Listen: How Taika Waititi, Paul Simms Found the Comedy-Gore Balance in ‘What We Do in the Shadows’

Welcome to “TV Take,” Variety’s television podcast. In this week’s episode, Variety TV reporter Joe Otterson talks with Taika Waititi and Paul Simms, the executive producers of the new FX comedy “What We Do in the Shadows.”

The show is based on Waititi and Jermaine Clement’s 2014 film of the same name, however, the TV adaptation moves from Wellington to New York City, and follows three vampires, Nandor (Kayvan Novak), Lazslo (Matt Berry), and Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), who have been roommates for hundreds and hundreds of years.

The mockumentary-style comedy explores the mundane, daily issues vampires would have to deal with living in today’s world.

“It’s definitely not a spoof or a parody of horror movies, it’s like our world, but if one thing were different, which is that vampires exist in it,” Simms says.

The seed for the supernatural world in which the show and film take place was planted when Waititi and Clement started incorporating two vampire characters into their standup routine.

“Jermaine would play a vampire, and I was his rival vampire, and I would hide in the crowd and start heckling him, ‘I’ve heard this joked before, it’s not funny,’” Waititi explains, slipping into his exaggerated Transylvanian accent.

When it came to casting the new characters introduced to the world, Waititi and Simms recall the auditions of Novak, who self-taped, and Demetriou, who “improvised an entire backstory for her character being from a small village where she used to sing to keep the snakes calm,” as being particularly funny.

During the conversation, Waititi also teases the possibility of his and Clement’s vampires from the original film a making surprise appearance in the FX iteration.

“Our characters from the film still exist at the time of the TV show, so there’s a chance of a crossover and they could meet up, or the werewolves from the film could show up in the show,” Waititi says.

For both EPs, setting the tone of the series meant finding a delicate balance between the violence and gore inherent in vampiric subject matter, and the comedic sensibility they wanted to maintain throughout.

Simms cites one scene from the pilot, in which the camera lingers in the basement where the vampires keep their “half-drained” victims in storage, as an example of going too far towards the grotesque.

“They have dates on their forehead in sharpie marker, to show when they expire…and when we watched the footage we thought, oh my gosh this looks really grim,” Simms says.

“Yeah the idea of seeing people trapped in a dungeon in Staten Island, begging to get out, is darker, and not that funny,” Waititi adds.

Later in the show, critics Daniel D’Addario and Caroline Framke discuss Amazon’s “Hanna,” and NBC’s “Abby’s.” Finally, Otterson joins Variety executive editor of TV, Daniel Holloway, to talk about Apple’s upcoming announcement, in which the tech company is expected to reveal plans for its new television streaming service.

Taika Watiti (left) and Paul Simms photographed exclusively for the Variety TV Take Podcast.
Dan Doperalski for Variety

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