Inverse Interviews

Rhys Darby wants you to give UFOs a chance in 'Aliens Like Us'

Rhys Darby wants you to know we’re not alone out here.

The New Zealander actor and comedian best known for supporting roles in Flight and the Conchords and What We Do in the Shadows is launching a podcast devoted to all things extraterrestrial. Aliens Like Us launches February 26 on Spotify. For Darby, it represents a lifelong fascination with the unknown that began with trips to the library as a young child.

"I just got more obsessed with the idea that there were creatures out there that we hadn't discovered yet," Darby tells Inverse. "The more I dove into it, the more I enjoyed the stories that used to freak me out. I never lost my interest in that, and never will.

Joined by co-hosts and longtime pals Leon "Buttons" Kirkbeck and Ethan Edenberg, each week Darby dives into biggest stories and most persistent questions in the ufology space, along with first-hand abduction stories and interviews with scientists, authors, and experts in the field.

You can listen to the trailer here:

Darby’s been fascinated by aliens, cryptids, and all things paranormal since he was a kid growing up in New Zealand. That’s not a huge surprise if you’ve seen his work in Flight of the Conchords, What We Do in the Shadows, Short Poppies, the recent X-Files reboot, or Hunt for the Wilderpeople. A bookish child and the youngest sibling in his family by a “massive” nine years, Darby says his desire to know more about the universe stemmed from questions about his own unexplained existence.

“I always felt like, why am I here? Maybe I wasn’t supposed to be here,” he says. “So I was interested in what other things shouldn’t be here.”

Ufology and paranormal phenomenon have seen a massive uptick in interest due to prominent outlets like The New York Times reporting on credible sightings and declassified intelligence. Stories previously dismissed as fodder for tabloids and cranks have taken on far greater legitimacy as a result, but the lighthearted approach of Aliens Like Us aims to keep the subject matter accessible, even to die-hard skeptics.

Inverse spoke with Darby about his long-standing fascination with the paranormal, delicious octopi, and his plans for Palm Springs’ upcoming Burning Man of ufology, Contact in the Desert.

The interview below has been edited for clarity and brevity.

What initially sparked your interest in ufology and aliens? What sort of stuff were you into growing up?

As a kid, going to the library and being able to choose a book, either through school or just going with my mum, was really great for giving visual images of stuff that may or may not be real, but was intriguing to a young mind.

Part of the explorer that’s in me feels like, why give up and just live your day-to-day life and go to work, come home, and watch TV? I think there’s a spirit inside us, telling us to find the answers. And there's a lot of fun in that as well.

That keeps driving me forward, and I think it's a healthy way to look at things, through a comedic means rather than through worry. We are alive. We’re here. Why are we? Let's try to find the answers and let’s have fun while we’re doing it.

Amateur ufologist Steve Whittle peruses the local library in Short Poppies.TVNZ

What kind of tone were you hoping to strike in Aliens Like Us? It seems you’re a firm believer in this stuff, but also very willing to poke fun.

That’s the most important thing to get right. Growing up watching, reading and listening to a lot of stuff about the paranormal, they take themselves very seriously. I think that switches a lot of people off.

Ghostbusters walked that line really well with regard to the spiritual world. The gang themselves, they’re kind of buffoonish, they take themselves with a grain of salt. That’s the same kind of way I wanted to tackle the subject.

“People have been trying to burst this little bubble of reality.”

We’re just regular people who like to have a laugh, take the Mickey out of each other. We go on tangents, have these weird theories. It’s a nice “in” for people, they can enjoy the humor, and they might walk away going “I think you’re right,” or at least they’re walking away with information they never had.

It’s kind of like a cult, really. You lure people in with weird outfits and the promise of immortality. Then you take their money.

Why do you think people are so fascinated by creatures that are sort of human, but not quite human?

When it comes to aliens, it's simply the idea of the other. We can't be alone. There's gotta be something else out there. Someone's got to be out there to help us. Are they already here?

It's just a big mix up with people who say they are here, who have had experiences, and then other people who think those are just crackpots. There's definitely a real push on the positive identification side of this, that the vehicles, or the UFOs, are real. So what is inside them, and where do they come from?

For no particular reason, here's a gem from Flight of the Conchords:

You’ve mentioned “unidentified submerged objects” in shows like Short Poppies and your previous podcast, The Cryptid Factor. Is a that you-thing? Or is this an actual thing?

You thought it was a me-thing? I guess it does sound a bit like a me-thing. No, it’s a real thing.

So like Nessie or something?

No. Well, yeah. Technically Nessie is a USO. But we’re really talking about spaceships that are hiding underneath the sea. That's a theory that is getting stronger and stronger with regards to where the alien bases must be on this planet. There’s well-documented cases of UFOs disappearing into the ocean. And what better place to hide than the great depths of our oceans?

We haven’t even catalogued everything in the deep sea, and there’s so many creatures there that look like what we think of as aliens.

Oh, absolutely. Some of those deep sea beings are just really, really bizarre. Maybe they are actually from another world and have just been left there.

One of the great ones I love is the octopus, which is just the most ridiculous-looking thing, capable of doing this really bizarre stuff. You look at that and you think, “How the hell did that thing ever end up being? It must be from somewhere else.”

Yeah all the camouflage stuff, it’s remarkable. They’re also delicious, unfortunately for them.

We’re the bad guys. We’re eating aliens and we don’t even know it.

Psycho Sam in Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

Why is it that so many of the stories that we hear about alien contact are somehow kind of sexual, like someone's getting probed, or someone's being used to make a hybrid?

My argument is that actually is what's happening. If you talk to the right contactees, they'll say there is a hybrid program.

The second thing is, when you think about life itself, we’re here to constantly evolve and multiply. So that’s where the sex comes into it. You can’t talk about other creatures or other worlds without those worlds colliding physically, sexually. That's kind of bizarre, but that's the nuts and bolts of life itself.

There's a much broader discussion happening now about the existence of UFOs. Do you think it’s mostly because mainstream outlets like The New York Times are covering it?

That's a major part of it, for sure. When big media and and respected news outlets put out articles stating facts from leaked government sources, that gives credibility to the idea that these things have been here all along.

Since Erich von Däniken put his book out – Chariots of the Gods, and offered this alternative idea that extraterrestrials did come here and and helped us, or created who we are – people have thought, “maybe that is correct.”

I think, as we advance as humans, we're kind of bursting through that bubble. That's why we live in this era now, where there’s so much fake news and people are popping crap out left, right and center, because the internet's let that happen. But all the way through, people have been trying to burst this little bubble of reality.

That's why these crackpot types of these people–like my Psycho Sam character from Wilderpeople–they've always been shunned. It's the same in that movie Independence Day, there’s that character who really believed in UFOs. He was a pilot, he went mad, and people thought he was crazy. But he ended up being right. It’s all coming full circle now, where anything is possible.

Steve Whittle introduces himself in Short Poppies.TVNZ

People have way more access to information about this stuff now. You can capture a video or image of something and share it immediately.

Free access to information has made everyone step up and be their own detective. You don't need to just go to school, learn what's taught, then come home. The world has changed so much in the last 10 years. I could pull [my two sons] out of this school that I'm paying a goddamn fortune in tuition for, and they’d probably be absolutely fine.

Both my boys are always on YouTube, surfing all the information shows that come out. At first I was thinking they were just playing games, but most of the time, they're actually soaking up crazy information and facts. Then they spew them out of me and my wife at my dinner. It’s really quite cool.

Speaking of platforms, why did you decide to partner with Spotify for Aliens Like Us?

I'm not an Apple user. I don’t resign to any particular sort of technical religion. I'll use different devices for different reasons. But when I found Spotify, it was the most user-friendly platform for music and podcasts, so it made sense for me to put my new podcast on Spotify.

The hosts of Aliens Like Us, up to no good.Spotify

You're planning to do a live podcast at Contact in the Desert in May. Could you tell me a bit more about that event?

It's Burning Man for UFO freaks. It is probably the biggest UFO conference in the world. It's in Palm Springs; this will be the third one [for me, the event is in its eighth year]. Really, it's all of us just getting together. A lot of scientists, a whole bunch of lectures from people who have either experienced UFO stuff, people who investigate it and have massive historical knowledge about the field, and also scientists that disagree or offer alternative ideas as to what we’re seeing out there.

“Why give up and just live your day-to-day life and go to work, come home, and watch TV?”

It just made sense for me to put myself through the door and say, let's keep things light and bring in the people that might not necessarily turn up for some of the boring stuff, right?

I've been to a fair few Comic-Cons for work, and I've got to say, it's pretty much exactly the kind of people you would expect. What kinds of folks go to Contact in the Desert?

It's a real mixed bag. You think it would be a lot of people with tinfoil hats. There’s definitely a few weirdos. You know, I count myself in that: I'm a professional weirdo. It’s a lot of just regular people, families and even younger kids wanting to know more than what they're told at school.

There's some really good lecturers who talk about the origins of the human species, the pyramids, the monoliths that are found all over the world. It's a lot of panel discussion, like really smart people talking about what they think is going on that we're not told about.

Whittle, shortly before being thrown out of the library, in Short Poppies.TVNZ

Are you planning to bring a boombox playing theremin music, like in Short Poppies? Contact in the Desert seems like the perfect place to score some new theremin tunes.

Buttons [Darby’s co-host on Aliens Like Us] is really good on the guitar, so he’s normally jamming. Last time I was there, there was a moment where a couple of guys – contactees who had experienced a proper UFO-alien situation – they were playing music, having drinks, and you could just go into the jam session. I was playing the guitar and I started improvising. I’d had a couple of drinks, and I was singing a song about a space rock.

People were getting up and dancing and it was the most surreal, weird thing you've ever seen. It was like walking into the bar in Star Wars, you know? You never know what's gonna happen.

New episodes of Aliens Like Us premiere Wednesdays on Spotify.

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