Here’s how Netflix’s new true-crime mockumentary makes you take phallic graffiti (sort of) seriously

Netflix’s American Vandal is a true-crime documentary series unlike any you’ve seen before. That’s because the show satirizes the genre as it “explores the aftermath of a costly high school prank that left 27 faculty cars vandalized with phallic images,” according to Netflix.

The eight-episode season (now streaming!) follows an aspiring documentarian, Peter (Tyler Alvarez), as he investigates whether the accused vandal, Dylan (Jimmy Tatro), actually went through with the crime.

“Not unlike its now iconic true-crime predecessors,” the Netflix description continues, “the addictive American Vandal will leave one question on everyone’s minds until the very end: Who drew the dicks?”

Yep, you read that right.

This parody takes that question very seriously, and that’s exactly where the humor comes from. But that attitude also pulls you into the drama. You want to find out if Dylan is behind the vandalism — and if not Dylan, then who? — just as badly as Peter does.

HelloGiggles caught up with the cast and crew at American Vandal‘s Los Angeles premiere. Here’s what they had to say about the secrets to parodying true crime.

Dan Perrault (Co-Creator)

“The secret to parodying true crime is treating your subject as serious as if it’s true crime. So even though we’re talking about penis graffiti, we knew it’d only be funny if we treated it as seriously as Sarah Koenig [of Serial] or Andrew Jarecki [of The Jinx] or someone else would treat an actual murder.”

Tyler Alvarez (Peter)

“The secret, honestly, is taking it as seriously as you can. That was the biggest thing in making this successful. I think we really stuck to the true-crime documentary filmmaking style. And also, the intensity and…the circumstances. This may just be vandalism, but there are a lot of people’s lives at stake.”

Calum Worthy (Alex)

“The key to making a good mockumentary or spoofing a true-crime show is to not approach it like you’re spoofing a true-crime show. Approach it like you’re doing a very serious show and you’re really trying to solve the crime. As soon as, at any point, we tried to make a joke out of something, it ruined it. So whenever we were on set, the whole goal was to make it really seem like we were in a drama in this moment. So I never approached it for jokes. I never tried to be funny.”

He added of what initially stood out to him about the project, “As soon as I read the scripts, I knew this was something completely different. And the thing that I loved about it is it’s not just a traditional comedy. There’s a lot of heart in it as well, so while it is a mockumentary, this isn’t just a spoof. It’s a real story with real characters that you really care about.”

Lou Wilson (Lucas)

“I think it’s commitment. The creators, Tony [Yacenda] and Dan, they insisted ‘We are doing this for real.’ We have this comedic premise and it would be so easy — and things were so free on set that it was easy to be making jokes — but it was always like, ‘Pull it back in and make it feel real.’ Because, that is what will convince the audience that this happened to a bunch of people and it really mattered, and I think it worked out.”

Camille Hyde (Gabi)

“I think the key is improv. I think the key is staying serious about things that could be taken as a joke. Really put yourself in the place of people who had dicks drawn on their cars. How would you feel? And once you make it really serious, it becomes something completely different because the world sees it as something that you’re taking seriously, but it’s all a joke.”

Camille Ramsey (Mackenzie)

“I think just fundamentally the concept that we’re talking about here. A kid gets in trouble for drawing dicks. What were we all worried about in high school? ‘Ugh, I got a D on my math test. My life is over! Oh my gosh, I didn’t make the soccer team. I’m never going to be a star.’ That’s what we’re tapping into.”

G. Hannelius (Christa)

“The way that they edit these shows, the drama that builds up in these true-crime series, I think we hit on that in a really special way that really brings the comedy…What also brings the comedy is that naturalism. It does feel very real, and that’s what we wanted. I think the cast had a lot of chemistry. We were able to get to that comfort level where it did just seem very natural.”

American Vandal is now streaming on Netflix.

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