Mega Dan Harmon interview, part 3: 'Rick and Morty'
Welcome to the third and concluding portion of the long interview I did with Dan Harmon a couple of weeks ago in Los Angeles. In part 1, Harmon discussed the initial process of his return to “Community” and the beginning and end of his feud with Chevy Chase. In part 2, he talked about some of the specific goals of “Community” season 5 and the non-impossibility of a season 6 (and a movie).
In part 3, our focus mostly shifts away from “Community” to deal with Harmon’s other show of the moment, the Adult Swim animated sci-fi comedy “Rick and Morty,” a kind of dark, twisted spin on the Doc Brown/Marty McFly relationship from “Back to the Future,” only where Rick is an alcoholic sociopath and Morty is the learning disabled grandson he takes horrific advantage of. (I reviewed it earlier this year.) We talk at times about the differences and similarities between the two shows, and at the end Harmon discusses the weird vagaries of a TV business that looks at these two shows with similar ratings and considers “Rick and Morty” a big success and “Community” an NBC charity case. As with the previous parts, Harmon has much to say on every subject.
One thing I should note: if there was not ample evidence (including video) that Justin Roiland is a man who exists and both co-created “Rick and Morty” and voices the title characters, I would have assumed by the end of this conversation that he was just a Dan Harmon pen name — not because Harmon tries to take too much credit for the idea, but because when he goes on a run of Rick/Morty dialogue, he sounds exactly the way Roiland does in the finished version of the show (a new episode airs tonight at 10:30).
Were you done with “Rick and Morty” season 1 by the time all the “Community” stuff happened?
Dan Harmon: Basically. The way it worked out is as soon as I was fired from “Community,” I was in the cradle of “Rick and Morty” and as soon as my primary obligations to the “Rick and Morty” writers room were over, “Community” was asking me back. It was the final weeks of things I could have done to help “Rick and Morty”. And so it just worked out perfectly.
On “Community,” you have never lacked for the ability to make the show be anything you want. You can take the characters anywhere in any form. And yet, you can’t have them going to other planets, not really. Was there a level of freedom you felt doing this with Justin that felt like you were more unshackled than you have ever been?
Dan Harmon: Yeah, definitely. Even if I was writing another single camera sitcom for a new show that was live action that was set in a veterinarian’s hospital, I would have felt that new freedom because a new show is a new show. But an animated show, an adult comedy about a profane unlikeable sociopathic genius alcoholic scientist dragging his affable grandson around the cosmos while simultaneously a father of two tries to hold his marriage together in spite of having married out of his league to a woman who got pregnant when she was 17. There’s pretty much literally nothing that you can’t do in an episode of “Rick and Morty”. It was a beautiful, beautiful net to fall into off of the high wire that was “Community”. All I had to do was let gravity take its course and I was embraced by something that had me protected everywhere.
Coming out of the end of your time on “Community,” thinking that you’ll never come back, and then your Harmontown tour, it must have been a good feeling for you.
Dan Harmon: Yeah. Always a good feeling, you know, to talk about “Rick and Morty” – feeling like you’re a wise guy in a ship of fools, feeling like you have bigger fish to fry, feeling like you’re underappreciated, feeling like you’re surrounded by incompetence. Those are things that definitely get in the way of a collaborative effort. And “Rick and Morty” has a safeguard built in it because those feelings can be manifested into a character. You know it can be put on the page and make people laugh. At “Community” those feelings had to be suppressed like David Banner’s feelings about wanting to destroy a village of corrupt lumberjacks. They needed to be put on hold while I did the good job of making good people happy.
At “Rick and Morty,” there’s a pile of Nerf guns in the corner and the fluorescent lights are flickering because the guy hasn’t come back in to fix them and the bathrooms stink and it’s in Burbank and we’re doing something to make ourselves laugh. And it’s all bets are off. There’s no fourth wall you can break too much. There’s nothing too taboo. There’s no tender, tender heart that you can break by going left or right. There’s 8,500 ways to do “Community” wrong. Because it’s a good show for good people that have supported it for five years, there are now over 8000 ways to do it wrong. And there are less than zero ways to do “Rick and Morty” wrong. Someone asked me on Twitter, “Do you love your kids equally like parents say you do or do you love one of your kids more than the other like parents really do?” And I said I love “Rick and Morty” like a newborn child who smiles at everything I do. And I love “Community” like my beautiful teenage daughter that recently tried to lock me out of my own house. They’re two different relationships. I love them both but “Rick and Morty” is easy and fun.