It's good to be creative
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Jemaine Clement is not just famous in New Zealand. First, the duo Flight of the Conchords struck a note with international audiences, then Hollywood claimed him.
The last few years have seen an Emmy nomination, appearances on the the Late Show with David Letterman, a guest spot on The Simpsons, and work voicing in animated films Despicable Me and Rio. If that isn’t enough, Clement spent the last year of his life chasing actor Will Smith around trying to kill him during the filming of Men in Black 3.
Lesser men may have let all the fame and fortune go to their heads but Clement must not have received the stardom memo. He’s given Hollywood Hills a miss and is happily settled in Wellington’s Mt Victoria with his family.
The morning of the interview he’s running late because he took his son to kindy and then stayed on to read a few stories as Sophocles’s not happy to be left yet. His wife’s family is from Greece and his son started preschool there. In Greece parents were not allowed to stay with the children, and Clement much prefers the relaxed New Zealand kindergarten system.
Little Jemaine Clement started his school days at Greytown Primary but soon moved to Masterton East, of which he has fond memories. He remembers his first day of school and his mother giving him strict instructions, No matter what, he was not to lose his sandals!
Wouldn’t you know it there was an activity that meant all the children had to take off their shoes. Little Jemaine was not too happy with this but did what the teacher said.
At the end of the lesson when he went to put on his sandals everyone had theirs on and one pair remained … and they weren’t his. Sigh. Note to Jemaine’s mum (an NZEI staff member): this is the story and he’s sticking to it.
Clement says he was nerdy – the quiet, shy kid who sat at the front of the class and who loved maths. He liked to please the teacher and liked his school work to look neat. Once when he had lost his rubber, he made a hole in the paper trying to rub out his mistake with his finger. The teacher held up his book and showed everyone, saying this is an example of what not to do. He thought she was saying that was an example of what to do.
At school, sport was not an activity he liked. He found sports boring and embarrassing – an activity forced on him that he thought was more about finding out who was the best than playing the game.
He remembers a Mr Murray who once told the class to write a poem for homework. Clement came the next day with 23 poems. He remembers the teacher’s amazement.
Sometimes quantity is as good as quality. If he ever got in trouble it was for laughing too loud. He loved to laugh almost as much as he loved to tell a joke. He remembers the other kids laughing (or groaning) at his jokes, and he thinks he started telling jokes at an early age. He did want to be an actor when he was at school but then so did everyone else. He doubts the teachers remember him as being the least bit funny, and imagines they would be very surprised at his occupation now.
By the end of primary school he started moving his seat to the back of the class to join the less nerdy and then came … Blackadder. In year 8, he discovered the comedy series and describes it as life-changing. Blackadder – the English comedy series both odd and extravagant, and dealing with status and stupidity equally – appealed greatly to his 12-year-old sense of humour.
In March, Clement was about to leave on a publicity tour to promote Men in Black 3. Apart from being away from his family, he loves the travelling. If you’re are a fan, you’ll know a Flight of the Conchords New Zealand tour starts in June complete with new material and some old favourites.
Clement and his partner Oscar-winner Bret Mckenzie have been busy writing. Clement finds it great to be using his imagination, especially if he hasn’t done it for a while. “You just have to. It’s good to be creative. You need to use that part of the brain.”