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'Conchords': Musical Comedy from Clueless Kiwis

Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, aka the folk-parody band Flight of the Conchords, hail from New Zealand and were named best alternative-comedy act at the 2005 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival. Now they're starring in an HBO series called, yes, Flight of the Conchords — which is, yes, about two transplanted New Zealanders living in New York City's Lower East side. It launches Sunday.


Other segments from the episode on June 14, 2007

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 14, 2007: Interview with Josh Rushing; Interview with Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie; Commentary on expletives on television.


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Former Marine press corps liason Josh Rushing on
working for Al Jazeera International

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

I don't think my guest, Josh Rushing, ever expected to become a controversial
figure. He was a Marine for 14 years and rose to the rank of captain. In
2003, when the US invaded Iraq, Rushing was a press officer with CENTCOM,
Central Command, in Doha Qatar. His job was to represent the Marines to the
worldwide media covering the war from CENTCOM, including the Arab TV network
Al Jazeera. Rushing was one of the main people in the documentary control
room, which focused on the media office at CENTCOM and the headquarters of Al
Jazeera 10 miles away. One of the threads of the film was Rushing's long
conversation with an Al Jazeera journalist, in which Rushing both tried to
convey the American military point of view and to understand Al Jazeera's

When the movie was released, the military ordered Rushing not to speak to the
press. Soon after, Rushing left the Marines so he could speak out. He did a
lot of public speaking but was unemployed. Just as he was ready to take a PR
job, he got a call asking if he wanted to work for the new English language
version of Al Jazeera, which was preparing its international launch. Rushing
is now Al Jazeera International's military correspondent. He says he still
sees himself as a bridge, helping the Americans and Arabs understand each
other. His new book is called "Mission Al Jazeera."

Josh Rushing, welcome back to FRESH AIR. In America, a lot of people assume
that Al Jazeera International, the English language version, must have an
agenda because a lot of people assume that Arab Al Jazeera has an agenda, so
they'd be looking for things like, `Are most of the stories covered about
America things that are going wrong in America? Do they always show America
in a negative light?' So for people who are wondering about those kinds of
issues, what's your response?

Mr. JOSH RUSHING: I think that's fair enough. If you go back to the root of
that, as you said, they believe Al Jazeera Arabic has an agenda, my simple
challenge there would be, have you watched it? Because you can get Al Jazeera
Arabic in America. It's on the Dish satellite system.

Now, Al Jazeera English, I've watched a lot of. It's on my desk. I see it
all day every day, and I have to say that it's absolutely not true that
everything they cover is, you know, negative things about America. As a
matter of fact, America often isn't covered. I was at the Virginia Tech
shootings and I was reporting live for about three days. That's not my normal
beat. I normally cover military affairs, but it was a big deal, and I was
around so I was there to do it.

And it was kind of interesting. On the day that Cho's videos went to NBC, I
went out to do my live stand-up, and you end up--this is kind of a secret
behind television--standing shoulder-to-shoulder with all these reporters
doing lives at the same time. That's because they don't want their cameras to
point at each other, so everyone ends up pointing their camera kind of at the
same building and it means you're in a line, so we all go out at the top of
the hour, since that's when everyone's news hit is. Everyone else starts
talking at the top of the hour, and I'm waiting. After a few minutes they
stop talking and I'm waiting. After a few minutes, they take out their
earpiece and walk away, and I'm standing there alone, and finally I go on and
I do my live. Well, on that particular day, there were six car bombs in
Baghdad. They killed 225 people. That was our lead, not the videos at NBC.
And then there was fighting in Mogadishu, and then there were the elections
coming up in Nigeria, and then, oh yeah, number four down the list, Josh
Rushing's live at Virginia Tech. What happened there today?

So, I wouldn't say that the coverage is all negative about America. However,
I think the nature of news is negative coverage and that goes for all media in
any country, but what I say is it's very biased toward an international
perspective, which I often find surprising and enlightening while I'm there.

GROSS: As the military correspondent for Al Jazeera International, is there
an example of a story that the American press covered in a different way than
you did?

Mr. RUSHING: Well, I think it was last week or the week before, we ran a
special every day on Iraq, where I was embedded with, not just US forces, but
the Iraqi 2nd Infantry Division, and I think this is on Google Video right
now, if you look it up, but it's a full half-hour special on Iraq where no one
gets shot, where no one's exploding, there are no IEDs, and it's an
examination of a very small part of the country where things are actually
going, believe it or not, right. And so to see a picture of Iraq where things
are working for half an hour on Al Jazeera, I think, would be very surprising
to a lot of people who believe they know what Al Jazeera's about.

GROSS: Was it different for you to be covering troops from the perspective of
being a, you know, a journalist for Al Jazeera International, as opposed to
being a Marine who is dealing with the press corps, which was your job with
the Marines at CENTCOM?

Mr. RUSHING: Yeah. You know, to go back to Iraq as a journalist rather than
as a Marine was interesting in a number of different ways. First, it was my
first time to go into a war zone without a weapon and a number of armed
friends around me, and I was surprised at how naked I felt. The other weird
thing is, you know, I guess I'm probably the most controversial reporter at
the most controversial news network in the world, so to show up to a bunch of
military guys and say, `Hey, I'm with Al Jazeera,' one, you have a whole set
of issues you need to deal with in about the next 30 seconds before you lose
these guys, and then two, to say, `Yeah, I used to be in Marine public
affairs,' it could go one or two ways: really good or really bad.
Fortunately, the group I was with kind of got it and they believed they were
doing the right thing and they wanted that story to get out there, so they
were absolutely terrific. But it certainly could have went the other way, as
I frequently found out in my job.

GROSS: Well, tell me more how you do explain yourself to Marines.

Mr. RUSHING: Well, it's an evolving process, trying to find the way that
works best and quickest, because you don't have a long time to say it. So
generally you say it, you know. You say, `I'm with Al Jazeera,' which, I
must--like for the first year I was doing this job I would try to avoid saying
that if I was doing a story in the Middle East--or I mean, in middle America.

GROSS: Wait, wait. Do you do the whole `I'm with Al Jazeera International,
the English language version, not the Arab language version, it's different,
blah blah blah'?

Mr. RUSHING: Well, at first, it was--I would like call someone in Kansas I
wanted to interview and they're like, `Well, who are you with?' `I'm with the
international media.' `Oh yeah, which one?' `Al Jarrrmmm-hmm.' You know, and
they're like `What? I'm sorry, did you--?' I'd say, `I'm with Al Jazeera' and
there's a look of surprise always, like you know, `What am I supposed to do
when I meet a terrorist?' kind of thing, and so you've got to say, `I thought
all the same things about Al Jazeera that you're thinking right now when I was
a captain representing Central Command and Tommy Franks, and I was a
spokesperson on Al Jazeera, and what I realized, first person, by being in the
studios was all the things you're thinking now that I used to think, too,
they're just not true. Here's the truth.' I mean, I can tell right there,
before I go into `here's the truth' if I've got them or not, you know?

GROSS: So I guess it makes it hard for you in a way before you can ask the
questions and be the journalist, you have to be the spokesperson for Al
Jazeera just to get the interview.

Mr. RUSHING: Yeah, you're absolutely right. Yeah. And it becomes even more
complicated when, you know, if you're in North Dakota and you have, you know,
the local customs and border guy following you around and, you know,
interrogating everyone you interview, says, you know, `Was he an American
citizen? Did he have a camera? Did he take pictures of things?' And they're
like, `of course he took pictures of things, he's a journalist.' You know,
they were filming. But these kind of local authorities that follow me around
wherever I go don't help the pitch any, I have to say.

GROSS: Why do they follow you around, and how do they even know that you're
on the story?

Mr. RUSHING: You know, news tends to spread when you show up to a small town
and say you're Al Jazeera. Reporters come out to see if you're dressed in,
you know, robes. If you have camels. A reporter actually said that to me, `I
thought you would, you know, have a scarf on your head' and I was like, `Why?'
I mean, they don't wear--you know, a man wouldn't wear a scarf on regular Al

So you know, news just spreads and then the local sheriff in whatever small
town you're in will eventually say that the hairs on the back of his neck rose
when he heard Al Jazeera was in town and he'll call, you know, the local
federal official, whoever it is--in the case of North Dakota, it actually was
a customs and border patrol person--who will then take on their duty to find
out why Al Jazeera's probing the border of North Dakota. And eventually that
story will work its way out all the way to Fox News, believe it or not, and
what they don't mention is the guy who's probing the open border actually flew
there from Washington, DC, where his studio is located three blocks from the
White House. But it's just, it's kind of an absurd world, that at least I
live in and I assume everyone else, as well.

GROSS: Sometimes when you're on Al Jazeera, there's like funny
misinterpretations of America culture, so I'm going to ask you to tell the
Gary Busey story.

Mr. RUSHING: You know, I put that in the book just because there are so many
cultures coming together at Al Jazeera, all at the same time. It's this mix
mash of things, and everyone has a different take on the same simple story.
So I was shooting a pilot show with an actual Al Jazeera reporter--Arabic Al
Jazeera, that is--and we were kind of co-hosting this test pilot show to see
how it would work. And one of the subjects that came up was a movie called
"Valley of the Wolves," which I don't think was every released in America, but
it was a huge movie in Turkey, broke all the box office records there. And
the plot of the movie had Turkish special agents going into Iraq and they're
captured and abused by American military, and they uncover this whole
conspiracy of American military where the American military's capturing
everyone and a Jewish doctor is harvesting the Iraqis' organs and selling them
on the open market, and the Jewish doctor is played by Gary Busey.

And so my counterpart there on the show that we're hosting said, `Do you think
this will hurt Gary Busey's career, you know, being an A list actor and
playing such a controversial role.' And I just laughed and said, `Well, you
know, from the American perspective, Gary Busey is as far from an A list
actor--I mean, the last thing he did that anyone cared about was "Buddy Holly
Story" in 1978. And since then he's made a living playing a caricature of
himself, essentially. I don't think any publicity would hurt his career, good
or bad. You know, he's probably hoping that people are upset about it.'

At which time, the director of program Paul Gibbs, who's very British, came
running up from the control room, saying, `Cut, cut, cut, cut, cut. You can't
say that, that's slander.' They had different rules in England about what's
slander than we do in America. They're much stiffer rules. And, so, I said,
you know, `What do you mean, that's slander?' So he said, `You know, what you
said about Gary Busey.' I said, `Look, I'm not slandering him. I'm slandering
his career. You know, he's far from A-list.'

And it was just a moment where you realized Paul was coming at it from such a
British perspective. I was coming at it from an American perspective about,
you know, what celebrity is and it isn't and what bad publicity will do or
not. And Ibrahim was coming at it from such an Arab perspective, it just made
you scratch your head and wonder, `Boy, how are you ever going to get this
ship out to sea?'

GROSS: So how was this particular story resolved? How was Gary Busey
described finally?

Mr. RUSHING: Well, because it was a pilot show, that show never actually
went to air, and so as far as I know, it stayed in, which my description of
him, but had it ever gone to air, I would imagine they would have asked me to
reshoot that.

GROSS: My guest is Josh Rushing. His new book is called "Mission Al
Jazeera." More after break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is Josh Rushing. He was a Marine press officer at CENTCOM
when the US invaded Iraq. Part of his job was explaining the military point
of view to Al Jazeera. Now he's a military correspondent for the New English
language version of Al Jazeera.

Well, you've been critical of the military and the US government for having a
"no comment" position when approached by Arabic Al Jazeera. Is that still the
case? Do you still think that they do "no comment" too often when Al Jazeera
comes knocking?

Mr. RUSHING: You know, they're schizophrenic about it. Right now, they're
actually putting a lot of generals on Al Jazeera through media offices that
they've set up in Dubai. So just recently I've seen interviews with General
Caldwell--there's a spokesperson who's really terrific, probably one of the
best spokespeople I've ever worked with in Dubai named Captain Eric Clark.
He's been on a number of times, so they are engaging more.

But just as an example of kind of how schizophrenic they are, I received a
call--this was last year--about a general in Fallujah, a Marine general, who
said, `I've heard this guy Rushing on Al Jazeera and I want him here in
Fallujah, embedded, before my time is up.' So I started receiving frantic
calls from all these public affairs officers in the region trying to track me
down, and, you know, they told me, `Hey, the general wants you to embed,' and
I said, `Great, this will be my first time back to Iraq, terrific.' Told the
wife, I packed the bags, `Let's go.' And it turned out a general in Baghdad
said, `No way Al Jazeera's coming.' At the time, Al Jazeera Arabic was not
allowed in the country, and there was some gray area as to whether Al Jazeera
English was the same organization or not or if they could come and Arabic
couldn't. So the first general was operating under the principle, that `Look,
Al Jazeera English is a complete separate news organization. Let's get
Rushing here.' Second general in Baghdad said, `Absolutely not. There's no
way I'm going to have Al Jazeera here in the country.' So I think it's a
perfect example of how schizophrenic the institutional organization can come
across on this Jazeera issue.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. RUSHING: I often have officers who--they tend to fall into two groups.
One, they either think Al Jazeera's part of the problem and they're going to
be obstructionist. Or two, they think, `Like it or not, Al Jazeera could be
part of the solution.' So they're going to be as progressive in engaging it as
possible. And the second group is, I would say, quickly becoming the
majority, and the first group is shriveling down to a smaller and smaller
group, or at least, less and less powerful.

GROSS: Is the editorial policy of Al Jazeera International different than the
Arab language Al Jazeera? And I'll give you a specific example of what I'm
thinking of. I know that on Al Jazeera, the Arabic network, that suicide
bombers are usually referred to as "martyrs," and that's one of the things
that has been most criticized about Al Jazeera. Would the same hold true in a
story in the English language version?

Mr. RUSHING: No, there's a different policy on that because the word has a
different context and understanding in the two different cultures.

GROSS: So what's the difference between the Arabic and English version of the
word "martyr" that is behind the editorial policy?

Mr. RUSHING: You know, I've heard the discussion more times than I can count
and I'm still not entirely sure why they use the word "martyr" on Al Jazeera
Arabic. They apparently only use it in very limited circumstances and it is a
Palestinian who does that action within the occupied territories, and it has a
meaning that goes across the cultures so that anyone that speaks Arabic that
lives in that part of the world would refer to what that person did as martyr
or to that person as a martyr. That's just how they would describe it, and
for the news organization to not describe it that way would be notable for
having not described it that way because that's the way everyone in that
region would describe it. Now, that's not the way people from outside that
region would describe that action, naturally, and so it would be notable for
Al Jazeera English to use that word in describing that same action.

GROSS: You know, in your book "Mission Al Jazeera," you spend some time
talking about the period when you worked at CENTCOM in 2003 and 2004 as a
Marine in the press liaison office talking to the American press and to the
Arab press, and you say that some reporters, and I think you single out Fox
News reporters, would actually do on-camera briefings with you in which they'd
ask you first, `What questions should we ask you?'

Mr. RUSHING: That's true.

GROSS: How often would that happen?

Mr. RUSHING: Only when I would go on camera with them. I can say that they
never asked me a tough question through the entire probably four months I
would go on camera with them. But I have to say, it wasn't just Fox News.
Other American networks did it as well. It was a matter of their audience
doesn't want to see them, their reporters, be critical of the young troops,
particularly not at that time. I mean, MSNBC was packaging their coverage as
`our hearts are with you.' Do you think you're going to get a really tough
question from someone where the banner says, `Our hearts are with you'
underneath your interview? No, no. So that's not what the viewers wanted and
so that's, you know, clearly the reporters knew that and I think they feared a
backlash if they were to ask really critical questions of a young man in

GROSS: So when a reporter would say to you, `What questions should I ask
you?' what were some examples you'd give?

Mr. RUSHING: You know, the reporter would actually--`Do you have any
messages to get out today?' and I'd say, `Yeah, sure. I just came from a
meeting where they gave me a bunch of messages to get out today.' You know,
and on any given day it could be weapons of mass destruction, ties to
terrorism, regime change, how awful Saddam was, any one of these messages. As
a matter of fact, the first special I did for Al Jazeera is called "Spin: The
Art of Selling War," and I show kind of an insider's view of how war is sold,
and the US government has actually used those same reasons to sell war over
and over and over again. So they've called at least five modern-day leaders
`the modern-day Hitler.' Saddam twice, and Noriega, and Ho Chi Minh, and you
name it. Oh, Milosevic. And then they go into the argument about how the US
is, of course, benevolent and doesn't want war but they're forced into these
actions, and then they go into the argument of--and the argument kind of goes
down this same line every single time.

And what I did that might be different than what we normally see in the press
is that the first person that I indict in this process is myself. I go back
and I show, I think, Johnson and the first Bush and Reagan saying the same
things and then I show me saying it on Fox News while I was at CENTCOM. And
then in the middle of me talking about how the Iraqis are ready for the
Americans to get there and they're tired of this regime and Saddam, I stop it
in the special and I'm standing in front of it in a suit, and I say, `That was
me and that was the same comment. I helped sell that war and I said things
that turned out not to be true, and what I didn't realize it was less about
the truth and more about a tried and true method of how to sell war.' But in
that method, it's a partnership. It's not just the government selling it,
it's the media buying it. Because they know what their audience wants to see,
and so these things--they're a bit of hand-in-hand in this, at least, that's
how it was 2003. I think it's a different environment now.

GROSS: You left the Marine Corps in October of 2004. Do you still feel like
a Marine? Are there things about being a Marine that stay with you?

Mr. RUSHING: You know, days ago, I was deep in the Colombian jungle with
these guys called...(unintelligible)...and they're an elite police force in
Colombia that go out and blow up cocaine labs and bring in high value targets
from the FARC. And they're modeled after the US military. They carry US
weapons, they wear US-looking uniforms and spent about three days lying around
in Black Hawks and the jungle and hiking up and down mountains to find these
cocaine labs and blow them of for the story I'm doing. And I have to say, on
a certain level--and this probably affects my objectivity--it felt really good
to be back with guys suffering under those kind of conditions. And, yeah, the
Marine came out in me, every bit. It felt really good, and I could tell
inside, I think I will always be a Marine.

That said, that doesn't mean I'm easy on my stories with them. As a matter of
fact, I don't really cover the Marines much. It's kind of like a bad
relationship, I think. All the other services are pretty pro-active about
bringing me in and engaging me and wanting me to go out and do stories. The
Marines just haven't come calling. And I have to be honest, I don't know if
I've been as pro-active about going calling on that door either. I think we
need to get over our feelings first, but I think I will always at heart be a

GROSS: Well, Josh Rushing, really good to talk with you again. Thank you
very much.

Mr. RUSHING: Thanks for having me, Terry. I always enjoy it.

GROSS: Josh Rushing is the author of "Mission Al Jazeera."

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, stars of the new
HBO comedy series "Flight of the Conchords," perform satirical
songs and talk about their experiences on the show

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Being in a band is suppose to make you charismatic and attractive, but it
isn't helping the two characters in the new HBO comedy series "Flight of the

(Soundbite of "Flight of the Conchords"

Mr. BRET McKENZIE: (In character) What I was trying to say before is that
after six or seven weeks, girls find me boring.

Mr. JEMAINE CLEMENT: (In character) Mm.

Mr. McKENZIE: (In character) But I'm not sure what happens, because I mean,
that's about how long it takes to get to know someone.

Mr. CLEMENT: (In character) Mm.

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's Bret McKenzie, who stars with Jemaine Clement in "Flight of the
Conchords." These two losers have no gigs, few friends and just one fan. The
funniest part of the new series is the original songs McKenzie and Clement
sing in their imaginary rock videos. McKenzie and Clement first started doing
their songs as part of their music comedy act "Flight of the Conchords," which
was named Best Alternative Comedy Act at the 2005 US Comedy Arts Festival.
One of their collaborators on the TV series also wrote and directed episodes
of "Da Ali G Show."

Clement and McKenzie started performing in New Zealand, where they're from.
In the series, the characters have just moved from New Zealand to downtown
Manhattan. McKenzie and Clement will perform some of their satirical songs
for us, but first let's hear another clip from "Flight of the Conchords,"
which premieres this Sunday on HBO. Clement is dating McKenzie's
ex-girlfriend, and McKenzie wants to hang out with them, but he's afraid he'll
be uncomfortable.

(Soundbite of "Flight of the Conchords")

Mr. McKENZIE: (In character) I can't really hang out with you guys, can I?
It's a bit weird now.

Mr. CLEMENT: (In character) Of course you can hang out with us. Why don't
you come to dinner with us tonight?

Mr. McKENZIE: (In character) I don't want to go on a date with you and my
ex-girlfriend. That's going to be--that's going to be weird.

Mr. CLEMENT: (In character) It won't be weird.

Mr. McKENZIE: (In character) That is going to be weird, mate.

Mr. CLEMENT: (In character) It won't be weird, we're all friends. I like
Sally, you like Sally. She used to like you. She really likes me. You like

Mr. McKENZIE: (In character) Suppose I do.

Mr. CLEMENT: (In character) It won't be weird.

Mr. McKENZIE: (In character) No, it's going to be weird.

Mr. CLEMENT: (In character) It won't be weird.

Mr. McKENZIE: (In character) It's going to be weird.

Mr. CLEMENT: (In character) It won't be weird.

Mr. McKENZIE: (In character) But it'll all be weird.

Mr. CLEMENT: (In character) It won't be weird.

Mr. McKENZIE: (In character) It will be weird.

Mr. CLEMENT: (In character) It won't be weird.

GROSS: Brent McKenzie, Jemaine Clement, welcome to FRESH AIR. How would you
describe your new show?

McKENZIE and CLEMENT: (In unison) Boring.

Mr. McKENZIE: It's like "The Monkees" combined with a little bit of "Curb
Your Enthusiasm."

Mr. CLEMENT: It's about Bret and I, or our stage personas or television
personas, I guess, now, and our fictional lives trying to live in New York as
poor musicians.

GROSS: And those fictional personas, like you're both kind of nerdy, really
uncomfortable around women.

Mr. CLEMENT: No, that part is real.

GROSS: That's part real?

Mr. CLEMENT: That part's real.

GROSS: And you're also both incredibly insecure, but at the same time really
self-absorbed and egotistical.

Mr. CLEMENT: It's a fine line to play.

GROSS: These are the characters I'm talking about, not you.

Mr. McKENZIE: All right.

Mr. CLEMENT: Yeah, yeah.

GROSS: Let's set up like what a scene is like. Like, in episode one, you're
both at a party and, Jemaine, you see a woman who you find yourself attracted
to, and suddenly you're imagining this kind of rock video that you're both in
in which you're having a hamburger with her and you're talking with her...

Mr. CLEMENT: Yeah.

GROSS: ...and singing about how beautiful she is. Would you do that song for

Mr. McKENZIE: Yeah, yeah, sure.

Mr. CLEMENT: Certainly.

(Soundbite of "Most Beautiful Girl in the Room")

McKENZIE and CLEMENT: (Singing in unison) Lookin' 'round the room,
I can tell that you
Are the most beautiful girl
In the room
In the whole wide room, yeah.

And when you're on the street,
Depending on the street
I bet you are definitely in the top three
Good lookin' girls on the street
Depending on the street

And when I saw you at my mate's place
I thought, `What is she doing
At my mate's place?
Oh, how did Dave get
A hottie like that
To a party like this?
Good one, Dave!
Ooh, you're a legend, Dave!'

I asked Dave if he's gonna make a move on you
He's not sure--I said, `Dave, do you mind if I do?'
And he says he doesn't mind, but I can tell he kinda minds,
But I'm gonna' do it anyway
I see you standin' all alone by the stereo
I dim the lights down to very low
Here we go
You're so beautiful,
Well, you could be a waitress
Mm, ah
Well, you could be an air hostess in the '60s
You're so beautiful
Well, you could be a part-time model
And then I sealed the deal,
I do my move, I do the robot
Ooh, ah
(Makes robot noises)
Just talking to
Just me and you
And seven other dudes around you on the dance floor

I draw you near, let's get out of here
Let's get in a cab
I'll buy you a Kabam
And I can't believe
That I'm sharing a Kabam with the most beautiful girl I have ever seen
With a Kabam
Oh, I don't believe
Let's go to my house
And we could feel each other up on couch
Oh, no! I don't mind taking it slo-oh-ow! No-oh-oh!
Because you're so beautiful
Like a tree
You're so beautiful
Like some beautiful ceramics or something
You're so beautiful
Like some of those girls I've been definitely, definitely chatting to in the
chat room
You're so beautiful
You're so beautiful
I think you could be a part-time model
But you'd probably still have to keep your normal job
Part-time model
Spend a part of your time modeling
And part of your time next to me-ee-hee-eh-hee
Next to me-hee-hee
And the rest of your time doing your normal job

GROSS: That's Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, and their new HBO TV series
"Flight of the Conchords" begins on Sunday.

Did you ever like perform in a straight band that wasn't comedy?

Mr. McKENZIE: I have.

Mr. CLEMENT: I've never, but Bret's performed in several bands.

Mr. McKENZIE: Yeah.

Mr. CLEMENT: I've never been in what I'd call a real band. This is...

GROSS: Why? Do you lack confidence in yourself as a...


GROSS: a non-ironic performer?

Mr. CLEMENT: As a person.

GROSS: As a human being in general?

Mr. CLEMENT: No, it's just that, when we started this, I definitely wouldn't
have been able to really keep up.

Mr. McKENZIE: Yeah, we've gotten a lot better than when we started. We
both, we could barely play guitar when we started. We started off like we
had--I think we knew three or four chords, and then now we know probably 11
chords, so.

GROSS: Don't overdo it.

Mr. McKENZIE: Yeah.

Mr. CLEMENT: Between us. We learn a new chord...

Mr. McKENZIE: Each year.

Mr. CLEMENT: Each year. Each year at Christmas, we give each other a new

Mr. McKENZIE: Yeah, I say I know five, and Brett says he knows six. So
that's 11.

GROSS: Can I ask you to do another song that you do in the TV show?

Mr. McKENZIE: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CLEMENT: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: And this one's called "I'm Not Crying," and why don't you describe the
context that you sing it in in the HBO series?

Mr. CLEMENT: In the show, my character Jemaine, based loosely on myself, has
just been dumped by a woman, and he's...

Mr. McKENZIE: By the most beautiful girl in the room.

Mr. CLEMENT: Yes, actually.

Mr. McKENZIE: Yeah.

GROSS: So beautiful she could've been a waitress.

Mr. McKENZIE: So--at the beginning of the episode she could've been...

Mr. CLEMENT: Exactly.

Mr. McKENZIE: ...a part-time model, but now she's--yeah, now she--later in
the episode she dumps Jemaine.

Mr. CLEMENT: Breaking my heart, and I'm...

Mr. McKENZIE: Yeah.

Mr. CLEMENT: I'm in denial about my emotions.

(Soundbite of "I'm Not Crying")

Mr. CLEMENT: (Spoken) You say you're leaving
You say you have to go
Well, if you have to go, then I suppose you have to go
That's what it means to have to go, doesn't it?
It means you have to go

(Singing) But if you're trying to break my heart
Your plan is flawed from the start
You can't break my heart, it's liquid
It melted when I met you

(Spoken) And as you walk down the path that leads to my door,
Don't turn around to see me once more
Don't turn around to see if I'm crying
I'm not crying, not crying, not crying

Mr. CLEMENT and Mr. McKENZIE: (Singing in unison) Not crying, not crying

Mr. CLEMENT: (Singing) It's just been...

Mr. McKENZIE: (Singing) ...raining
On my face

And if you think you see some tear tracks down my cheek,
Please, please, please don't tell my mates
I'm not crying
No, no, no, I'm not crying
Oh, well, well, if I am crying, it's not because of you
It's because I am thinking of a friend of mine you don't know
Who is dying
Yes, that's right, dying

Mr. CLEMENT and Mr. McKENZIE: (Singing in unison) These aren't tears of
sadness because you're leaving me
I've just been cutting onions
I'm just baking a lasagne
For one

Mr. CLEMENT: (Singing) I'm not crying, no! No!

Mr. CLEMENT and Mr. McKENZIE: (Singing in unison) There's just a little bit of
dust in my eyes
It's from the...(Unintelligible)...that you made when you said your goodbye
I'm not weeping because you won't be here to hold my hand
For your information, there's an inflammation in my tear gland
I'm not upset because you left me this way
My eyes are just a little sweaty today
I've been looking around and out searching for you
They've been looking for you, even though I told them not to

Mr. McKENZIE: (Singing) These aren't tears of sadness because you're leaving me,
They're tears of joy, I'm just laughing

Mr. CLEMENT: (Singing) Oh, oh, oh, oh, ah!

Mr. CLEMENT and Mr. McKENZIE: (Singing in unison) I'm sitting at this table
called love
Staring down at the irony of life
How come I face this fork in the road
And yet it cuts like a knife?
Oh, I'm not crying
I'm not crying
No, I'm not cry-I-I-I-yi
Yi-yi-yi-yi-yin, no, I'm--no, I'm, no...

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's really great. And that's the...

Mr. McKENZIE: Quite emotional.

GROSS: It's very emotional.

Mr. McKENZIE: Quite hard to bring...

Mr. CLEMENT: To come back from that.

Mr. McKENZIE: Bring myself.

Mr. CLEMENT: Yeah, come back to the room.

GROSS: Compose yourselves.

Mr. CLEMENT: Yeah.

GROSS: That's the Flight of the Conchords, made up of Bret McKenzie and
Jemaine Clement, and their new HBO series "Flight of the Conchords" begins
Sunday after "Entourage."

You know, I love that kind of Barry White kind of spoken beginning. Who are
the singers you've most tried to sound like over the years, or you've wished
most you could sound like?

Mr. CLEMENT: Recently, I've been loving Daryl Hall's vocals.

Mr. McKENZIE: Oh, yeah.

Mr. CLEMENT: From Hall & Oates. Amazing singer. And--oh!--and I'm
listening to a lot of Ray Charles.

Mr. McKENZIE: And Oates. Don't forget John Oates.

Mr. CLEMENT: And Oates, I'm not so familiar with. I just love the way Daryl
Hall always goes `Mm, mm, mm, mm,' at the end of all his phrases.

Mr. McKENZIE: I see, that's where you picked that up from.

Mr. CLEMENT: That's what, I've been trying to put that into more songs.

GROSS: Who is most unlike you, in addition to Barry White, that you've tried
to, you know, channel through your songs?

Mr. McKENZIE: Well...


Mr. McKENZIE: Again, Prince is quite an influence, which I guess we're

Mr. CLEMENT: Yeah.

Mr. McKENZIE: ...neither of particularly like Prince.

Mr. CLEMENT: Prince is a bring influence.

Mr. McKENZIE: He's very individual, though, so it's hard to imagine anyone
else like him, really.

Mr. CLEMENT: It's often depressing in the studio, when we're trying to
emulate Prince, because it's just two guitars. We imagine it sounding a lot
grander than it perhaps actually does, and often we listen back to a
recording, and--well, I'm often surprised.

Mr. McKENZIE: You go, `Where's the drum?'

Mr. CLEMENT: And disappointed.

Mr. McKENZIE: `Where's the horn section that I had envisaged?'

Mr. CLEMENT: `Where's the funky groove?'

GROSS: My guests are the stars of the new HBO comedy series "Flight of the
Conchords," which premieres this Sunday. More after a break. This is FRESH


GROSS: My guests, Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, co-created and star in
the new HBO comedy series "Flight of the Conchords." They play two losers in a

Can I ask you to do another song?

Mr. McKENZIE: Yes, you may.

Mr. CLEMENT: Yeah.

GROSS: Good. And, you know, you say the songs that you do kind of reflect a
type of song, and this one is called "What Is Wrong with the World Today?"

Mr. McKENZIE: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: And to me, it's one of those real like '70s, what's--you know, "What's
Goin' On?" type of songs.

Mr. CLEMENT: Yeah, Marvin Gaye.

GROSS: Yeah, yeah.

Mr. CLEMENT: It was sort of a--this one--like it was a mixture of Marvin
Gaye and I guess the Black-Eyed Peas song "Where's the Love?"

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CLEMENT: There's something kind of funny in that.

(Soundbite of "What Is Wrong with the World Today?"

Mr. CLEMENT: (Singing) There's children on the streets using guns and knives
Taking drugs and each others' lives
Killing each other with knives and forks
And calling each other names like "dork"

Mr. McKENZIE: (Singing) There's people on the street getting diseases from
That's what I said, they're getting diseases from monkeys
Now there's junkies with monkey disease
Who's touching these monkey's bellies
Leave this poor, sick monkeys alone
They got problems enough as it is

Mr. CLEMENT: (Singing) Man's lying the street
Some punk has chopped off his head
I'm the only one who stops
To see if he's dead

Mr. McKENZIE: (Singing) Is he dead?

Mr. CLEMENT: (Singing) Ooh, it turns out he's dead
And that's why I'm singing why,

Mr. CLEMENT and Mr. McKENZIE: (Singing in unison) What is wrong with the world

Mr. McKENZIE: (Spoken) What's wrong with the world today?
Ya-da-dee-dee-doo today

Mr. CLEMENT and Mr. McKENZIE: (Singing in unison) Why-hi-hi--what is wrong
with the world today?

Mr. McKENZIE: (Spoken) Yeah, sing about it
Think, think about it

Mr. CLEMENT: (Singing) Good cops get framed
And put into a can
And all the money that we're makin'
Is going to the man

Mr. McKENZIE: (Spoken) What man?
Who's the man?
When's the man a man?
What makes a man?
Is Bret the man? Yes
Technically, he is

(Singing) They're turning kids into slaves
Just to make cheaper sneakers
What's the real cost? `Cause the sneakers don't seem that much cheaper
Oh, why're we paying so much for sneakers when you got them made by little
slave kids?
What're your overheads?

Mr. CLEMENT: (Singing) At the end of your life,
You're lucky if you die
Sometimes I wonder why we even try
I saw a man lying on the streets all dead
With knives and forks sticking out of his leg
And he said, `Ow-ow-ow, ow, ow, ow
Can somebody get the knives and forks out of my leg please?'

Mr. McKENZIE: (Singing) Can somebody please remove these
Cutleries from my knees

Mr. CLEMENT: (Singing) And then we broke it down

Mr. CLEMENT and Mr. McKENZIE: (Singing in unison) This is where we break it
down Oom--this is where we break it down
Ow--this is where we break it down

Mr. CLEMENT: (Singing) I could do a capella jams

Mr. McKENZIE: (Singing) Mm-hmm, a capella jams, bringing it to you

Mr. CLEMENT: (Singing) Yeah, breakin' it right down
Yeah, oh, yeah,
Ooh, ooh

Mr. McKENZIE: (Singing) And then we bring it back, why, why

Mr. CLEMENT: (Singing) Ooh!

Mr. McKENZIE: (Singing) Whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa-whoa

Mr. CLEMENT: (Singing) Whoo! Jammin' in the studio.

Mr. McKENZIE: (Singing) Mm-hmm-hmm.

Mr. CLEMENT: (Singing) Jammin'

Mr. McKENZIE: (Singing) Jammin' at

Mr. CLEMENT: (Singing) Jammin'
Fading out

Mr. McKENZIE: (Singing) Fading out, fading out

Mr. CLEMENT: (Singing) Just fading out

Mr. McKENZIE: (Singing) (Unintelligible)

Mr. CLEMENT: (Singing) Just fading out
Fading out

Mr. McKENZIE: (Singing) Fading
Ooh, yeah-ah-hah

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: That's really great. That's the Flight of the Conchordes. That's one
of the songs they do on their new HBO TV series called "Flight of the
Conchords," in which they play two members of a band who sing songs like that.

Are their stories within the TV series that are based on things that happened
to you, and if so, would you tell us one of them?

Mr. CLEMENT: I'll do one of mine. I don't know if it's appropriate to say.
We do one story about where a girl wants to have a threesome, a menage a
trois, with Bret and I, which is based on a real story, which we...

Mr. McKENZIE: A fan.

Mr. CLEMENT: We didn't do it, and it was very awkward and embarrassing, and
we've got a story that borrows from that.

Mr. McKENZIE: Some parts from that, yeah. It was in England, where they
call a threesome a "spit roast," which is a very British term that we weren't
familiar with. Are you familiar with that term?


Mr. McKENZIE: It's quite horrendous term. I think you can really understand
how it would transpire. And this girl comes up to Jemaine at this party and
goes, `Do you think'...

Mr. CLEMENT: She said, `Would you be interested in'...

Mr. McKENZIE: She said, `a spit roast.'

Mr. CLEMENT: ...`having a spit roast?' Spit roast.

Mr. McKENZIE: And Jemaine thought she meant a...

Mr. CLEMENT: I imagined a barbecue.

Mr. McKENZIE: Yeah.

Mr. CLEMENT: And I said, `Yeah.' And she said, `Would Bret be interested?'

Mr. McKENZIE: And at the time, I was going through a big like steak phase,
so I was really into eating meat. And so Jemaine said, `Oh, Bret will be
really into it if it's a roast. It sounds really good.'

Mr. CLEMENT: Oh, definitely. Definitely.

Mr. McKENZIE: And...

Mr. CLEMENT: Meanwhile, she was saying, `Really?' `Oh, definitely,
definitely. Bret will love it.'

Mr. McKENZIE: It's a very--yeah, so we used that as the basis for a story
for the show.

Mr. CLEMENT: And in--yeah, it...

GROSS: Well, what happened to you after that?

Mr. CLEMENT: Well, she said, `Well, I wouldn't usually ask. I'm a lesbian.'
And I was thinking, `Why would that stop you asking us from a barbecue?' And
then I--because there's something awkward about the situation that made me
figure out that it wasn't what she was asking. And then I, as politely as I
could, turned down the offer.

GROSS: Now, Bret, you apparently played like one of the elves in...

Mr. McKENZIE: "Lord of the Rings," yeah.

Mr. CLEMENT: Bret played Legolas.

GROSS: So is this because Peter Jackson is from New Zealand? Do you know him
from that?

Mr. McKENZIE: He's from New Zealand, yeah.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. McKENZIE: They made the films in the town where we live.

GROSS: Oh. So...

Mr. McKENZIE: So a lot of people were in those films. My brother and my
father were both in it, as well.

GROSS: No kidding? And your costume was?

Mr. McKENZIE: I had pointy ears and a long wig, and a sort of velvet gown,
and I got to wander around the forest. Yeah.

GROSS: What's the pay like for doing something like that?

Mr. McKENZIE: It's not so much about the money, it's about the credibility.

GROSS: The credibility?

Mr. McKENZIE: Yeah. It was more the opportunity.

Mr. CLEMENT: How much credibility has walking around the forest with a
velvet gown given you?

Mr. McKENZIE: A lot. You'd be surprised.

GROSS: Jemaine, now, you're in a new movie.

Mr. CLEMENT: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: An independent film called "Eagle vs. Shark." Tell us a little bit
about it.

Mr. CLEMENT: Well, it's mostly about this girl who's quite shy and awkward,
another nerd. It's a romantic comedy, really, but it's more about the sort of
characters that you'd usually see on the periphery of other movies.

GROSS: Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, want to thank you both so much.
That was really fun. I really appreciate you performing for us.

Mr. CLEMENT: Thanks to you...

Mr. McKENZIE: Thanks very much.

Mr. CLEMENT: ...for inviting us.

GROSS: Good luck with the show.

Mr. CLEMENT: Cheers.

GROSS: Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie star in the new HBO comedy series
"Flight of the Conchords," which premieres Sunday. Clement stars in the new
movie "Eagle vs. Shark," which opens in New York and LA tomorrow. Our
recording engineer for their performance was Al Banks.

Coming up, linguist Geoff Nunberg on fleeting expletives. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Profile: Linguist Geoff Nunberg on fleeting expletives

Last week, a federal appeals court ruled that the FCC could not fine the Fox
network for indecency for broadcasting fleeting expletives during two live
awards shows. Our linguist Geoff Nunberg has been paying close attention to
the case.

GEOFF NUNBERG reporting:

Whichever side of the issue you were on, you might've been a little
disconcerted by the language of the statement that the Federal Communications
Commission chair Kevin Martin posted on the agency's Web pages last week, in
response to the appeals court rejection of the FCC's new policies on indecent
language. Martin began, `I find it hard to believe that the New York court
would tell American families that S word and F word are fine to say on
broadcast television,' except that Martin didn't resort to alphabetic
abbreviations. He went on to warn that the decision would give Hollywood free
reign to say anything they want whenever they like, managing to repeat the S
and F words half a dozen times, with evident brio.

Traditionalist or no, Martin is clearly not a man who has much use for
old-fashioned demurrals like `decency forbids me' or `I blush to repeat.' I
thought of those cable news shows where the host and guest fulminate over the
coarsening of American culture against the backdrop of strategically blurred
"Girls Gone Wild" videos.

On the surface, Martin's indignation seemed disproportionate to the rather
technical legal point. The court held that when you use a word like "F-ing"
as a mere intensifier, the way the people had on the Fox programs, it doesn't
have any sexual meaning, so it can't be indecent in the legal sense of the
term. `Nonsense,' said Martin. `The F word has a sexual connotation whenever
it's used.' The agency's critics had a lot of fun with that. In his blog, the
political scientist Daniel Drezner asked, `If I say "F Kevin Martin and the
horse he rode in on," am I obviously encouraging rape and bestiality?'

Still, Martin does have a point. Even when the words aren't technically
indecent, they obviously have lubricious overtones that can make them
offensive. After all, it isn't simply a phonetic accident that the words we
use as insults and intensifiers sound just like the ones we use to talk about
sex and defecation. This isn't like being put out simply because you hear
somebody on the radio describing Glenn Gould as a pianist. None of that
should blur the legal distinction between the indecent and the merely vulgar.

But as Martin understands very well, this has a lot more to do with symbolic
politics than with legalities or with practical consequences. It's not as if
anybody really believes that the youth of America are going to be corrupted by
hearing an occasional F or S word on a broadcast program. Bear in mind that
the members of my own generation managed to achieve linguistic depravity with
virtually no help from the media at all.

But Americans are widely troubled by what they correctly perceive as the
increasing vulgarity of public language, whether it's obscene or merely
coarse. And there's no shortage of theories about who deserves the blame. As
Martin and the other culture warriors tell it, foul language is a stand-in for
all the depredations that Hollywood, the media and the cultural elites have
been visiting on American family values since the sexualization of the
American culture began in the 1960s. Trace those expletives back to their
source, the story goes, and they'll take you to "O Calcutta" and "Fear of
Flying," Jerry Rubin and Lenny Bruce and all the books and films that
encouraged people to discard their linguistic prudery and their sexual
hang-ups along with it.

But 40 years after the sexual revolution began in earnest, you still don't
hear those words used much in the media in their literal, sexual means. Or at
least outside of a Chris Rock routine or an episode of "Deadwood" on premium
cable. What you hear instead is the parallel vocabulary of vulgarisms that
emerged over the last century as people transferred all the venerable English
obscenities into new terms of abuse. The A word became a name for an arrogant
jerk, the S word for a nasty creep, the BS word for inflated humbug. And the
infinitely-versatile F word was deployed not just as an all purpose
intensifier, but as the basis for new verbs meaning "cheat, meddle, tease,
betray and bungle," to name just a few.

But the spread of that vocabulary owes nothing to the media or the cultural
elites. It was invented early in the century by working class men, and it
took root in American speech when millions of middle class inductees brought
it home from World War II. And though it entered the linguistic mainstream in
the '60s, along with the sexual uses of the terms, it ultimately had no more
political significance than long hair or rock music did. Whoever uses it,
it's simply a way of signalling solidarity, attitude or street. Or if you
like, it's a demonstration of earthy authenticity, as one columnist
approvingly described the anatomically-challenging imperative that the vice
president issued to Senator Pat Leahy on the Senate floor a few years ago.
This is language we can all claim ownership of, as Kevin Martin acknowledged
when he laced his statement with them.

And unlike the explicitly sexual uses of the words that people were outing in
the 1960s, it doesn't pose any threat to our traditional sexual morality. On
the contrary, it only works as long as the words remain dirty. If there's
still an aggressive intensity to calling somebody an F-ing A word, it's
because we haven't abandoned our notion that sex and the body are something to
be ashamed of. You'd think the champions of decency would take some comfort
in that.

GROSS: Geoff Nunberg is a linguist at the University of California, Berkeley.
His book "Talking Right" is now out in paperback.

You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site,


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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