Canadian creators of ‘This Is That’ have launched their own surreal take on the genre.
Smurf crime scene photo via Flickr user Patrick
Type “true crime” into any podcast app’s search bar and you may be faced with an uncomfortable reality: there are more recorded hours of strangers reciting serial killer Wikipedia pages than there are hours left in this year. That means you could theoretically listen to true crime podcasts every waking second of every day until 2019, and you’d still only be getting a slice of what’s already out there.
While we’ve certainly been blessed with parodies like Netflix’s American Vandal, there hasn’t been nearly enough jokes to keep up with this constant stream of earnest and terrifying crime podcasts. As someone who mainlines true crime as part of my job, I know the genre can warp one's sense of reality. (To give you an idea, I’ve recently been talked out of writing a trend story on “something sex-culty floating in the zeitgeist.”)
For some reason This Is That writers Pat Kelly and Peter Oldring seem to be on my surreal, crime-obsessed level. Along with podcast veterans Dave Shumka and Chris Kelly, as well as cast members Carly Pope, Lauren Ash and Paul F. Tompkins, the This Sounds Serious crew has blended absurd and believable in their own strange and Canadian way.
VICE caught up with Pat Kelly to talk about fooling listeners, satisfying endings, and maybe something culty in their future.
VICE: I’m curious about where you guys were coming from on this podcast. Was it an appreciation of the genre, or were you ripping on these tropes we’ve become so saturated in?
Pat Kelly: When we started jamming on the idea originally months ago, we were going to approach by fully attacking the tropes. We thought this needs to be made fun of, because there’s just so much of it. Then The Onion came out with A Very Fatal Murder, which was just a parade of jokes, basically doing all the work you’d need to do to make fun of the genre.
So we stepped back and asked ourselves: what do we like about this? We were attracted to the challenge of telling a story of a weird crime. Like, creating a story that’s a nice backdrop for odd characters, and using that structure as a backdrop for comedy. That hadn’t really been done in podcasting. As it advances, I don’t want to give too much away, but we’ll be going beyond the true crime podcasting trend, making fun of true crime television—that was such a big thing, basically what podcasting is now—and we’ll do a thing on cults, too. We’re trying to throw a bunch of things we see happening in podcasting, but our fundamental goal to tell a story that’s compelling, but also hilarious.
Do you think we’ve reached peak true crime podcast? Is the end near?
I don’t think we’ve reached the end. What has happened is we've totally revealed that it’s a type of story that is built for podcasting. The truth is, the whodunnit-kinda-thing has been around for a long time. I always equate it to 90s TV, when every channel was true crime, true crime, true crime. They're easy stories to find, so podcasters are finding them, and they don’t ever necessarily need to be closed—they're just using the dramatic device of an unsolved crime to string you along. I think the popularity of these is actually showing you what people’s taste are. A lot of people's tastes are these stories. We're hoping people who are honest-to-god true crime fans will give us a chance because they're like, I know it’s fake but I know enough of these shows, I might get a good laugh out of it.
I admit, I may have reached a personal saturation point. I feel lonely in not loving Serial or S-Town, but I still love a satisfying ending like in The Jinx. Can you tell me about your influences there?
I think The Jinx played a huge inspiration with ours, I absolutely loved it, mostly because of the complexity of the character, and this obviously looming thing that he may be guilty, which is something we were riffing on. In S-town I felt like it was less about dissecting a crime, more of a character study. We took a bit of that too—maybe it’s OK to create a character and spend eight or nine episodes with them. I think the average true crime podcast you find in whatever app—every week there’s a new one right at the top—a lot of them are kinda lazy, where they’re just reading a Wikipedia page about a murder. You’re basically getting a bedtime story. But the reason why people like them is they’re true, and there’s built-in drama. It just sucks when you get to episode ten and they say, ‘We don’t know anymore than we did in episode one, the killer’s still out there… bye!’
Given This Is That’ s history of fooling the average Canadian news consumer, do you think this one will “pass” as a real true crime story?
I think ultimately even with This Is That, we don’t necessarily set out to trick people, it’s just our own deadpan nature. It’s a similar thing, we’re not setting out to make people think it’s real, but I guarantee some portion of the listeners will reach out when all said and done, and say ‘I thought it was real up until the end.’ When you give people a story, they have something to invest in. We go out of our way to create everything, to make all that stuff, and the attention to detail makes everything feel as believable as possible. So our goal is not to trick people but if we do, it means we’re doing a good job.
You’ve probably learned by now people don’t like to be fooled.
No, they don’t! (laughs) We would be just as happy if everyone knew it was fake, but if we get discovered by a few fans searching out their latest true crime binge, they might assume it’s real. Hopefully they think it’s a fun story for when I’m on the bus or whatever—they may get invested and get a good laugh out of it anyway.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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