A cult animated short with over 92 million views made a dark darling out of Hazbin Hotel, and its popularity inspired a legion of fans to raise a little hell so it could get picked up to series. It’s now a Prime Video animated (and very adult) musical comedy, and io9 got a chance to talk with creator Vivienne Medrano to learn more.
The Woman Who Would Be Photon
Hazbin Hotel follows Charlie Morningstar (Erika Henningsen), the Princess of Hell, as she opens a hotel with the goal of rehabbing demons in order to peacefully reduce overpopulation in her kingdom. You see, Heaven annually sends angels to exterminate their numbers, a practice Charlie wants to end. With the help of the powerful Radio Demon (Amir Talai), her girlfriend Vaggie (Stephanie Beatriz), and their first guinea pig—adult-film star Angel Dust (Blake Roman)—Charlie sets out to try and give souls a second chance.
io9 sat down with Medrano—Hazbin Hotel’s creator is also its executive producer and directed all the episodes—to hear about her inspirations and her journey to Prime Video. Hazbin Hotel is also produced by A24 and Fox’s Emmy award-winning animation studio Bento Box Entertainment (Bob’s Burgers, Krapopolis, The Great North, Grimsburg).
Sabina Graves, io9: Take me back and tell me about the inspiration for Hazbin Hotel. Your fans embracing the pilot online to get it to series is such an amazing journey.
Vivienne Medrano: Honestly, it was. I’ve always been really, really influenced by adult comedy. I saw South Park at very young age and I was like, “Oh my gosh, swearing is so fun.” It really just changed the entire trajectory of my career. So making an adult animated comedy was always kind of in the cards for me, but I’m also a huge musical theater fan. So to combine that into this raunchy musical that’s animated and looks so fluid and appealing was all the things I love, and that really resonated with people. It’s been incredible to see the response. And that has really carried the production of that original pilot into this incredible new series.
io9: When it comes to the lore, I love that it spins all of these preconceived notions of hell and has such a medley of characters. What was it like to step in to reinterpret that and give it more a female point of view with Charlie?
Medrano: I loved it because I really love mythos, and I really love adaptations of mythos. Obviously there’s so many amazing, like, Greek mythos and things like that that have been adapted over the years—and for me, hell has such a rich lore. There’s so many different texts and there’s so many different religions and there’s so many different ways of depicting the afterlife that I was like, “Oh, this is so fun.” Demons as a concept are so broad so you can really design and do things how you want. So I wanted to make my hell kind like a big circus. Lucifer is like a ringleader, and the sins are all based on circus acts, and things like that. It just makes it a little bit more fun. The main city is a mix of New York and Vegas, but only the sleazy parts—lots of neon. It’s so fun to get to play in this kind of world and expand it and do it with my sensibilities and focus on a female protagonist with Charlie—as opposed to the devil, how you normally expect it.
io9: Charlie is incredible and relatable. What was your inspirtation for her character specifically?
Medrano: Originally, when I conceptualized the main character of this group of very misfit demons living in this hotel, in a very early iteration, Charlie was a very different personality. And over time, especially when when I came up with that element of the redemption side of the story, I was like, “No, I think she needs to be a character [that’s] very kind of like a Leslie Knope [from Parks and Recreation]”—a very “No, I’m determined,” even in the face of adversity kind of character. And so I just took a huge pivot. That affected her design and her personality and the way she performs. I love her, I think she’s such a fun character now. I love getting to to write for her and see Erica perform her. It’s amazing.
io9: The show has such an incredible cast—Jeremy Jordan, Keith David. Tell me about your reactions to these actors coming on board. Were they people who were on your wish list?
Medrano: Some people really were the people [on my wish list]—and some of the people who auditioned, I was like, “Oh my gosh, I know this name!” It was unreal. Jeremy was definitely one of them. I did not think he would read for it and he did—and of course he was the funniest, most fun Lucifer audition ever. So he was an immediate cast. Having these cast members is unreal to me as someone who heard them on soundtracks and was like, “Oh, hopefully someday I get to work with these people.” So the fact that I have, and I’ve now been able to call some of them friends, and they’re incredible people and the kindest people ever… it’s amazing.
io9: That’s so cool. Lastly, we love to talk about first fandoms at io9. Can you tell me what are your first pop culture loves and how did they inform your career?
Medrano: Oh, that’s a fun one. The earliest ones I can remember—I grew up adoring The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, which was, created by a friend of mine, Maxwell Atoms. And then obviously, Invader Zim was huge for me around the same time. Looney Tunes is massive for me. [As far as movies go,] Jurassic Park and Roger Rabbit [were] influential. And just the entire, like, Disney renaissance with all the musical films.
Hazbin Hotel is now available on Prime Video.
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