Art Garfunkel explains "Funky Cuddling"

March 5, 2009

Wait, was that really the Art Garfunkel on the March 1 episode of HBO's Flight of the Conchords (Sundays at 10 pm/ET)? Yes! Conchords' Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie wrote the episode, titled "Prime Minister," around him, and then prayed he'd say yes to a cameo. Garfunkel says he took "a leap a faith" and signed on without seeing a script.

In the episode, Jemaine and Bret book a gig as Simon and Garfunkel lookalikes, where they meet Karen (guest star Mary Lynn Rajskub, 24's Chloe), a woman who asks Jemaine on a date. The catch: He has to wear his Garfunkel costume, even when they have sex — she calls it "Garfunkling." We talked to its namesake about being immortalized by such weird comic geniuses, his recent reunion with Paul Simon and his quest for the perfect Simon and Garfunkel cover song. How did you get involved with Flight of the Conchords?

Art Garfunkel: How serendipitous that all was. My office called me to say that they were writing an episode around me. And would I be interested in appearing? And I said yes. You said yes right away? Did you see a script?

Garfunkel: Well, people were talking about Flight of the Conchords, so I tuned in. I love the deadpan, off-the-wall, let's-play-against-predictability style. So my sensibility was in there. So, you know, I fit myself into their scenario. If they're going to write something around Art Garfunkel, I'm going to try to be amused. Did you have any input into the show's content?

Garfunkel: No. They wrote it and I did it. The ball was in their court. You take a leap of faith with these things. Oddly enough, I'm famous for my last name and my hair. To have a sketch built around these two things, I stand nonplussed about the whole thing. What did you think of Jemaine's Garfunkel impression?

Garfunkel: Well, I thought he was very good. I was very amused by his style. There's something very quirky and charming, and there is something teddy bear-ish in a secret way. I thought he had my hair down really good. Thanks to Karen's help there in the bedroom scene, I recognized my own profile, but the rest is Jemaine doing Jemaine's thing. So is he all business on the set?

Garfunkel: He's, like, a wonderful workaholic. He's like artists are when they're very engaged. He's charming enough, but he's somewhat in character in his deadpan way, so he can't really talk to me as one member of a duo to another member of a famous duo. Maybe he'd like to go there, but it's not in character. So I didn't really hang with him. I just met him on the set at work. How would you define "Garfunkling"?

Garfunkel: I would say it's funky cuddling with the candles twinkling. Have you ever used that term or heard it before?

Garfunkel: Nope. You know, these guys are the writers. I kind of like it though. It's funny; it's good. You recently had a surprise reunion with Paul Simon at the reopening of the Beacon Theatre. Tell me about that.

Garfunkel: Oh, what a nice night. Thunderous applause when I came out. Paul Simon got the gig to be the opening concert for two nights, and asked me if I would come on at the end and do a little bit. ... I was in the middle of a tour. I was working in the Southeast, a six-show run, but I had this gap on Friday, which was his opening of the two nights. So I did "Old Friends" and "The Boxer" and "The Sound of Silence" at the end of the set. But to come on stage and be still so loved is something you're not jaded to. It just runs through you as a thrill. I said to the audience, because I felt it in truth: You can't expect that this affection would last through the years like this. It just charms one's whole life. Any plans to work together again in the future?

Garfunkel: I think the answer is sort of yes with a wink. Because I have stuff up my sleeve I don't want to be specific about. Paul and I are hanging more freely these days. The feeling is: Well, if you're interested in taking it further, count me in. We've left each other with that. We have our projects, I love what I've been doing in the studio lately, and I love touring as a solo guy. I love my own set. But we're planning to work together in '09.

We have very funny dinners. The friendship is borne out of the funny, it comes from the funny bone. We've been laughing together over mutual absurdities since we were 11. That's what Simon and Garfunkel is essentially about. And you have your solo. The reception must be really great on the road.

Garfunkel: It's not for me to answer that one. But yeah, it's great because I have a great repertoire. I bow to Paul Simon; he supplied "The Sound of Silence" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water," and they fall into my set list beautifully and so it takes the audience for a good ride. Do you have any favorite Simon and Garfunkel covers?

Garfunkel: I'm waiting for the real good one to come along. It's amazing how they don't hit the A level; they get up to B+. Years ago, Harpers Bizarre did "Feelin' Groovy"  — it was a B+ record. Aretha [Franklin] did "Mrs. Robinson" was good — it was trashy, funky and it was good because "Mrs. Robinson," as we do it, it's got a sinewy slipping and sliding guitar part, it's chewy, the rhythm is hip and it grooves in a sinewy way. But theirs was more trashy and it was totally valid. I like that record. But I don't see why there can't be a killer version of "America." I don't think we did the definitive version of all these strong songs. The songs can take other treatments. They're few and far between. I'm surprised that it's so rare. Any other acting gigs in the future?

Garfunkel: I have another thing in the can, as we say. [Director] Bart Freundlich sent me a script for a film that features Catherine Zeta-Jones, a light romantic comedy, asked me to play a part in it, and I shot it last year. I was very Jewish, whatever that means. I play the father of the young lead who Catherine starts developing a thing with [Justin Bartha]. It's called The Rebound. You really like acting, don't you?

Garfunkel: I like acting a lot. I find it a fascinating quest, to serve up aspects of one's self that are appropriate to the lines in the script, the story as you see it.  It's decent work. I think to do it well is great fun. What's your ideal acting job?

Garfunkel: I want to be warm, not warm and fuzzy. I want to be a guy who's whole, not a troubled guy. Because too much in my life is going nicely, and I want to represent the sweet side of life, so I'm looking for the affirmative. I think life is full of wonder and beauty. I want to bring that point of view to a story. That's an interesting perspective. Most actors want to do something dark and ugly and twisted.

Garfunkel: I've been there. When I came out of Simon and Garfunkel, being the tenor, the choir, the upper harmony, the angel singer sound, I was very interested in telling stories that were purple as an actor and as a recording artist. I wanted to play neurotic, against the sweet type that I thought I was moving toward. But now I've been there. After cool comes warm. What do you think about all the rumors about remaking The Graduate?

Garfunkel: I think that notion is as interesting as the casting. Doesn't the mind instantly go to: Who will play Dustin? If you come up with good casting that intrigues us, and do that other thing that delivers the good. The older woman and the younger man — horniness is a wonderful theme.