On June 10, 2007, "Made in America," the final episode of The Sopranos
, aired on HBO. The proverbial darkness of our television screens was not just because of that half-genius, half-absurd last scene of the Sopranos'
finale. Wading through the mire of summer programming -- a hodgepodge of re-runs and reality programming -- I returned to HBO the following Sunday. I returned to find the premiere of one the oddest, weirdest, quirkiest, fun, clever, intelligent examples of television comedy that I have ever seen; while watching, my opinion of the show changed, in order, over those 23 minutes, to every single one of the six adjectives I used in the first part of this sentence.Flight of the Conchords
-- a show about two musicians from New Zealand living in New York City -- is now in the middle of its second season on HBO. Rhys Darby
, who plays the band's manager, Murray Hewitt, was kind enough to join me for a quick chat about the beginnings of the show, his life in the New Zealand Army and what the future hold for our favorite Kiwi band manager.Mike:
Now, I was told you are back in New Zealand. I was hoping my editors would pick up the bill for a flight but they never returned my call. Alas, we have to communicate, as your character, Murray, would say: by Internet letter, "one of the trusted things of today's society." Do you think more Americans should visit New Zealand or do you get your fill of us when you are in New York?Rhys:
Well I certainly get my fill of you when I'm in New York City, but, by all means, please come and visit New Zealand if you haven't been. You'll love it and we would love to have you. Maybe just four at a time though. We have a strict four in four out policy. You have to wait in the airport till four Americans are boarding their plane home. We can only handle one American per one million New Zealander. And there are four million of us.Mike:
I read you were in the Army, that had to be interesting. Do you have any stories?Rhys:
I never took army life too seriously and, in fact, there where a couple of females in my signals unit; when we used to march around in formation I would hold hands with my female friend soldier just for fun. Brenda was her name. From a distance the closely ranked platoon would look normal marching in step but when the Commanding Officer looked closely he would see two soldiers in the center holding hands. He couldn't determine we were even opposite sexes so the jaws would drop and much laughter was had by.... well, myself and Brenda.Mike:
How long have you known Bret McKenzie
and Jermaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords
? I know you were involved in the Flight of the Conchords
BBC radio series, how did that come about?Rhys:
[We've] known each other for nearly ten years. We didn't really work together in New Zealand because they were Wellington based and I was from the city up north called Auckland.
We hooked up in Edinburgh for the Fringe festival back in 2003. We were the only Kiwis doing the comedy festival that year. Flight of the Conchords
was the show everybody involved in comedy wanted to see; a buzz really started about them. In turn the BBC asked them to make a pilot for radio, they asked me to play their manager. I said yes. We improvised our first band meeting ... and the rest is history.Mike:
I know people who watch Flight of the Conchords
on HBO just because of your character, Murray. Was there any real life inspiration for him? He has this great personality trait in which he is usually wrong, but, at the same time, thinks it is preposterous when anyone disagrees with him and will openly mock how absurd he thinks they are.
"Flight of the Conchords" has season premiere.
Murray came out of nowhere for me. His ideals and beliefs were just plucked out of a combination of what Bret and Jermaine told me about their real manager and the men I had worked with in the many jobs I'd had since I was supporting myself.
My mother was also a big inspiration for Murray's wit. His heart and ambition come from the strong but naive attributes that every small town rural Kiwi male has and his vigour for structured activities comes from men I met while I was in the army. I guess there's a little something for everybody in the character Murray.Mike:
How did the HBO series come about? When the show was on BBC Radio did you guys ever think the show would, someday, be on American television?Rhys:
I had little surprise that Flight of the Conchords
would make it big in America; they have always been my favourite comedy act in the world. I had belief in America, too, that they would dig it. And that's a testament to the Americans, they challenge themselves and search and want the new good thing all the time. HBO is all about that; the perfect network.Mike:
For my friends that haven't seen the show, what is your best advice in regards to what I should say to them in order to convince them to watch? Because, I think it takes a couple of episodes to "get it." Most people are not accustomed to characters breaking out in song, but once you spend some time with these characters, it's very hard not to want to spend more time with them.Rhys:
Give it three episodes. It's different, It's musical and above all it has a good heart.Mike:
Was there much worry about a second season happening? From what I can tell it appears the audience is growing and the people who already watch are quite devout.Rhys:
Not worry. Just wonder... There's always wonder. We had no idea the show would be as popular as it has turned out to be.
The fans are so supportive and it feels like we're all in one big club. But we don't want the club to get too big do we?Mike:
How did your role in "Yes Man
" come about? Did they want a "Murray" type character or were you given some freedom?Rhys:
Essentially they wanted a "Murray" type character, I'm guessing. I made him as similar and as different as I could given the script, which was great. Norman is much more of a fun guy; the real life of his own party. So he is different to Murray who is more about the order of things. I think the Murray fans will still dig him. The empathy is still there and that's what I love to portray.Mike:
What kind of character will you be playing in "The Boat That Rocked
A pipe smoking, insecure, kooky Disc Jockey living in the 60's who has aspirations of being a goon.Mike:
OK, last question and thanks again for talking to us. I think it's always a special treat when Murray gets to sing on "Flight of the Conchords." He's already had one song in the first episode this season. Will we see more songs from Murray this season? Is there anything else we should look forward to this season in regards to Murray?Rhys:
We see more singing, more responsibilities, more of his pastimes and... more of his Honda Accord!
What more can you ask?Flight of the Conchords aires at 10:00 PM EST on HBO.
"Mike's Pulse" is a column written by transplanted Midwesterner and current New Yorker Mike Ryan. For any compliments or complaints -- preferably the former -- you may contact Mike directly at firstname.lastname@example.org