Trump troller Jemaine Clement scoops up a prestigious award

Rest on it

He’s starring in two new movies, a hit TV series, and has just been named one of the Arts Foundation’s Arts Laureates for 2017. Here, Jemaine Clement talks about his favourite jingles, his return to New Zealand TV, and how he silences the voices in his head.

The first half of 2017 was “cruisy” for Jemaine Clement. But now, he says, all hell is breaking loose. He’s starring in the new film Humor Me, in which Elliott Gould plays his dad, and a British film called Festival, about students who go to a music festival. He’s filming season two of Legion, a hit TV series about mentally ill superheroes by the creator of Fargo, which The Guardian describes as “dazzling”. And he is writing, producing and will probably partially direct a TV series in New Zealand based on his vampire film What We Do in the Shadows, in which two cops investigate paranormal activity in the Wellington region.

Clement’s current hobbies include delivering sick burns on Twitter to Donald Trump and Trump supporter, Joanie Loves Chachi star Scott Baio. He is one of this year’s five Arts Foundation Arts Laureates, and is currently in Los Angeles, where his old Mastermind nemesis Julie Hill gave him a call.

Julie Hill: How’s your day been?

Jemaine Clement: It’s been good. I had a meeting and I biked there. It was about a 40-minute bike ride and I saw maybe four other cyclists. Then I came back and my family’s here so we went to Little Tokyo.

How’s Trumpland?

I’ve only been here twice this year. Once was around the inauguration. I was in northern California, so people were either loudly commiserating or quietly celebrating. I also happened to be there for the women’s march in this little town, and about half the population of the town was out marching. Now people are more accepting of it. Though I notice his photo still isn’t up at the airport.

Is it easier for you as a non-American to troll Trump?

I probably get one or two [tweets] in a day. But there are a lot of Americans trolling him. A lot of Americans are infuriated. Danny Zuker, one of the creators of Modern Family, is a good one to follow. He’s had Twitter feuds with Trump and they’ve insulted each other. He’s pretty amusing.

Have you done any burns on Scott Baio lately?

He blocked me. He blocks people very easily. He’s a very sensitive man.

Do you think the politics in the States is making the comedy better?

Yeah I do, but I’m not sure if it’s worth it. Miranda [Manasiadis, his partner] was in the supermarket today and she was trying to rush through the line because she needed to go to the bathroom. There was a Mexican guy behind her, and he was saying ‘me, me’. He wanted to get ahead. Then someone said,
‘Let him put his stuff on the counter, Republican bitch!’ Obviously she is so far from whatever this person thought she was. It’s just a tense time.

Tell me about your character in Legion.

It’s this world where you kind of don’t know what year it is, but my character was supposed to have been cryogenically frozen in what you’d imagine was the 1970s, based on what I’m wearing. In the first season he just exists on the astral plane. This season, they’re going to heat him up and put him in the real world.

Is there an astral plane, do you think?

Oh wow. This is the first time I’ve had that question. I hope so.

What does being an Arts Laureate mean to you?

I was surprised and flattered, and then, you know, back to work. I haven’t had a chance to think about it.

Is that how you cope with stress, just try to clear your mind?

Yeah, I do. Some people use meditation but I use podcasts, so I literally have another voice talking inside my head instead of my own going, ‘Oh God, what if I have to do that?’ or ‘What if doesn’t work?’

What do you listen to?

The BBC has an app with a seemingly endless amount of documentaries. It’s a tough balance though, because the ones that can get you to sleep are the ones you’re not interested in. They’ve got to be just interesting enough to listen to, so those thoughts don’t get back in there.

Do you know the podcast The Dollop?


There’s an amazing episode about lobotomies. But you probably shouldn’t listen to it late at night.

That sounds nightmarish. I remember there being a kid who lived in my area and someone saying they thought he’d been lobotomised. I doubt that’s true, but the idea of that happening was horrible.

Was that in Masterton?

Yeah. He just had a big head. 

Are you happy to finally have creative control over a show on New Zealand TV?

Bret [McKenzie] and I have talked New Zealand TV down a lot. We had a tough time. All the things me and Bret and Taika [Waititi] would propose over the years, we would never get a look in. But I think it’s changed a lot since then. There’s a lot more New Zealand content. This is only the second show I’ve produced [the first was Flight of the Conchords for HBO]. So I’ve had a 10-year break. But this one, at least so far, has had the same amount of creative freedom as Conchords did, and I’ve been enjoying it a lot. I feel like it’s a good balance for me where I’m writing something I’m not in, so I can concentrate on the one job I have to do on that, and then I act, which is more fun than writing. I find writing more satisfying perhaps, but it’s sometimes frustrating, which I never feel with acting. Acting’s like dessert and writing’s like dinner. I feel like I approach acting very lightly.

So you’re not a method actor?

No, but a lot of people I work with are. In between takes they’ll treat other characters the way their characters are thinking about them. If the character’s angry at them, they’ll be angry.

Did you draw from your experience of The Gathering in Festival? [Clement and I and a big group of our friends went to the dance party on Takaka Hill to celebrate the new millennium. It rained the entire time.]

I’m the father of one of the young guys, so I don’t go to the festival. But yeah, I did talk about my festival days, when we went to The Gathering. I told the story where you and I were watching a guy drawing in mud. He was covered in mud and you couldn’t see anything but his eyes. Then we’re back in Wellington playing Mastermind together at Deluxe [cafe], and you see your friend, who’s my optometrist, and he’s like, ‘I was really wasted and I thought I could communicate in the mud!’ And we said, ‘Yeah, we were watching you for ages.’ Neither of us had recognised him because he was covered in mud. But when he described it we were like, ‘That could only be one person.’ I still see him occasionally because I still go to that optometrist. At work he’s very professional.

Do you remember any of the jingles you wrote back then when you were a jingle writer?

Yeah, I remember one. [Sings] ‘Dadada, dive into the sea, drop into Divers’ World for your divers’ needs.’ Then they have an announcement how their water’s been declared clean, and then, ‘Now the sea is free of goopa-doopa-dees, drop into Divers’ World for your diving needs. Divers’ Woooorld!’

What are you singing – Diamond World?

Divers’ World. Did you notice I just went into a slight American accent? Usually on the third time I repeat something, I have to go into my bad American accent.

People find our accent funny where you are. Which I guess has been great for you.

A friend of mine is making a movie in New Zealand and wants some American funding. He sent me a trailer and it was really funny, but I said to him, ‘Why not just do it in New Zealand accents?’ Because in America they find it funny. It’s kind of how we find the
Irish accent.

Now that you’re an Arts Laureate, are you going to wear a laurel wreath?

I’m going to get one and put it on my chair and just rest on it. 


Highlights from Jemaine Clement’s one-way Twitter stoush with the leader of the free world

Follow Clement on Twitter @AJemaineClement