The repartee between the Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement in Flight of the Conchords closely mirrors the one between the real-life Bret and Jemaine (“Our characters never smile; Bret and I occasionally smile,” Mr. Clement said), which makes perfect sense: They’ve been friends since they met in Wellington in 1996, when both were members of their university’s drama club.
They became housemates in 1998, when they were both learning the guitar (“Bret’s a real musician,” Mr. Clement said, proudly, once Mr. McKenzie was safely out of earshot. “He played drums and keyboards in a very successful band in New Zealand called the Black Seeds.”) Since neither could remember song lyrics, they began to make them up. When a friend was organizing a comedy night, they gave it a try. The name of the band (which is sort of a mouthful) happened when “they needed something to write on the board,” said Mr. Clement. “We came up with it really quickly. We’re used to it now. But for a while I regretted it.”
The pair developed a faithful following at home and on the road, thanks both to their silly lyrics and deadpan onstage banter. “In the beginning, we didn’t talk at all—we were too nervous about our guitar-playing,” said Mr. Clement.
At a performance at the 2003 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, they caught the eye of James Bobin, a British writer and director in between seasons of working on Da Ali G Show.
“They were playing in this cave,” Mr. Bobin said, explaining that at the Edinburgh festival, performers find themselves in unusual performing spaces. “And it was packed. They came on and played this amazing hour-long set of songs and banter, and I was blown away—I thought they were amazing. I wondered even then how it could work as a TV show. It was like, how do you translate this?”
Mr. Bobin, 34, met the duo after the show through a mutual friend, comedian Demetri Martin, and they hit it off. They kept in touch and, over time, developed a friendship.
At one point in 2004, NBC approached Mr. McKenzie and Mr. Clement about writing a pilot script that never came to fruition. (“It was the same sort of thing, but set in Los Angeles. We were a lot less experienced,” Mr. McKenzie said.) They did a six-part BBC radio show. HBO’s One Night Stand booked them in 2005, and they received a standing ovation, prompting the network to realize that they had something with potential on their hands. Mr. Bobin was brought in as an executive producer, director and writer (Mr. McKenzie and Mr. Clement also share executive-producing and writing credits).