Cult comedy What We Do In The Shadows gets series

Taika Waititi (left) and Jemaine Clement (right).
Taika Waititi (left) and Jemaine Clement (right).

Cultural differences often mean that humour does not really travel, but this has not stopped New Zealand funny men Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement from doing very well for themselves in America.

Doors started opening after their 2014 cult comedy What We Do In The Shadows, an indie mockumentary about squabbling vampire flatmates in Wellington that they wrote, directed and starred in based on a 2005 short film they made.

Waititi, 43, eventually went on to direct Marvel's Thor: Ragnarok (2017), a critical and commercial success that was more comedy-heavy than most superhero films. And Clement, 45, snagged roles in the animated hit Moana (2016) and the quirky X-Men spin-off show Legion (2017 to present).

The pair are joining forces again as executive producers on the What We Do In The Shadows comedy series premiering on Thursday at 10pm on FX (Singtel TV Channel 310, StarHub TV Channel 507).

At a Los Angeles press day earlier this year, the two - who once performed together as comedy duo The Humourbeasts - spoke to The Straits Times about New Zealand's filmmaking scene as well as its distinctive sense of humour.

Despite a population of less than five million, their country punches above its weight in Hollywood, supplying a steady stream of talent, such as director Peter Jackson as well as actors including Russell Crowe and Anna Paquin.

Clement says many of these success stories get their start because of the conducive environment for film-making back home.

"In New Zealand, films are mostly government-funded, so it's very encouraging to work on film," says the actor, who co-created another comedy series for American television, Flight Of The Conchords (2007 to 2009), about the misadventures of two Kiwi musicians in New York.

As a film-maker, Waititi began in New Zealand cinema as well, making films such as the coming-of-age comedy Boy (2010), which broke box-office records there.

But he demurs on the question of whether Kiwis have done unusually well in Hollywood. "Well, there's not a lot of us. But per capita, I guess, a lot of us are doing well," he says with a laugh.

When it comes to making American audiences laugh, Clement believes having a different sensibility is a bonus.

"I think one thing is that New Zealand comedy, at least with our friends, is about emotions, while American comedy tends to be about manners, and so Americans find it quite unusual that we talk about emotions so much.

"It's something to do with the fact that in New Zealand, people don't really express their emotions that much, so it's funny for us to watch people doing that.

"But in America, there's no problem with that, so it's not something that comes up in their comedy - it's more something you see in drama."

Waititi and Clement bring that sensibility to the What We Do In The Shadows series, which borrows elements from the film, but has its own storyline and characters.

Set on New York's Staten Island instead of New Zealand, Kayvan Novak, Matt Berry and Natasia Demetriou play three new bickering vampire roommates, but the producers hint that Clement and Waititi may make cameos as their characters from the film.

Also making an appearance are more exotic species of vampire, including one inspired by Chinese folklore.

Waititi and Clement say they are sending up the vampire genre because they think it is a little cheesy - and also because they have a longstanding affection for it.

This is why they drew on classic old vampire movies as well as contemporary ones such as The Lost Boys (1987), Interview With A Vampire (1994) and Underworld (2003), says Waititi.

And while they want to make viewers laugh, they also want to ground the stories "so audiences can come and be connected to them", he adds.

Thus, the "vampires represent anyone who lives on the margins - immigrants, homosexuals or those little subcultures at school that are bullied".

The comedy comes from the idea that while they are immortal and powerful, vampires can be just as flawed, petty and lame as everyone else, he adds. "Human nature is such that if you were to live forever, we're too lazy to do anything with that time and we always put stuff off. Because that's what we're like."

• What We Do In The Shadows premieres on Thursday at 10pm on FX (Singtel TV Channel 310, StarHub TV Channel 507).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 26, 2019, with the headline 'Cult comedy What We Do In The Shadows gets series'. Print Edition | Subscribe