Interview With the Energy Vampire: Mark Proksch

Mark Proksch on What We Do in the Shadows. Photo: Russ Martin/FX

What We Do in the Shadows is a show featuring vampire orgies, werewolf piss, and something called a labia garden, and yet the biggest weirdo in the ensemble by far is a supernaturally boring, average guy named Colin Robinson, played to somnambulant perfection by Mark Proksch. Colin is an energy vampire, who feeds by sapping people’s energy with long rants and bad jokes. At a time when people who identify as energy vampires IRL are losing their marbles in quarantine (yes, this is real), we chatted with Proksch about the hilarious art of being boring on purpose.

How would Colin Robinson be handling social distancing right now?
He would be protesting the shutdowns. That’s definitely an area that he would gravitate toward: anything that annoys other people. Also, he would definitely be going to stores without wearing a mask, coughing near people. Everything that assholes are doing now.

Is Colin an amalgamation of people and behaviors, or is there just one specific person in an office a decade ago that you have a grudge against?
He’s definitely an amalgamation. Living in L.A., you’re going to meet a lot of people that get on your nerves. I was temping all through my 20s, and then going to grad school, you meet so many [annoying people] in both of those arenas.

Is there a rant that you’ve wanted to use as Colin that you haven’t had the chance to yet?
I’ll either go on a long rant about ’60s and ’70s jazz, or I’ll go on a long rant about wine: two things that are very annoying, but I love. For a lot of these rants, I just have to tap into my own knowledge base. Those are two areas that Jemaine [Clement] just will not put in [the show] and let me annoy the rest of America with. This last season, I went on a two- or three-minute rant about William Powell, the actor from the Thin Man movies. I just saw last [week’s] episode, and they kept in this reference to [character actor] Martin Balsam, whom I also love. Usually those things get cut out.

So Colin’s energy-draining rants really are coming from you.
They usually just give me an idea and I’ll go off on it, or else in the script they’ll give me a jumping-off point, which is really very nice that they consider me good enough to do that.

Your character flits between high status and low status: He’s excluded by the other vampires, but he has the most power over them. How do you negotiate that?
It’s an interesting balance. Colin is an arrogant moron. He’s the person that you get stuck talking to at the DMV. But he’s relatively harmless to people he likes. So with the vampires, yeah, he can kill them, but he’s lived with them for hundreds of years. That familiarity has bred some love. I’m showing that Colin isn’t just this murderous maniac that wants to kill everyone in his path. He needs people to stay alive in order to keep feeding on them.

One highlight of last week’s episode was the scene where you’re walking through the office pointing finger guns at people and making them pass out on the spot. Was any of that improvised?
That was one of the more choreographed things I’ve done on the show. That was Jemaine and our cinematographer D.J. Stipsen. I think what we did — seven or eight takes — was the most I’ve done on the show. What I said was improvised, but every beat of that shot was methodically planned out.

Colin Robinson is definitely the most mysterious character of the four main vampires. Do you have some sort of backstory in your head for him?
I haven’t really walked through it that much in my own head. It’s kind of fun to make it up as you’re going. I know you’re not supposed to say that on a TV show when there are millions of dollars involved. Jemaine knows this world forward and backward, and he definitely is the arbiter for the rules. But there really isn’t an entire backlog of energy vampire stories that go back hundreds of years. So we kind of make it up as we go along.

As the season goes on, you’ll get a couple more little tidbits about his life — if they kept him in the edit. Like he was a music manager in the ’70s for rock bands. And there are moments where he talks about being in Hollywood in the ’30s and ’40s and ’50s, and possibly having some sort of role in the industry there. But overall, I would say it’s a blank slate.

What’s scarier: filming with wires and special effects on What We Do in the Shadows or filming On Cinema opposite Tim throwing a tantrum?
Tim is a pussycat. When we do the Oscar Special, it’s my favorite night of the year. We’ll bring in people to act opposite Tim, and they have no clue what this world is or what’s about to happen. And then Tim will freak out, acting, but they think it’s real, and you’re just standing there and you’re like, Oh my God, this poor, poor old man!

What’s scarier: filming a flying scene or your outfit for the vampire orgy?
Oh, I think the vampire orgy was far more terrifying for everyone involved.

Speaking of that, and with K-Strass the Yo-Yo Guy, do you have a superhuman threshold for embarrassment?
I’ve always felt as long as I stay in character, as long as they buy into it, they’re the ones going home and saying, “Oh my God, I met the biggest jackass today.” As long as I’m not trying to make them look bad, and it’s all about me, then I’m in control of that situation. Even back then, people were like, “How could you go on a morning news show as a character and not break or not feel scared?” As long as I’m in character, I don’t feel vulnerable.

Between K-Strass and Good Morning Tri-State, what draws you to morning news shows? 
It’s everywhere, so everyone can relate to it. It’s also the closest thing we have to amateur television that’s on every single day. Especially in smaller towns, there’s a realness there, where the person who went to high school with you is now the weatherwoman. There’s that familiarity that is interesting to me. Playing around in that local-news world is really fun.

That’s what makes us all laugh. We’ve been doing these watch parties every Saturday night — me, Tim [Heidecker], Gregg [Turkington], Jason Woliner, [Nathan] Fielder — where we’re watching dumb stuff, awful YouTube videos and such. The real world is infinitely funnier than anything that anyone could script.

Any good YouTube recommendations?
We’ve been doing a deep dive into “Curly’s Grandson,” a descendant of Curly from the Three Stooges. Jason Woliner actually had him join our Zoom watch party. I’ve never seen so many cynical asshole comedians with bigger smiles on their faces. There’s another person that you should look up: Gail Chord Schuler. Just do a deep dive into her world. That interests me more than sitting down and watching most shows.

Interview With the Energy Vampire: Mark Proksch