'What We Do in the Shadows': Nandor's Dick, Richie Suck & Pure Comedy - Rolling Stone
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‘What We Do in the Shadows’: Meet Tween Colin, Nandor’s New Dick, and Richie Suck

The vampire comedy’s showrunners take us inside what may be the series’ wackiest — and funniest — episode to date

“WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS” -- “The Grand Opening” --  Season 4, Episode 3 (Airs July 19) — Pictured: Kayvan Novak as Nandor.  CR: Russ Martin: FX“WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS” -- “The Grand Opening” --  Season 4, Episode 3 (Airs July 19) — Pictured: Kayvan Novak as Nandor.  CR: Russ Martin: FX

Russ Martin/FX

In any given week, the FX vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows is so explosively funny that it almost feels like every other TV comedy should give up and consider a new career in accordion sales. Some weeks, though, Shadows is even funnier than that. The latest episode, “The Grand Opening,” is one of those special examples. It is not a format-breaking installment like that one that introduced regular human bartender Jackie Daytona, but rather an episode where all three subplots fully exploit the comic potential of the world first introduced in Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s movie, and now shepherded by a TV team that includes writer/producers Paul Simms and Sam Johnson, and director Kyle Newacheck.

[Spoilers follow for the episode, which aired tonight on FX and will be streaming tomorrow morning on Hulu.]

As the title suggests, “The Grand Opening” takes place on the night of the launch of the vampire nightclub long dreamed of by Nadja (Natasia Demetriou). She wants to make a big splash, down to hiring legendary vampire rapper Richie Suck (Affion Crockett) to perform. The problem is that Richie is being manipulated by his human familiar Dr. Tom (Fred Armisen) into only wanting to perform new songs they wrote together, backed by Tom’s terrible jazz trio.

Meanwhile, Laszlo (Matt Berry) continues playing father figure to the young, resurrected version of energy vampire Colin Robinson (still played by Mark Proksch, kind of) and is dismayed to realize that the kid is fascinated by Legos, YouTube, and, worst of all, musical theater, which Laszlo has long dismissed as “gutter pantomime, performed by half-wits with painted faces.”

And in the episode’s masterpiece, Nandor (Kayvan Novak) asks his personal Djinn (Anoop Desai) to give him the world’s largest penis, only for his own familiar Guillermo (Harvey Guillen) to step in and warn him that he has to phrase the wish very carefully, since djinns enjoy ironic punishments. So much of the story involves this trio having very intricate discussions of the size, shape, location, and even species of Nandor’s hoped-for new package.

Last week, Rolling Stone spoke with Simms, Johnson (who co-wrote the episode with Chris Marcil), and Newacheck (who directed it) about the secrets behind making it work.

“WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS” -- “The Grand Opening” -- Season 4, Episode 3 (Airs July 19) — Pictured: Kayvan Novak as Nandor, Harvey Guillén as Guillermo, Anoop Desai as Djinn. CR: Russ Martin: FX

From left: Nandor (Kayvan Novak), Guillermo (Harvey Guillén), and Djinn (Anoop Desai) discuss Nandor’s future member.

Russ Martin/FX

Nandor learns to be careful what he wishes for.
Nandor’s anatomy has previously been the subject of jokes. In Season Two, he had to pretend to lie dead in a coffin while being viewed by members of the vampiric council, even after they began examining and then touching his legendarily large penis, which they found to be disappointingly average. This kind of comedy has generally been a rich vein for Shadows.

“Because of the tone of the show and the silliness,” says Simms, “it probably attracts us to more fart and penis humor than maybe would be on another show. That’s all an over-intellectual way of saying it made us all laugh and we assume it’s going to make everyone else laugh.”

Johnson was also amused by the relationship component — Nandor is allegedly doing this as something of a gift to his wife, even though it’s obviously something he wants for himself — and the writers were familiar with all the old folk tales where genies and djinns punish anyone who isn’t thoroughly precise with how they phrase their wish. So they knew they could generate a lot of humor around Guillermo trying to close every possible loophole. Once they had the image of it as a legal negotiation with long yellow notepads, they knew it would work, and actually spent less time in the writers room pitching jokes for it than a normal subplot.

The show’s production process leaves plenty of room for the actors to improvise. But because the language here had to be so specific, Newacheck, Novak, Guillen, and Desai(*) couldn’t play with the dialogue as much as normal. Instead, the best joke they contributed was a visual gag. As they prepared to film a scene where Guillermo and the Djinn discuss the size and shape of Nandor’s testicles, Novak noticed a prop that he felt might come in handy.

(*) American Idol viewers may remember Anoop Desai from the eighth season in 2009, where he specialized in new jack swing songs like “My Prerogative” before finishing in seventh place. Most of the Shadows producers weren’t even aware of that when Desai auditioned, and after Simms found out, “I did ask, ‘Is he so recognizable that he’s going to take people out of it?'” 

“There was a big heavy ball on the table,” says Newacheck, “and Kavyon was, like, ‘What if I play with this?’ And I thought that would be cool if he just absentmindedly fondled it. And then we realized that when Anoop says, ‘You wanted to circle back to the balls,’ he can drop that thing and make a big thunk! Little physicalities are where I look to add something to a scene as beautifully written as the dick negotiations.”

“WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS” -- “The Grand Opening” -- Season 4, Episode 3 (Airs July 19) — Pictured: Matt Berry as Laszlo. CR: FX

From left: Matt Berry as Laszlo, and Mark Proksch as the face of Colin Robinson.

Guess what? Young Colin Robinson is a delight!
When the Season Three finale killed off Colin and replaced him with a baby with Proksch’s head on it, it was because the writers felt they had taken the familiar adult version of the character as far as he could go. What they didn’t anticipate was how technically challenging it would be to turn Baby Colin — and, now, Tween Colin — into something more than a one-scene sight gag.

“We knew it was going to be hard,” says Simms, “but we figured we’d come up with some repeatable process that would work for all the shots. But as we got into it, it felt more like each individual shot required its own approach and combination of various practical and digital tricks.”

The show uses multiple child actors to play Colin Robinson’s body, and they are the only ones physically acting opposite Matt Berry. Proksch records his performance well after the fact(*), which has its pluses and minuses for the creative team.

(*) While there are multiple special effects techniques deployed — including putting the child actors in wigs for shots where Colin Robinson’s face can’t be clearly seen — Newacheck got the primary approach from, of all things, the Wayans brothers movie Little Man, where the six-foot-tall Marlon Wayans played a jewel thief so short he could pose as a baby. He knew a visual effects artist from Little Man and reached out to him for advice before Season Four production began.   

“It’s a little bit easier to not have the joke right there present in the frame,” says Newacehck, talking about how there is sincerity to Laszlo’s affection for his young charge. “You can latch onto the heart a little bit more. The performances become more real, because you’re actually acting with a child who’s performing. And three months later, you create this abomination that adds Mark’s face to it.”

But as Simms admits, it’s “also kind of unnerving to shoot so much stuff and not know if it’s actually going to work right until you put it all together months later.”

The creepy visuals aside, the joke works because it has been evolving. Colin Robinson is aging quickly, and at this stage is a very talkative kid who will not stop talking about his biggest passions.

“So much of what we have here,” says Johnson, “is taken word-for-word from Paul’s son Charlie, who is 10 and loves Legos. There’s a certain joy of a kid who is just so in love with something that he has no awareness of the people around him or what their interests might be.”

For the moment, Simms says that both Charlie and Simms’ daughter Violet are excited that their father wanted to ask them so many questions about Legos, Roblox, and more as research for his work. “But then they began saying, ‘You know what? You should also put in something about [YouTube stars] Mark Rober and MrBeast.’ And I’m like, ‘Guys, I can’t fit everything in.'”

“Someday,” Johnson suggests, “[Charlie] will watch these episodes, and the chickens will come home to roost.”

“One of the things we said is that kids aren’t energy vampires,” says Simms. “But when they’re little and they have a million questions, and all they want to talk about are the things they’re interested in, it does wear you out. And that’s why as an adult, you’re always like, ‘Oh, God, finally they’re in bed. I can relax.'”

(The musical theater obsession is actually more from Simms himself. When Colin saves the day by singing and tap dancing — the dancing done by Sesame Street actress Violet Tinnirello, who dressed as Nadja last Halloween — the song is a Simms favorite, Cole Porter’s “Rap Tap on Wood.”)

“WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS” -- “The Grand Opening” -- Season 4, Episode 3 (Airs July 19) — Pictured: Affion Crockett as Richie Suck, Natasia Demetriou as Nadja. CR: Russ Martin: FX

From left: Affion Crockett as Richie Suck and Natasia Demetriou as Nadja.

Russ Martin/FX

Richie Suck may live up to his name, but Nadja’s nightclub is a hit.
The characters from the episode’s other two plots eventually wind up at Nadja’s club, where the crowd couldn’t be more hyped to hear Richie Suck. Given that the show’s vampires are generally portrayed as being trapped in the past and oblivious to modern pop culture, how exactly do they know anything about hip-hop?

“He’s not part of popular culture, he’s part of vampire popular culture,” Simms argues limply, before admitting, “When we work on scripts, there are always jokes where we say, ‘The vampires wouldn’t know that.’ But we broke those rules all the time, and there are always exceptions that are just too hard to resist.”

Bringing American guest stars across the border to Toronto has been a challenge for these recent seasons filmed during the pandemic. But Armisen is friends with recurring Shadows guest Kristen Schaal.

“Kristen said, ‘Oh, Fred really likes the show and he’d love to come on,'” says Simms. “And we realized we had the perfect part for him. That rarely happens.”

Crockett, meanwhile, raps as well as acts, which came in handy for the scene where Nadja and Richie Suck recall some of his classic lyrics.

“We did the rehearsal, and then I asked Affion to go maybe write a few other bars while we were setting up,” says Newacheck. “I knew he was really good at writing rhymes from Wild ‘N Out, because I used to watch him do his thing on that show. I have to give him full credit for that. He came back to set with two more verses and they were just, you know, as the kids say, fire.”

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