Jemaine Clement in tears describing how his grandmother was 'punished' for speaking Māori

Flight of the Conchords star Jemaine Clement broke down in tears discussing how his nana used to be punished for speaking her first language - te reo Māori. 

The comedian's interview on Māori TV's Te Ao with Moana took an emotional turn when he recalled his grandmother Maikara and the heartbreaking reason she didn't speak the language.

"She was of the generation that would be punished at school if she [spoke it]," Clement told host Moana Maniapoto through tears. 

"That was her first language, but, you know, they'd get hit if they spoke [Māori]," he added, pausing to try to compose himself. 

"Thinking about my poor grandma," he said. 

Maniapoto sympathised, recalling her own father had received the same treatment. 

"I know that's what happened to my dad, too," she told Clement. "Sucks, eh?"

When Maniapoto asked Clement to talk more about his kuia, he initially laughed "I don't want to now!" but did go on to remember the woman who had taught him about te ao Māori and been an early comedic influence. 

"She was a funny lady, sometimes intentionally, like she'd come up with a good joke, and sometimes unintentionally," Clement said. 

"The basic idea of humour is to surprise, and she was always surprising, you know?

"I loved hanging out with her."

Clement recently put his Te Reo skills to good use voicing the character of the crab Tamatoa for the Māori, version of Disney's Moana, which was released last year.