Kate Micucci and Riki Lindhome are living the dream that my high-school self wasn’t bold enough to have. The musical comedy duo travel the country (and now world!) playing sold-out shows at comedy clubs and festivals, singing about everything from their foreplay fumbles to getting off on go-carts.
And while it’s hard to imagine a cooler gig than making people laugh for a living, Kate, who often plays the ukulele or keyboard and Riki, who rocks the guitar, also make amazing music videos. Take for example, this one, where they live out their rapper fantasies and dance with half-dressed, albeit douchey, dudes.
After a very big first half of the year—they released their third album, “Slippery When Moist,” recorded a special for Comedy Central and performed at Bonnaroo—they are busy writing their next hour of material.
We talked about how they got started, who makes them laugh and what’s at the top of their to-do list.
You both moved to Los Angeles as actors, so how did you start Garfunkel and Oates?
Kate: We knew each other from commercial auditions. Then, one day we were both going to see our friend Doug Benson’s show at UCB and we kind of hit it off in the lobby. But we were friends for about two years before we ever wrote a song together.
Riki: Then, right before the writer’s strike [in 2007], I wanted to make a short movie for Kate and I to act in. When I saw Kate perform music, I was like, ‘Oh, I do that too. We should turn [the short] into a musical.’ And that’s when we started writing music together.
Kate: We wrote two and a half songs in two hours—it just seemed so easy and like so much fun. (laughs) It’s never been that easy since.
When did you each begin playing instruments?
Kate: I started playing the piano when I was four.
Riki: I started the flute when I was nine. And then we both went to music camp together in fifth grade, which is something we didn’t put together until later.
Kate: Yeah, a couple of years ago, Riki was like, ‘I went to music camp.’ And music camp is different than band camp, so I said, ‘You went to music camp? So did I. That’s so weird.’ And it turns out we were at the same music camp in upstate Pennsylvania, at the same time.
That’s crazy! You guys didn’t know each other there?
Kate: I definitely remember Riki’s group because she was in the really cool group and they were always having fun. And I remember Riki’s boyfriend…his name was Dante. I, on the other hand, cried the entire week and missed my parents. I didn’t socialize and they had to beg me just to say hi to people.
Was it scary for either of you to deviate from acting and really delve into music?
Riki: We’ve been lucky to be able to balance both. But it is a shift in focus and it’s kind of scary to take that leap from being a full-time auditioner to a part-time auditioner. We both stopped doing commercials and started being a little more specific about the kinds of acting we wanted to do so that we have more time for writing and performing.
What is your songwriting process like?
Kate: Basically, we’ll have an idea and then we’ll research the topic for a long time and just really dig and dig.
Riki: Brainstorming is really fun. We’ll have days of just being like, ‘Well, what else about this [topic]?’
Kate: Because we travel so much, we’ll brainstorm on airplanes. But our subject matter isn’t really for everybody, so sometimes we get dirty looks.
Riki: I’m definitely more of a word perfectionist and Kate is more of a melodic perfectionist, which works out. I think a lot of songwriting pairs have that breakdown.
Have current events always been interesting to you, or are you more aware of the news now?
Kate: Riki is more up on the news than I am.
Riki: I’m definitely like a Daily Show, CNN, Bill Maher kind of chick. But I think we’re more of pop culture than news.
Kate: We read People magazine on the plane, so I know what’s up there (laughs).
Well, that is very important. Did you guys write poems growing up?
Riki: We both did actually! I think if I read mine now, I would die inside because I’m sure it’s just pretentious and awful.
Kate: I wrote a lot of poems actually. One in particular I remember was about how I should be studying for my chemistry test, but instead I’m writing this poem.
Riki: Wow, nothing has changed. Now it’s, we should be working on our auditions, but instead we’re singing about dick jokes.
What have you learned from working with each other?
Riki: Oh man, so much.
Kate: Well, I’m not a relationship girl, but Riki has given me hope. We’ve been in this [working] relationship for four years and it’s taught me that I could possibly, maybe get married some day. Whereas before, I was more cynical about that.
Riki: Right, and that there are good days and bad days. And just because it’s a bad day, doesn’t mean that’s it’s over.
Kate: I’m a person that cuts out easily and will be like, ‘Never mind, let’s not do this anymore.’ But if [Riki and I] have a problem, we talk it through and usually we’re stronger for it. It’s a good lesson to learn.
Of your adventures with Garfunkel and Oates, what has been the most surprising to you?
Kate: When we first started making videos, if you had told me that we would be able to travel the world, I wouldn’t have believed you. I didn’t grow up seeing many places, but now we [have]. I feel like I’m finally getting to see a lot of the Unites States and we’ve been to different countries now. It’s really exciting.
Riki: For me, it’s been that my love of comedy has just increased so much. I’ve always loved comedy, but now, I am obsessively in love. I love watching new standup and alternative comedy and I can’t get enough. I think about it all the time, I quote it all the time and I absorb it constantly.
Judging by some of your pictures on Twitter and your website, it seems like a lot of times it’s you and a bunch of guy comics? How is that?
Riki: It’s funny, we’re just used to it. Kate and I have always dated outside the comedy world and that makes it a lot easier. They’re just like our brothers.
Kate: When we go to festivals it’s really fun because it’s like all of our comedy friends from LA. It’s a comforting thing when you’re in a different city, but you know everyone.
Riki: It is kind of refreshing, though, to see at least one other girl. We’re like, ‘Oh Natasha Leggero’s here. Great, we’ve got one!’ But even if it’s all guys, it’s always fun.
What’s something that would surprise people that goes on backstage at a comedy show?
Kate: The first thing that popped into my mind is that I sometimes fall asleep (laughs). But usually if there are a lot of other comedians, it’s kind of like an impromptu get together.
Riki: I think it would surprise people that there is a general lack of nerves backstage. Generally, people get ready for their set when the comedian before them is on stage. It’s not like hours of walking around, and there isn’t this nervous energy. People are relaxed, people are professional and they’re just ready to go.
Do you guys get nervous? Or just excited?
Riki: More excited I think. I still get nervous for auditions, oddly enough.
Does it help having someone on stage with you?
Kate: We should just take each other on auditions.
RL: There you go (laughs). Hopefully, on stage, if one of us is not hitting it out of the park, the other one will notice and take over.
Kate: In the course of the four years we’ve been working together, we’ve definitely had to help each other.
Riki: Yeah, I’ve had some bad shows and Kate’s had some bad shows, but mostly it doesn’t line up where both of us are just terrible on the same night. Usually one of us can keep our shit together.
How has what you all sing about evolved over the years?
Riki: So much (laughs).
Kate: We have a new song about it, “29/31.”
I love that song.
Riki: Oh, thank you. I think our material has gotten darker, it’s gotten wordier…I think maybe we dig deeper now than we used to—or we try to.
What’s something that you haven’t done with Garfunkel and Oates that you would like to?
Riki: We’d really like our own TV show.
Kate: Yeah, that’s the big one.
Do you think that might happen sometime soon?
Kate: We’re working on it.
Riki: We had a show deal with HBO and then they decided not to make it. So now we’re meeting with other places and seeing if there’s any other interest. We’re hoping that there is.
Who are your comedy idols?
Riki: Well, I love other comedy duos like Flight of the Concords and Tenacious D.
Kate: Weird Al.
Riki: Lonely Island. I love Chris Rock, Louis C.K., Bo Burnham and Tim Minchin. Mostly musical comedians are the ones that we take more direct inspiration from.
Kate: And for me, just in life, Lucille Ball is the big one and also Gilda Radner.
You guys went from being at the mercy of other people’s visions to creating something from the ground up. What has that transition been like?
Riki: There is something great about getting to go and play a character that someone else wrote—you just show up and you play all day. But we both feel incredibly fortunate to have this outlet. It’s empowering to be able to create our own opportunities from scratch. We don’t have to ask for anyone’s permission, we just get to create and then put it directly out into the world.
Photo by Elisabeth Caren.