Garfunkel and Oates: Breaking Barriers and Cracking Up | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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Garfunkel and Oates

Breaking Barriers and Cracking Up

May 19, 2011 #36 - Music vs. Comedy
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Under the Radar’s Music vs. Comedy Issue, which is on stands now, features an article entitled “Anything to Entertain: A Brief History of Comedy Music.” For that article we interviewed Garfunkel and Oates, among others, and included a few quotes from them. Below is the full transcript of our interview with the duo.

Looking over the history of musical comedy, from Vaudeville to Monty Python and “Weird Al” Yankovic to The Lonely Island, one would get the impression that having a Y-chromosome is a prerequisite for being able to write and sing funny songs. But don’t tell that to Kate Micucci and Riki Lindhome, the duo behind Garfunkel and Oates and the stars of an upcoming HBO series that will bring to life their delightfully twisted slice-of-life observations. With sugary sweet harmonies and lullaby hooks prettying up songs about handjobs (“I Don’t Understand Job”) and getting medical marijuana prescriptions (“Weed Card”), their music is as playfully charming as it cleverly subversive. And with their debut full-length release, All Over Your Face, having debuted at #1 on the iTunes comedy chart, they’ve proven that they know how to translate their songs from the stage to the studio. Having paid their dues doing commercials, sitcoms, and films (Micucci starred as Stephanie Gooch in five episodes of Scrubs and currently has a recurring role on the FOX sitcom Raising Hope; Lindhome had supporting roles in Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby and Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left), they’re ready to leave the margins and assume center stage. Sharing an earpiece as they drive to do a podcast, they share their plans for world domination.

Matt Fink: You started working together on the Imaginary Larry musical, right?

Riki Lindhome: Yeah, I had seen Kate perform her ukulele music and I wrote something for us to be in, and I figured since we both wrote funny songs it should be a musical. So we got together and wrote the songs and really had fun doing, so we thought maybe that we should keep doing it.

Did you know Kate was such a talented musician?

Riki: Oh yeah. I saw her the first time she played her ukulele in public, and I thought she was awesome. I had been writing songs on my own and thought that we’d make a good pair.

Kate Micucci: It was my first show, where I played “Like a Virgin” through a snorkel.

So had you both been writing songs for a long time at that point?

Kate: I had been writing maybe two or three years at that point, but I was pretty new at it. I had a small batch of songs, I guess.

Riki: I started writing during college. So, eight years [ago], I think.

Would you say that you have similar tastes in music?

Riki: Yes. That’s something that helps us so much. I don’t think we’d have gotten where we are if we didn’t have similar tastes. We each have a thing for ’80s pop and musical theater.

Kate: We’re Steven Sondheim geeks, as well as Wham and Madonna.

Would you say that your tastes in music are as similar as your taste in comedy?

Riki: I think our taste in music is more similar than our senses of humor. Our senses of humor are very different. I’m more raunchy…

Kate:…and I’ve had to learn how to say the word “fuck.” I’m just now getting to where it’s in my vocabulary and I can say it without singing it.

So when you started working together, did you have any ideas for where you wanted this project to go?

Kate: Not at all. That’s the most amazing thing when we think back, because we were just kind of going with it, and it has turned into something awesome. We didn’t have a plan.

Riki: People just started watching the videos, and then we went, “Oh, we should make another one.” And then people watched that one, and it kept unfolding, and we were like, “Oh, well we should play live somewhere.” And it caught on quicker than we really could have imaged. Then we thought, “Ok, maybe we should really focus on this.” And that’s what we did.

Was there any particular moment when you realized that it was starting catch on with people?

Riki: It was one day when I was like, “Oh, my God. This is what we’re supposed to be doing.” And I called Kate and said, “This is it!”

Kate: It took me a good six months to catch on. I’m a little bit slower.

At that point did it change how you looked at it?

Riki: Yeah, totally. We were like, “Ok. Let’s record an album for real. Let’s get a real website. Let’s write back to our fans on YouTube. Let’s make writing songs a priority. Let’s play out more.” It became more deliberate.

Kate: Like I said, it took me a little longer to get on board, but when I finally did, it became like another job. It’s just as important as everything else with our career. It’s like a second job that we have to deal with, and, often, it’s our first priority in a day.

It must be difficult to find time for it, since you’re so active with television and film, too.

Riki: It is tricky. I feel like the weekends are when we work, and through the Internet sometimes. But it has also been a matter of streamlining [our work]. When we started, both of us were doing commercials and all sorts of things, and we had to prioritize and say, “We don’t have time to do four commercial auditions every single day and still have time for Garfunkel and Oates.” We had to give that up and streamline everything. I feel like we’re able to do both pretty easily.

Kate: Also, our acting careers and Garfunkel and Oates have started to merge a bit, too. So that makes it easier.

Riki: We’re developing a pilot for HBO, and because of that, Kate and I couldn’t do pilot season, and we decided not to sign on for other pilots and we couldn’t even audition for them. We were holding out for the bigger dream, which is having our own show on HBO.

So how did the HBO show come about?

Kate: Well, we wanted to make a show, and we started pitching different places. HBO was the first place that said, “Hey, we want to do this,” and we were ecstatic about that. It’s a dream, and just that they were interested was exciting.

Have you begun casting yet?

Riki: In our minds, but we’ve never done our own pilot, so we don’t know how much control we’ll have. We probably will be able to suggest people for auditions and stuff, but I don’t imagine that she and I have the final say with casting. Honestly, we don’t know. We have people in mind for all of the parts. Every time we write something, we have one of comedian or actor friends in mind, so, hopefully, that will out. But we have no idea if it will.

Kate: But it’s definitely fun writing scenes and characters and going, “Oh, so and so would be awesome for this.” That makes it easier to write, as well.

Are there any sorts of shows that would be inspiration or blueprint for where you’d like to take this one?

Riki: Maybe it would like Sex in the City meets Curb Your Enthusiasm. Like Sex in the City has people who don’t really win in the end.

Kate: There’s definitely a lot of conversation about dating and sex and guys, but at the same time, I think it still has an innocence about it. I don’t know what you’d relate it to. Sex in the City is a good start, but it has music in it, as well.

Riki: So in that way it’s like Flight of the Conchords.

From having talked to those guys, I know that they had a backlog of songs that ended up in the first season because they wrote the episodes around them. Would this work in the same way?

Riki: We heard about that, and we don’t know if we can afford it, but our goal is to use one song of ours per episode so we don’t get stuck writing a million songs for the second season. But our songs really do have a story behind them, so oftentimes the episode will be based around the situation that’s in the song.

And you recently released your first official album.

Riki: Yeah, it was the #1 iTunes comedy when it came out, so that was pretty cool, especially since we did it totally on our own without a label. We didn’t even provide a heads up to fans other than letting people know on Facebook. We didn’t have any pictures on benches throughout the city. We just threw it up there, and for it to debut at #1 in comedy was pretty unbelievable. We were so excited.

Did you have any particular expectations for it?

Riki: Not really. It’s weird. We should maybe think about this stuff more, but I think we hoped people would like it and that people who liked us would buy it. We had pretty good feedback, and like anyone else, we’d get an occasional nasty comment. But almost everything has been positive.

Was the process of putting together an album a lot different than performing live?

Riki: Oh yeah. It took us a year to record the album, and, also, just producing and figuring out what instruments we wanted to have, each song was a different approach. We worked on each song as an individual thing, and each one takes a long time. It’s not just a matter of recording it.

It seems like musical comedy must be a very difficult thing to do, since you’re essentially mastering two different forms.

Riki: Well, I think comedians know that it’s hard to do, but I think the general consensus is that it’s not. Maybe I’m wrong, but since we’ve started, people have tended to think it was simple, and random people would be like, “I have a note on that…” And I’d say, “No. I’ve really, really worked on this.” I don’t know what I’m saying. You talk, Kate…

Kate: There’s also a real fine line. With writing a comedy song, it can go really bad really quickly. It can be annoying or boring, with the repetition of what we’re talking about. So we try to make the songs very unique in the sense that we don’t really repeat jokes too much. We want to keep it fresh and interesting, and I think a lot of that is coming up with a good melody that people will want to listen to so the song stands alone as a song and jokes stand alone as jokes, and you put them together and you hope you have a good song.

That seems to be something that your songs have, in that they have replay value, where maybe a lot of comedy songs don’t.

Riki: That’s what we hope for, I think. Kate is very musical and is really amazing with melodies.

Kate: Aw, thanks!

Riki: Well, you are. And that’s definitely helped us as far as reply value goes and that’s why we put so much time into the album, so that it would be more than one listen where you’d go, “That’s funny,” and never listen to it again.

Kate: I get melodies in my head every day.

Did you have a real musical rapport from the first time you wrote together?

Kate: Yes. The first time we got together we wrote songs, we knew it could be something. We wrote three songs in two hours, and one of them was “Fuck You,” which we play all the time. It happened so easily and so quickly that we knew it could be something good.

You must have been surprised that your voices blended together so well.

Kate: Shocked. That’s the other thing, I never considered myself a singer whatsoever. And we do have really different voices, but for some reason, it works and it’s very weird. The whole thing is bizarre. Even looks-wise, you couldn’t have cast us better out of central casting. We’re opposites and sort of perfect in that sense. But I think comedy music can reach more people. You can’t be like, “Hey, listen to this person’s joke.” But you can send them a song or a video or something, and it makes it more accessible.

Kate: Also, as performers, we definitely have jokes that we repeat at shows, but I feel lot more comfortable singing a song a hundred times than telling a joke a hundred times. Because when it’s a song, if it’s successful as a song, you can play it as many times as you want. Rather than telling a joke over and over, it feels more comfortable to me.

Riki: I think musical comedy has evolved. I think it keeps getting better. I think the Internet is a part of that.

Kate: The other thing is, comedy is music in a way. There is so much timing involved, and it’s pretty much music in the sense of how a joke is performed. We’re just putting notes to it.

Some comedians have said that deep down inside every musician wants to be a comedian and every comedian wants to be a musician. Do you believe that?

Riki: Totally. That’s why we do both.

Kate: Maybe it’s not even us. I think everyone wants to be a musician or a comedian. If someone asks you to tell a joke, you’ll probably do it. And if someone asks you to do karaoke, you’ll probably do it.

Riki: We feel really lucky to get to do both.

Are there other artists who you would point to as doing what you’re doing?

Kate: For me, when I was teenager I’d watch Adam Sandler do his songs on SNL, and I wanted to do that. But as far as current stuff…

Riki: I think Bo Burnham kind of does what we do. He’s very interesting lyrically, and he’ll jam a lot of information into one song and has a lot of interesting turns of phrase. I think that’s kind of what we do.

Kate: He’s so smart, too.

Riki: I like The Lonely Island. I think a lot of those songs are hilarious. The way that they put [them] together is amazing, and the production values are perfect for the songs.

I can’t think of any other female music comedy duos.

Kate: Yeah, I was trying to think of that when you asked that question. There are, and certain ones have emailed us and stuff, but there aren’t any that we really know.

Riki: Which is great for us.

So you also met John Oates, right?

Riki: Yes. He MySpaced us, which was one of the most exciting things ever. We were jumping up and down in our respective kitchens.

Kate: Riki called me, like, “Check our MySpace!” And sure enough, John Oates had written to us.

Riki: And we’ve played with him twice now.

Kate: He’s such a nice man. He’s really sweet.

Riki: He took us to Aspen for the Aspen songwriter’s festival. And we opened for him here in California here, too. It was pretty amazing.

Kate: We haven’t anything from Art Garfunkel yet.

John Oates must really get what you’re doing then.

Riki: Yeah, I think he really gets a kick out of it.

Kate: My joke is that I’m Oates, because I’m short and have brown hair and if I’m not careful I have a moustache.

Overall, where would you like to take Garfunkel and Oates?

Kate: We would love to play even bigger venues and travel even more. I feel like we’re working toward all of that and hoping it all pans out.

Riki: We want to keep making stuff, and it seems like the bigger the audience is, the more opportunities we have to make stuff. Hopefully, it just keeps growing and people like it.

So far so good.

Riki: It’s crazy. I love bringing people joy. It’s funny how so many people Twitter us and say, “I was having a bad day, and then I put on your record, and I felt better.”

Kate: I had a guy tell me that he got his first kiss while listening to one of our songs.

Riki: What?

Kate: Didn’t I tell you that?

Riki: No. Oh, my God!

Kate: Also, people will thank us, which is a really good feeling. We get thanks for writing “Pregnant Women are Smug.”

Riki: I just love making people laugh. That’s not much better than that.

Well, your music can do what many musicians can’t. Your songs demand an immediate response.

Riki: Well, I think because we write about stuff that actually happens to us, they’re relatable. People say, “That’s exactly what happened to me. That’s how I feel.” We just put it into a longer form. We keep mining it, like, “What else about this situation bothers us?” The handjob song has been like that. We’ve gotten a lot of girls who say, “I know! It’s a total mystery.”




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August 25th 2011

oh man! ;] learned a lot about this cute duo!^__^
thank you Kate and Riki!!! I’m gonna as a girl I like with screw you:D