashes. She is dressed as a shark. You're dressed as an eagle.

(Soundbite of movie, "Eagle vs. Shark")

Mr. CLEMENT: (As Jarrod) I like your costume.

Ms. LOREN HORSLEY (Actress): (As Lily) Thanks.

Mr. CLEMENT: (As Jarrod) It's pretty much the second-best outfit here. So your favorite animal is a shark?

Ms. HORSLEY: (As Lily) Yup.

Mr. CLEMENT: (As Jarrod) Pretty cool. I almost came as a shark actually, but then I realized that an eagle is slightly better.

ROBERTS: These two characters that, you know, they're awkward. They're geeky. Jarrod is actually more than a little bit of a jerk.

Mr. CLEMENT: Yeah.

ROBERTS: Not really traditional romantic comedy fare.

Mr. CLEMENT: He's outwardly a jerk. That's the way I think of him.

(Soundbite of movie, "Eagle vs. Shark")

Mr. CLEMENT: (As Jarrod) Where did you sleep last night?

Ms. HORSLEY: (As Lily) In the bushes.

Mr. CLEMENT: (As Jarrod) Right. Meanwhile, I'm up all night wondering where the hell you are. I thought you were dead. You could've left me a note or something. It's easy. Dear Jarrod, don't wait up all night long. I'll be sleeping in the bushes. Thank you. I didn't get any sleep last night and you know it's my big day. What am I going to tell your brother? Ah, yeah. Hi, Damien. Oh, your sister Lily, oh, nah. Oh, she went to a party and got killed. Here's a bit of her leg. That's all that's left.

ROBERTS: You think underneath that he's warm and fuzzy?

Mr. CLEMENT: I think way, way underneath that, there is a tiny little kernel that is warm and fuzzy.

ROBERTS: Because this sort of pivotal scene towards the end of the movie, when he finally confronts his childhood nemesis, who turns out - I don't want to give away the plot, but there's sort of this moment where he could redeem himself.

(Soundbite of movie, "Eagle vs. Shark")

Mr. CLEMENT: (As Jarrod) Listen.

Mr. CRAIG HALL (Actor): (As Doug Davis) Shut up. I'm trying to think.

Mr. CLEMENT: (As Jarrod) I'm sorry.

Mr. HALL: (As Doug) What? What did you say?

Mr. CLEMENT: (As Jarrod) Sorry.

ROBERTS: And doesn't.

Mr. CLEMENT: That's true. I mean, that's the best big shock, that he didn't redeem himself when you expect him. But when I was acting in it, I could really, I could justify his actions quite easily. I might leave it there. I don't want to give away anything.

ROBERTS: Did you come around to actually sort of liking Jarrod?

Mr. CLEMENT: I did. He lies all the time and puts up a front of being a tough guy or cool guy. He's almost obsessed with it. So it's hard for people to see anything else.

ROBERTS: Jemaine Clement, thanks so much for joining us.

Mr. CLEMENT: You're welcome.

ROBERTS: Jemaine Clement stars in the new movie "Eagle vs. Shark." It opens this Friday in a number of cities. His TV show, "Flight of the Conchords" takes off next Sunday on HBO, and his CD is expected to be released this summer.

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