June 7, 2022 1:57 PM EDT

Taika Waititi may be known as the director of box office hits like Thor: Ragnarok. But the multi-hyphenate—he’s also an actor, writer, producer, and TV creator—can’t easily be put in a box as just a blockbuster auteur; he is just as comfortable working on indie projects.

Similarly, his style as a filmmaker is an unpredictable mix of light and dark. In a free-wheeling conversation with TIME’s Molly Ball at the 2022 TIME100 Summit on Tuesday, Waititi shared some insight into why comedy is the right vehicle to deliver important messages.

“In terms of telling a story, it’s the best we have,” he said of comedy projects: they make audiences let their guards down. His idiosyncratic 2019 movie Jojo Rabbit was a good example of this approach, he explained: “In terms of Holocaust stories, they need to keep being told, but we need different approaches to them. If we never change or pivot or try a new direction, the story gets old.” (Waititi also referenced a statistic that the majority of young people in the U.S. are undereducated about the Holocaust, even though it took place fewer than 100 years ago.) “If we’re not retelling these stories… it will happen again,” he said. “We have to adjust the narrative to suit the audience.”

Waititi also made the audience laugh with his reflections on growing up in a tiny town in New Zealand, his mixed Jewish and Maori roots, and what it means to be an indigenous filmmaker. “If you call yourself an indigenous filmmaker, you don’t always have to put a tribal person in your film playing a wind flute on a mountain talking to the ghost of your grandmother,” he said. “I don’t go around talking to trees or riding whales,” he joked. “If I want to know something or get some advice from an ancestor, I can Google it… We’ve got to normalize ourselves and demystify what it is to be native, because it’s pretty normal.”

Some of Waititi’s recent projects include Our Flag Means Death, an HBO Max show that is ostensibly about 17th century pirates—but actually, as he said, “about what it is to be a man,” and Reservation Dogs, a FX show that is “breaking out of the mold of traditional ways of seeing Native American onscreen.” Next up: the hotly-anticipated Marvel sequel Thor: Love and Thunder is out in July.

The TIME100 Summit is the live event extension of the annual TIME100 list of the most influential people in the world. It convenes leaders from the global TIME100 community to spotlight solutions and encourage action toward a better world. This year’s summit at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City features a variety of impactful speakers across a diverse range of sectors, including politics, business, health and science, culture, and more.

Speakers for the 2022 TIME100 Summit include Apple CEO Tim Cook, producer Mindy Kaling, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, musician Jon Batiste, Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley, NBA champion, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Dwyane Wade, former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, ‘me too’ founder Tarana Burke, ACLU deputy director for transgender justice Chase Strangio, founder and creative director Christian Siriano, Brother Vellies founder and creative director Aurora James, Netflix head of global TV Bela Bajaria, author and poet Cathy Park Hong, Olympic freestyle skiing champion Eileen Gu, filmmaker Betsy West, filmmaker Julie Cohen, BioNTech SE senior vice president Dr. Katalin Karikó, Ukrayinska Pravda editor in chief Sevgil Musaieva, and TIME co-chair and Salesforce chair and co-CEO Marc Benioff.

More Must-Read Stories From TIME

Write to Raisa Bruner at raisa.bruner@time.com.

Tim Cook: Loss of Privacy Could Change Behavior
Dwyane Wade Fears for Transgender Daughter's Safety
Barbados PM's Mia Amor Mottley's Climate Warning for U.S.
Volodymyr Zelensky's Speech to the TIME100 Gala
Miranda Lambert Performs at TIME100 Gala
EDIT POST