Mega Dan Harmon interview, part 3: 'Rick and Morty'
Did the idea come from Justin? Were you just talking about “Back to the Future” one day?
Dan Harmon: The idea initially was voices in Justin’s head. Justin had finished a job working on a very creatively stifling show. I don’t know what it was – you’d have to ask him but I know that as he tells it, he was coming off of that show going into unemployment and had this desperate urge to create. And instead of that urge flowing like a garden hose being gently turned on it was gonna shoot out like through the barrel of a gun. It was gonna be explosive, loud and cause as much damage as possible. That’s what was gonna make him feel better after feeling stifled for so long. If you ever meet Justin you’ll learn very quickly that the idea of him being pent up for any amount of time is just a dangerous concept. And so he came off of this job and he just wanted to do some damage and he started just salting these beloved characters from his childhood – Doc Brown and Marty McFly — in the form of these Internet webisodes for Channel 101 and just for his own purposes.
It’s just a bastardization, a pornographic vandalization of something he held dear. As I think Ed Norton says in “Fight Club,” “I wanted to destroy something pretty.” I can’t remember what his quote was. So it’s Doc Brown and Marty McFly — their relationship, we’ve never understood. Why is this teenager hanging out with this old man who happens to have invented time travel? Why before that were they ever hanging out. And I think Justin’s making these shorts that were just like okay, it’s these characters and Doc Brown is always bossing Marty around. He starts convincing Marty that in order to solve his problem Marty has to lick his balls. (The Rick and Morty impressions begin here.) “Lick my balls, Marty. Lick my balls. Marty, there’s only one way to get through this. Marty. Marty. You’re gonna have to lick my balls, Marty.” “Oh geez, Doc. I don’t think I can do that. I don’t know if that’s the right thing to do.” “Marty, you’ve got to trust me, Marty. You’ve got to lick my balls, Marty.” Just repeating the names over and over again in that cadence, that voice. (Harmon notices me laughing uncontrollably.) And you’re laughing right now just like the audience reacted that way.
That’s all it was. It was just violent and aggressive and angry but joyful. The only words that apply to sum it all up are punk rock. It was just fuck the queen and fuck Pierre Cardin and fuck my teddy bear and fuck my mother’s lullabies. I just want to chant something. I just want to stick something through my nose until it bleeds. I want to be grody and just beat a log and scream. And he’s repeating these names, “Marty, Marty, Marty, you’re gonna lick my balls Marty.” And it’s kind of like it is Doc Brown and he’s telling Marty McFly what to do. And Marty McFly’s constantly going, “Ah geez, I don’t know.” ButJustin just took it and made it disgusting and weird and nonsensical. But then the weird thing that happened is everyone loved it so much and he loved doing it so much he just kept doing it. And then he started recognizing that this is something special to him and it had nothing to do with Doc Brown and Marty McFly. And so he started changing the spellings of their names and calling them Doc with a C – K and Marty with an H and all this kind of stuff.
And he just kept doing it for free on the Internet and just having these characters, just repetition, “Oh, Marty, Marty. Marty, you don’t get it. Marty, you don’t understand. Your whole world’s a lie Marty. It’s all a lie Marty.” “Oh geez, oh no. I can’t take it again.” “It’s all a lie Marty. Marty, it’s all a lie. Everything in the world’s a lie.” So flash forward to me getting fired from “Community,” and me in spite of that having equity. Adult Swim saying, “We’d really like to do something with you,” and me realizing that I’m not gonna fit in at Adult Swim. I could probably steal their money and write something for them. They may even put it on the air. It’s not gonna make people happy the way it is if Justin Roiland is involved. That’s what’s for sale over there. It’s doing things wrong on purpose. It’s punk rock. And so I called Justin immediately. He loves animation. He’s passionate. He’s hardworking. We love working together and I said, “What do you have? Anything? Whatever you have that you would love to do a show, I will help you go sell it at Adult Swim and we’ll do it.” And he immediately brought up this ridiculous unmarketable thing which is a terrible vandalization of Doc and Marty. And I said, “That’s perfect. It’s perfect.” Because of the giggling and the laughter and the energy that it provokes when he just keeps repeating these names and saying these terrible things.
I don’t want to offend anybody that is afflicted with anything because they have to go through serious things and they don’t want to read about writers saying, “Oh, I know what you’re going through” or “I understand you.” But it is just like the embodiment of bipolar energy. In every sense of that word it’s just Justin and he found these pistons in his crazy brain. It’s just a gruff voice saying, “You’ve got to do this. You’ve got to do that. You’ve got to do this. You’ve got to do that.” Repeating it over and over again. And the other voice, “Geez, I don’t know if that’s a good idea. I can’t do that.” And it’s Justin – that’s what an engine is. It’s just what a battery is. It’s bipolar. It’s one metal in your brain wanting desperately to get to the other to complete it. But them being so different that they’re causing this havoc to every synapse in between.