Musical comedy outfit Garfunkel & Oates are side players no more
There is a point during most Garfunkel & Oates performances in which Kate Micucci will declare she was a late bloomer. The candid look into her personal life usually comes sometime after the folksy comedy duo has led the crowd through a kazoo breakdown, taken a knock at pregnant women and discussed where ducks rank on the bestiality scale, all of it delivered with buoyant ukulele-led pop.
As for Micucci's confession, it greets one of the newer additions to the Garfunkel & Oates oeuvre, a peppy keyboard rap entitled "I Don't Understand Job." In the song, Micucci and bandmate Riki Lindhome profess their confusion toward an act of intimacy, but rather than find comedy in lewdness, the pair focus on their own nerdy naivete.
The fact-checking process for this article did not include an investigation into Micucci's past romantic dalliances, and thus the 30-year-old ukulelist will be taken at her word. Yet there's evidence that the graduate of Loyola Marymount University isn't exaggerating. In fact, a certain four-letter word that appears regularly in the Garfunkel & Oates catalog is one Micucci promises she did not say until two years ago.
"I got yelled at when I was a little kid for accidentally saying it," Micucci said. "We were playing Duck, Duck Goose, and my babysitter said, 'Say a word that rhymes with duck' ... And then he yelled at me like you wouldn’t believe. I was so scarred from this babysitter, so I didn't say it again until two years ago."
If so, then the last 24 months of exercising repressed demons have been rather productive. With a mix of innocence and vulgarity, the act's monthly appearances at the Upright Citizens Brigade improv theater are guaranteed sell-outs, and a bigger stage awaits Feb. 10 when the pair headline Largo at the Coronet. What's more, a self-released CD is imminent, and a production deal inked earlier this month with HBO will potentially position the duo as the West Coast female response to "Flight of the Conchords," the network's popular Brooklyn-centered musical series that ran for two seasons.
"I think it will be a little edgier, maybe a little more frankly sexual," Lindhome said of a possible series. "We swear a lot, and [the songs] are really sexual and personal. And they always portray us in a bad light."
HBO representatives said the company does not, as a rule, comment on production deals. Matt Besser, a co-founder of Upright Citizens Brigade, said the duo "blew up quick," becoming regulars at UCB in less than two years. The "Garfunkel & Oates Hour" had its premiere in March 2009 at the Fake Gallery on Melrose, and was a staple at UCB by the end of the year.
"What I like about Garfunkel & Oates is not only are they nice hummable tunes, but you can hear the lyrics," Besser said. "It's not just the chorus that is funny. Every single line is funny. It's more than doing a parody. Their songs tell a story. I've seen a couple other female musical acts, but nothing as solid as those two."
Lindhome and Micucci met in 2006, after Lindhome caught one of Micucci's less-than refined ukulele performances. Micucci learned the instrument, a gift from her grandfather, by tackling the songs of George Gershwin. Yet when Lindhome saw Micucci as a guest on a show from comedian Whitney Cummings, it was clear Micucci had left classical behind.
"I sang 'Like A Virgin' through a snorkel while playing the ukulele," Micucci said.
And thus, a friendship was born. Of course, Micucci and Lindhome haven't exactly been living solely in the underground comedy world. Micucci's ukulele skills were showcased on "Scrubs" and, more recently, in a recurring role as a babysitter on Fox's "Raising Hope." The 31-year-old Lindhome, meanwhile, guested on numerous episodes of "Gilmore Girls" and appeared in Wes Craven's "The Last House on the Left."
But jobs were sporadic, and Micucci, who moved west from Pennsylvania with designs on painting and making toys, was stitching together a living with her artwork and by building professional sandcastles for parties.
Recalled Lindhome, "I don’t think I ever would have arrived at this had I been cast on some TV show for eight years. I probably wouldn't have had to develop my own voice in writing and create my own vehicles. Most of my friends who got shows right away are still just doing shows, and they have no need to create."
It was Lindhome who scripted and funded her own short film, 2009's "Imaginary Larry." A cynically warped view of dating, nominally about the difficulty in becoming comfortable with someone new, Lindhome envisioned it a musical, and asked Micucci to co-write songs with her.
"We wrote three songs in about two hours," Micucci said. "I never thought of myself as a singer, like ever ever ever. It's hysterical that I sing."
Today, however, it's impossible to miss the pure excitement the two feel at the prospect of singing for HBO. Lindhome and Micucci travel with a friend who is asked to film all of their encounters, including this breakfast interview at Hollywood's Victor's Square diner, and any random moment can suddenly become fodder for a Garfunkel & Oates song.
If the show with HBO pans out, Lindhome and Micucci envision a first season about the transition to 30, with two women attempting to parlay YouTube success into a career while attempting to not give up on dating. "The sea is like a fish tank," Lindhome said, a statement that reflects her attitude toward dating in Los Angeles. As Lindhome continued to speak, Micucci began writing. A moment later, Micucci interrupted the interview.
"Wait," Micucci said, holding up a napkin of potential lyrics or a plot. "Here we go. This is good."
Micucci then read what the prior two minutes had inspired:"The sea is like a fish tank and it’s got like six fish in it. One fish is sick. And there's a mechanical pirate that doesn't work.
Micucci paused, and then added, "But he's kinda hot."
Perhaps a glimpse of a future Garfunkel & Oates song, or perhaps not, but it captures the spirit in which Lindhome and Micucci write. Pessimism is given a surreal and silly bent, and much of the mockery is done at their own expense.
Observed Lindhome, "It's not all, 'Men are [jerks].' We lose just as much as we win. That's the dating world. You just keep losing. Everyone does."
One, then, could note that failure has been awfully good to Garfunkel & Oates.
-- Todd Martens
Photos: Riki Lindhome, left, and Kate Micucci outside the Upright Citizens Brigade theater. Credit: Mariah Tauger