I spoke with the hilarious Joel McHale and Dan Harmon about the return of Community. I know you guys are as excited as I am to have it back on the air. There is never a dull moment on press calls with Joel, and Dan can hold his own, after all who do you think put Jeff Winger on this planet? In case you are not familiar with Dan here is an excerpt from The Book of Dan, a.k.a. NBC’s press release: “Harmon is a native of Milwaukee, Wisc. He’s 37; he has chronic heartburn, a perfect girlfriend and a cat with no teeth. Wish him luck on this new adventure in life.” When I was introduced to Joel on the call he teased me about my name and being a fellow narcissist. How I love a good ribbing. Seriously, it was an absolute pleasure to speak with Joel and Dan. They even gave us an extra special thank you at the end of the call. I told you they were both proper gentlemen. Communityis back! Everyone needs to tune in on Thursday and tell your friends to do the same. We almost lost it once and that wasn’t fun was it? Let’s never go through that again…six seasons and a movie. COMMUNITY, Thursday nights on NBC!
Lena Lamoray: Hi Joel and Dan.
Joel McHale: Ah, a narcissist. Wow, the name of your website works so perfectly with your own name – incredible.
Lena Lamoray: I know it does. (Jeff Winger would be proud of my website’s name.)
What can you both tell us about the upcoming episode? And I’m sure Jeff’s wedding speech is going to be an instant classic.
Dan Harmon: Well lower your expectations there. The story is more about Jeff’s inability to come up with a wedding speech.
Joel McHale: Yes.
Dan Harmon: That does create a revelatory moment for him. What else can we tell you?
Joel McHale: I can tell you that there’s a – at least in the trailer and they keep showing it because it’s so funny Gillian Jacobs when I say – when we’re have – when we’re yelling at each other I was like “what about babies?”
And she goes “what about them?”
And I say “how many?”
And she goes “pick a number dick”.
Dan Harmon: Like it’s up to me.
Joel McHale: Yes it’s so funny and every time I see it I laugh. And it’s weird because I’ve shown my kids that trailer and they’re three and seven and they keep wanting to rewind that moment.
Dan Harmon: It’s great. It’s really visual because she kind of gestures at her own ovaries. She sort of like gestures at her mid-section in this kind of defiant way – “pick a number dick” like it’s up to me. I can certainly guarantee that that’s the product of the female half of our writer’s room. It’s a great example of like why it pays to have gender balanced writer’s room because it’s not because women are funny doing jokes about being women it’s just that that Britta character can really sing in the hands of people who have that fundamental thing in common with her. There’s a Britta inside every woman. Like even if you’ve been running from it your whole life or you really feel like you are her. Her like her kind of like her zealousness you know. She’s called a feminist icon and the worse thing to happen to women in the same breathe by certain people. And that’s a great – it wouldn’t be possible if there weren’t really, really, really smart funny girls working here.
Joel McHale: Yes and Gillian is – she also I mean she’s collegially touched. She just – it should be a crime that someone is as beautiful as she is and as good of an actor as she is that she can nail jokes and she’s amazing.
Dan Harmon: But wait we’re not answering, the question is what could we tell her about 312 or sorry the episode coming up. Malcolm-Jamal Warner is wonderful. Watching him in the episode makes me really yearn to have him back consistently. I think this relationship with Shirley feels very alive and explorable. I think that Troy and Abed being normal is fun to watch for a small dose.
Joel McHale: So good – yes.
Lena: Joel, I love the relationship between Jeff and Pierce.
Joel McHale: Yes.
Lena Lamoray: Do you have a favorite Jeff and Pierce moment?
Joel McHale: I like – boy there’s a lot of them but one that stands out is when he and I are screaming at each other in the Dungeons and Dragon’s episode and just in the middle of – I’m yelling at him because he’s being terrible to this unstable kid Fat Neil. And just out of blue just screams “I can still get erections” and I go – and my character was like “what?” And then we just move onto the next part of the argument.
Dan Harmon: Yes that same conversation is the one where he says “I don’t like being excluded Jeff, do you?” and you say “yes”. Which is a great example of well-defined characters not needing terribly clever set-ups and punch lines. And for me that’s just a laugh out loud moment that’s sort of – it’s funny because the characters are real in that moment. I really have a wonderful show.
Joel McHale: You do. You should end every single question with that.
Dan Harmon: Well that’s how I feel. Like the elephant in the room – why are you talking like this?
More Press Conference Call Highlights:
Q: Since we’ve seen the cast of Cougar Town do a major push to gain viewers doing things such as holding fan viewing parties, presenting spoilers and doing lots of interviews, have you considered such extreme measures for Community?
Dan Harmon: No, we haven’t considered it. We…
Joel McHale: You’re looking at it right here because this is all we’re doing – this call.
Dan Harmon: Yes well I mean yes our way of trying to get people to watch the show is make the best show possible. I’m from Wisconsin so I always feel a little nausea’s about begging and trying to trick people into liking me. I’m obsessed with earning people’s attention. So I wouldn’t be the right guy to do it anyway. But welcome NBC and Sony promote the hell out of the show. I think they should definitely do that.
Joel McHale: Yes I would like to get the budget (unintelligible). That would be great.
Q: Do you think that Jim Rash at the Oscars mimicking Angelina Jolie will give the show a kind of boost?
Dan Harmon: Yes I think there’s a huge demographic out there looking to see Angelina Jolie get her – I’m sure – no as I’ve said there were 30 million people watching the Oscars with ratings like ours if 1/10th of a percentage of them decided to Google Jim Rash out of curiosity it could double our ratings. So that’s probably one of the benefits of pulling a 1.4. Also if someone’s cat steps on the remote you know that could set things in a whole different direction too.
Joel McHale: Yes that one little leg move, thank you. That was awesome.
Q: You had a NASA comparison at PaleyFest about getting viewers to watch Community. How did you come up with such an interesting metaphor?
Joel McHale: Did I – Dan did you do that?
Dan Harmon: It was your metaphor Joel.
Joel McHale: Oh.
(About coming into radio silence)
Joel McHale: Oh, right yes. Oh right, okay geez. Wow what did I – was that on a hiatus – was radio silence? Yes, no I think I mean obviously that was a joke but with being taken off even though at the time seemed like a huge bummer, if anything it really showed the insane support for the show by the fans. And that was just so wonderful. I mean we didn’t – I you know the tremendous response was just I think really it’s kept our show in the conversation and created even more of a conversation about the show. So we – I hope that that sort of – that huge brush fire that the fans started with spread to other people and will catch them on fire and they will be burned by it. So I mean I…
Dan Harmon: It’s true you know like they say that if you lose one of your senses the others intensify. I mean our worst measurement has always been the Nielsen ratings so we’re eliminating that sense of our success. All of a sudden the only way to measure us was by the fanaticism of a global audience. And so all of a sudden it felt like there were more people watching our show than ever when we were off the air.
Joel McHale: Yes it was so weird because we’d read the ratings and you know we – they weren’t you know weren’t great but it was so weird to see the ratings. But then at the time the show was on we would be a trending topic worldwide. And that to me showed the great sincerity in how you know the viewers and not watching you know young viewers not appointment viewing and reality that there’s a huge number of people that I think watch. Or I mean at least it makes me feel better that watch the show not in a way that is traditional. And once they learn to measure that and quantify it and put a number on it and that can be shown to advertisers I believe that it will be…
Dan Harmon: Well they know how to measure the number. It’s easier to measure the numbers now more than ever now that you can actually you know count clicks and stuff. The problem is that you can’t sell that number to anybody that’s willing to pay money for it because you can’t guarantee those people will watch a Colgate add.
Q: Dan, what do you think the Webisodes will bring though to the show?
Dan Harmon: I don’t know. I think well I think it was a nice methadone shot for people craving to hear those beautiful voices. I thought Tom Kaufman and (Dave Seger) did a great job capturing the voice of the characters on the page. So I don’t know if it’ll – will it increase ratings? I don’t know. Like I said you know an earthquake could change our ratings, a basketball game changes our ratings, so everything changes your ratings when your audience is the wits of the meter’s needle.
Q: You guys mentioned that it’s going to be a darker season this upcoming season and Jeff even came on that little trailer and dumped a dead body. I’m sure Dan and the writers have a way to make even death funny somehow?
Dan Harmon: Yes well we did and that’s nothing new to sitcoms. I mean one of the funniest episodes of Mary Tyler Moore was when Chuckles the clown died. It’s I think that you know death just like Christmas, birthdays, weddings, love, sex, jealously and all that stuff is as handy a tool for comedy because it’s something everyone speaks you know? We’re all scared of death; we all face it together so you can get as big a laugh as you can get a tear out of a topic like that. I think that I mean when I said that this would be the darkest season it was more of a prediction then anything. It turned out to be right I mean because the show itself in a med sense suffered a cardiac arrest. And yes that energy trickles into the writer’s room then when you’ve got a guy like me kind of like who thrives on constant affirmation. A big spoiled baby who’s so used to the show airing once a week and us getting that feedback and having that ego stroke. You know me being deprived of that I think we can translate that into a darkness that seeps into the second half of the season. But with that – but expressing darkness is just another way of worshiping the light. I mean so it’s all good as they say in the hackie sack circle.
Joel McHale: And if you look at one of the darkest episodes of last year Dungeons and Dragons which was literally dealing with a guy who was giving away his stuff because he was going to commit suicide.
Dan Harmon: Right.
Joel McHale: Which I mean that the fact Dan that you did – that was basically like during the dunk contest that he did like a 780 in the air and slammed it with one hand and then with the other hand he was taking a photo of himself with his camera phone. That – I mean just Dan and the writers can take those things and make them as you would say make them absolutely hilarious and yes there’s going to be a bunch of that stuff.
Dan Harmon: But let’s not raise our expectations because also I was really bummed out to be off the air.
Joel McHale: I don’t want to raise expectations but this is going to be the greatest second half of any television show in the history of the world.
Dan Harmon: Let’s say…
Joel McHale: No I’m kidding.
Q: Joel, we’ve seen Jeff pretty much hook up with everyone at Greendale from students to teachers. Is he going to get serious with anyone?
Joel McHale: He’s going to hook up with Leonard. That’s well let’s see – I’m trying to remember – I’m going to get together with a flag team. No I – Jeff’s romantic life in the second half of this season it’s not like you know a huge topic. There’s always stuff going on with Annie and Jeff but…
Dan Harmon: The focus is very much on the group for this season. And the relationships between two people are sort of a subset of that.
Joel McHale: Yes.
Dan Harmon: There may come a day when we’re in season five or six when if I get married or something and I start to find humor in monogamy maybe Jeff Winger will attempt another relationship. He hasn’t had one since he tried one with (Slater). I – romance in general while an absolutely necessary component of story-telling because again like death and holidays and things it’s a part of our lives, it’s a thing that we share. I – not only do I think it’s dangerous for it to eclipse an ensemble comedy I also even if I didn’t think it was dangerous I would still have to observe the fact that we just finished watch The Office nail it. I mean they did everything you could possibly do in terms of watching two people couple up and taking part in the joy of love blooming before our eyes week after week in a sitcom environment. So what could I possibly do in a Greg Daniels contest against Greg Daniels? So I go the other way and just I’m going to stay focused on the hilarity and joy and sadness of being a group of people.
Joel McHale: Yes and we really do have to come together as a group this year because of Chang. And in the trailer they just ran you see the Chang poster being revealed and the group needs all – everyone’s – all hands on deck as we battle him.
Dan Harmon: Right.
Q: I think you talked about it at the PaleyFest a little bit but when you noticed the ratings for 30 Rock in the same time slot were as good or bad or worse than what you were getting, did you feel a little indication that it wasn’t you guys as much as it might have been the time slot?
Dan Harmon: Of course. I mean I could be diplomatic and say what are you talking about? But I mean I have to stress and this isn’t diplomacy, this is religion for me, like I do not take pleasure in seeing – I did not like being put in the position where I was rooting for a fellow creative bad fortune at all. I think that there’s probably room for everybody to get entertained and to entertain but at the same time yes obviously, numerically, scientifically I was relieved to see that my suspicion that that environment temporally was a little bit hazardous to anybody who might step foot in it. American Idol is a juggernaut. It’s like it’s bigger than baseball and it only picks up in its appeal to people and its demand that you watch it live as time goes on. More so than Big Bang Theory – that thing just ate us alive, it’s a killer. Our hats off to them for figuring out how to keep people watch live TV in an era when you don’t have to. You’re a narrative show, people can just subscribe to it now you know? I watch Breaking Bad – I’ve never turned my dial to AMC. So like that’s the bummer. It’s a monster that show. People singing and people voting for the singing and there’s no stopping it. Because you can always watch 30 Rock later. You could watch it in your car on the way to the wedding after you – but if you get to the wedding and you didn’t watch American Idol you might as well not of watched it, you might as well never watch it. So anyways that was my big tangent on the genius of American Idol. But it’s a tough slot and I’ve always felt that way and I’ve always been proud to plant our feet there and take a kidney punch week after week. Always been ecstatic that we’re chosen to stand there with our bayonet and like experience terror for you know under this peacock banner that I’m so proud to stand under. That they would choose us to go into those front trenches and look at the whites of the enemies eyes as long as there’s an understanding that that’s what the environment is. That it’s different from being in the back tents. So and that’s what I’ve felt like okay maybe now our 1.5 can be looked at with a little more than a frown.
Joel McHale: Yes.
Q: Now that you know that unless something goes really wrong you’re going to be on through May. You didn’t have a bunch of repeats thrown in there. It’s just going to be a big intense shot of new episodes through May. Do you think that might work out a little bit better for the show?
Dan Harmon: Certainly. I mean that’s a very positive way of looking forward to this. There’s negatives to throw in there. There’s you know I don’t follow basketball but apparently we have that to contend with.
Joel McHale: Yes.
Dan Harmon: We would have if we were in repeats or not. But yes I mean I think Big Bang Theory will have a lot of repeats going against original stuff by us that can only help.
Joel McHale: They actually – CBS is actually pre-empting a big bang for basketball because they’re the NCAA station.
Dan Harmon: Oh then I guess that’s just out of the frying pan and into the fire right?
Joel McHale: Yes but I mean the great thing is that you know the groundswell seemingly huge and I pray that that reflects in people watching it – I pray to God.
Dan Harmon: Yes I to answer your question, yes I hope that that will be a positive factor. I also hope that things like us – all of our episodes being available out of Hulu during the hiatus lending itself to people emailing links to their friends and saying look that show I keep harping about at parties that you thought you’d catch up on one day, it’s off the air right now, all the episodes are right here. Get caught up. And you know I see tweets in forum posts from people who are just halfway through the first season during this hiatus and going oh my God I can’t believe I haven’t seen this show. I hope – my hope is – my naive hope is that there’s a million of those people joining us next week.
Q: That Timeline episode was so acclaimed. Are there any future episodes you can tease us about that sort of scratch a nerdy itch like that.
Dan Harmon: It’s hard to say. I mean I didn’t know until the night it aired that that was going to be the favorite of the season. I thought there was an equal chance that people were going to you know wretch at it because it was a conceptual episode that mainly focused on people eating pizza. And the 7/8 of the show didn’t exist. So I’ll be the first to admit I never know what people are going to like and not like. So that’s a big part of why the show is so awkwardly ambitious because it never trusts itself to stick with something that works. It never assumes that it knows it’s going to work. We’re going to throw a bunch of stuff at the wall like we always do. And the one thing that I’ve always been able to rely upon is the audience’s love of the actors. Let’s face it we’re selling heads on a box and people fall in love with those heads. So you’re going to get plenty of those people that you love that we’re…
Joel McHale: What about the – I know that studio is really excited about the Law and Order one right Dan?
Dan Harmon: Yes, we’ve been excited about episodes that have been like you know met with faint praise or (unintelligible). We’ve been dreading episodes that people have gone through the roof for. The Dungeons and Dragons episode was not a popular dance partner politically so there was a scramble to cut it throat with some of the halls of the corporate buildings because it was a nerdy topic and all this stuff.
Joel McHale: Dan is amazing. They weren’t even worried about the suicide, it was the nerdy stuff – it was the nerdy part.
Dan Harmon: Yes it was that we kept saying goblins. Stop it, stop saying sword.
Joel McHale: I’m really excited, I don’t know if you’ve cut it yet but the pillow port – the pillow – I don’t know how that’s got – but I’m really excited about for that one just because biolystically it will be totally different than anything.
Dan Harmon: Yes.
Joel McHale: Is that…
Dan Harmon: Yes I live in terror. That’s why I’m a horrible PR spokesman because I’ll just be honest about the fact that I never know, my stomach is in knots coming back from a hiatus. I feel like we’ve got this – the hiatus is the best and worst thing that can happen to this show simultaneously. It has awakened a fandom – and intensity of which may, like what if it outweighs quality of the show? What if people love this thing too much? Like what if let them down? I wake up in the middle of every night for the last two months with my stomach in knots – I’m terrified. But you know that’s 39 years and counting of that. So things have been good so far. What am I doing? Save it for your shrink Harmon.
Joel McHale: But you know this – just think of Dan if you were the opposite where you were just way confident and over confident. It wouldn’t – just I – the show would be a different show because you care so deeply about it and you’re like the pro who just made some great catch. Like only had 200 yards in the game you’re like but last week I had 208 and next week you’ll have 300. So thank God Dan is beating himself up over this is what I’m saying.
Dan Harmon: But what if it’s not enough. Dammit.
Joel McHale: Thanks. I like how we just stop talking and…
Dan Harmon: Well you know, I can’t ask anything.
Q: Joel, you do The Soup, Community and movies. How do you find time to do everything?
Joel McHale: I really don’t. I don’t sleep or see my family very much. No I – Community you know when Community‘s in season that’s my focus and that’s where I spend my time and the Community production has graciously allowed me to let away to do The Soup. And I come back but I don’t do – I can’t – I haven’t been in movies – I try – two years ago when I did Spy Kids I was flying away on the weekend but it is – it’s really busy but thankfully at Community we all like each other. So it would be difficult if it were I don’t know I – you hear horror stories about sets and – but as much a time as we spend there, those people have really become my friends. So it’s a really good problem to have which I thank God, I don’t know how it happened but I get to work in the field that I love working in and I also get to work on a show that I love. And it would be really strange and odd to be on these calls if I didn’t like the show I was on. So it’s really good high class problem to have. I’m not like a person in Syria who might get shot by a sniper while buying milk so I count it as you know very thankful.
Dan Harmon: When’s that Spy Kids movie coming out?
Joel McHale: It came out last summer.
Dan Harmon: Oh Joel, I’m so sorry.
Joel McHale: It’s alright, and I knew – I had a feeling you weren’t going to see it in the theatre so I bought you a Blu-ray edition.
Dan Harmon: Is it true that this is the one where they become spy men and women like and they actually have spy kids?
Joel McHale: The spy kids – the original spy kids are older and they’re fully – they’re adult spies not adults you know like porn stars but they’re adult spies. And I play the husband of Jessica Alba and the kids are our kids. So they’re not – it’s not the exact – it’s kind of like – alright I’ll stop talking. It’s not as complicated as it sounds as I just made it.
Q: The cast is full of comedians and fun people. Who’s the most difficult person to do a scene with without cracking up or messing up? Who makes you laugh the most when you guys are trying to do scenes for the show?
Joel McHale: I’m going to say it’s a three way tie between Donald Glover, Jim Rash and Ken Jeong. Those three guys they’re like they did comedy where there was no comedy. They make moments out of things that I didn’t think was possible. And they’re just so – they’re just comic – they’re just different. They’re cut from a different mold. And for that matter Danny Pudi is just (unintelligible). And so I have trouble getting through a lot of stuff and once again it’s a great problem but there’s some things like in an episode coming – that Ken Jeong and Jim Rash do that I can’t look at them while they’re doing it or I will ruin the seg.
Q: Dan, the Professors on the show are great. So are there any plans to see Michael K. Williams and John Oliver again?
Dan Harmon: Michael K. Williams comes back for a final triumph in the Law and Order episode. He’s great in it. The difficulty with him is schedule and pre-existing agreement based. I would have certainly loved to have had him for 12 episodes if not more of the third season and have him be a fixture and base the stories around the biology class and therefore his character. But the truth is that he was only you know we had to finagle and got like three episodes I think out of him. And so that’s the trouble with guest stars and it’s the same thing with John Oliver. When you see him in the show it’s like John Stuart doing us a huge favor letting him go and John Oliver doing us a huge favor making it work with his schedule. And – but so because of Michael K. Williams and John Goodman’s involvement this year John Oliver we just sort of put on the bench to use a familiar phrase because it’s too hard when you start compounding all of that juggling you end up having episodes where you go okay you have to use John Goodman for two days and you have to use John Oliver for half a day but it has to be in the cafeteria. Now write an episode. And you don’t want to get into that corner. So John Oliver is sorely missed this season both by the writers, by myself, by the audience, by the cast I’m sure.
Joel McHale: Yes.
Dan Harmon: Would love to see him return when we get our fourth season.
Joel McHale: Yes.
Q: Joel, you guys have already spoofed Glee this season, you’re spoofing Law and Order. Are there any other shows out there that you think would serve Community well?
Joel McHale: I would like to spoof Hillbilly Hand Fishing. I don’t know if you’ve seen Hillbilly Hand Fishing but these hillbillies hang in the river and then they reach into mud holes and pull out catfish.
Dan Harmon: Oh geez yes I’ve seen that.
Joel McHale: And then they get people to slide their hands down on their hand and it very much sounds like they’re teaching them to jerk off. So that would be a great episode.
Dan Harmon: Yes I think it’d be cheating to do it and I don’t know how we would do it but Gilligan’s Island would be perfect because I basically I realized yesterday I found an old document from when I was designing the characters and I completely just ripped off Gilligan’s Island and split up the Howells and made Ginger a radio head fan. That was the configuration of the characters and so it would be really easy to have them be Gilligan’s Island but I don’t know how you do that without being ridiculous. I mean it’s like who – on one hand you want to see something like that for five seconds but what kind of show would that be.
Joel McHale: That’d be awesome. How about maybe Flipper?
Dan Harmon: I’ve always wanted – yes maybe if we – when we get a fourth season I kind of want to see if we can do a full blown Scooby Doo Halloween episode.
Joel McHale: That would be awesome.
Dan Harmon: Or do – or maybe just do something like an ersatz like sort of in that very familiar style is like Jabberjaw and all that stuff like the 70’s gang of sleuths and animated in that style. And maybe just thinly justify it by do an episode where you guys break down in your van and spend the night at a haunted house and solve a mystery. Seems like you have permission to do stuff like that on Halloween.
Joel McHale: Yes talk about moments – yes now I’m just saying yes that’d be great.
Q: So you’ve guys had so many like creative fans who had all these creative ways of showing their appreciation of the show during the hiatus. What sort of surprised you the most about what you saw on the internet and stuff?
Dan Harmon: I think the thing that surprises me the most is always the YouTube videos. There are ones that makes sense given your understanding of the attention span of an average human and the amount of love that someone can have in their heart from your experience. And then there are the ones that blow you away because the only way this person could have possibly meticulously gone through all the footage of our show and assembled this particular thing is if they cared about the show almost literally more than me. And that always like unsettles and shames me when I see – there’s a video on YouTube that is edited to the tune of – it’s edited to one of Donald’s childish Gambino songs called Freaks and Geeks. If you YouTube Freaks and Geeks Community there’s a video where you know in editing we call it Mickey Moussing. It’s not something you’re normally supposed to do where if Donald’s rap mentions an orange then he uses and image that includes an orange from the show. But he does it incessantly for a solid three minutes. Every syllable, every word of Donald’s rap is reflected in some piece of imagery from Community in multiple boxes that go to the beat and it is spectacular. And its – I don’t think our entire editing staff would have time to put that together if we had to broadcast it, you know? It would be too big a project for them. And someone just did it by themselves. So that stuff always astounds me. That and the standing outside in the freezing cold singing Oh Christmas Troy outside Rockefeller Center.
Q: In what ways are you the most happy with the way that the show has evolved overall? What do you feel resonates so well with such a cult fan base?
Dan Harmon: I’m most happy with the fact that it’s focused on the characters. I’m least happy with the notion of anyone getting turned off from the outside by the word of mouth advertising that makes us sound like a sketch show or you know a bunch of inside jokes and lame puneri. Because the truth is the way that we get away with that stuff is having handed off some very basic archetypes to some incredibly talented versatile actors who are so consistent in their dimensionalizing of these characters. That much like the peanuts for the Muppets or the cast of Gilligan’s Island or any other of these – they’re very iconic ensembles. You can just take them and put them in space suites, you can put them in a musical, you can make them pirates and it still stands. And that’s – that makes me very proud. Makes me feel like I’ve been a part of something, a successful rocket launch.
Joel McHale: Yes and for me fans bring – it’s like what’s the guy from X-Men united that Patrick Stewart plays?
Dan Harmon: Professor Xavier?
Joel McHale: Yes Dr. Xavier and the imagination the universe of that show is under the imagination of Dan and the writers is so vast. And reading when you get the new script it’s like opening a gift on Christmas morning and there is – I don’t know, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be on a show where kind of the same thing keeps happening. Or like a soap opera or something because the imagination of the show is so huge and so vast and I’m sure there’s probably the Network discussions on wanting to bring the show in but I think that would – the fans would burn the place down if that happened. And so I think just the imagination of the show and of course how good the jokes are and the way that the group has come together. I mean I just basically named everything. But if I have to say just one thing the answer just might be creativity of the show is unmatched I think in television history. Thank you very much. You know I really do – I actually I really do believe that. I’m not kidding when I say that.
Q: Do you feel like there’s a formula for good comedic TV?
Dan Harmon: Well I think a good formula for TV whether it’s comedy or drama is you – you’re ultimate goal is to create a family. A group of people who are quote on quote forced to be together and forced to be subjected to all manner of hypothetical situations. And so whether you’re doing that with real families – i.e. modern ones or a group of friends or a, you know people who hang out at the same bar or people who have been launched into space or stranded on a mysterious island. You know the formula is you’ve got to figure out how to bottle up a diverse group of people and just keep shaking that bottle and putting wasps in it and torturing them. And exploring how they react because that’s what people are going to that box for. For better or for worse it is a comforting substitute for our own sloppy unmarketable families.
Joel McHale: And what’s great that Dan has done and what Dan doesn’t realize he takes the regular convention of television like the bottle episode, points it out and then does a bottle episode, makes a comment on bottle and executing a great bottle episode – a perfect bottle episode. I think and the way he uses Abed points these things out and then proceeds to do them incredibly well. It’s so cool to watch because you don’t feel like; oh we’re doing this now because it’s always new.
Q: Joel has to kind of acknowledge everything on The Soup but is there any celebrity TV show or pop culture phenomenon that you just do not want to touch with a ten foot pole? Like will we ever see a Chris Brown joke in Community or like Britta getting really into Koney or anything?
Dan Harmon: I tend to – I mean Joel brings his sort of up to the minute savvy unspoken on Community or not you get that vibe off of Jeff Winger is like the Joel McHale of the group. But truthfully I’m pretty stuck in the 80’s. Like I tend to not go near things that have happened too recently pop culturally because I don’t know whether or not they’re going to endure. And some stuff slips through that net and which you justify by saying look we just have to make people laugh on Thursday night but I try to think of people watching the DVD ten years from now. And so I ironically make very dated references to Die Hard and things because that’s all I understand to be timeless.
Joel McHale: And right here I’ll reveal now Kim Kardashian will be guest starring along with Ice-T and Coco. So that’s going to be a great episode. No I’m joking that’s not going…
Q: Have you thought about doing any stunt casting like that or getting the Big Bang Theory gang there or somebody from Glee or I think NBC owns Adam Levine at this point.
Dan Harmon: We’ve tried. I mean Community is strangely unable to get a lot of – like we’re constantly on the phone trying to get somebody to play a certain character that we think would be perfect for it. Maybe it’s just the name of the game. You have to cast a wide net and you fail most of the time or maybe Community is exceptionally ungifted at bagging people. But no we’ve definitely – we’ve been around that track. We’ve wanted Sue Sylvester from Glee to be in the Glee episode for Christmas you know. If only just – I mean they shoot next door to us. But and I think actually to her credit I think she was down for it but contractually it was just impossible. But we’re – yes, we’re constantly thinking about it, we’re not above it. I will say that the few times that we’ve engaged in what is called actual out not stunt casting like having Hillary Duff on the show or something that’s supposed to draw people in because they want to see oh how’s that person going to be on that show? Like those things aren’t really scientifically proven to either by our measurements or historically to hike ratings very much. Betty White got us a huge boost but I think that’s – think people love her. I think it’s harder than just grabbing a famous person and sticking them on your show. The things that research does show to boost ratings almost invariably are holidays, weddings, things like that. Things that people share universally. Things that feel special that unite people. They tend to tune in more for that stuff maybe because they’re off work, I don’t know.
Dan, two of my favorite recent episodes are “Paradigms of Human Memory” and “Remedial Chaos Theory.” Those episodes like you were mentioning earlier that the fans would go crazy if you reeled it in and didn’t have those. Have you gotten any pressure from the studio or the Network to avoid those and go with the more typical sitcom like non-conceptual episodes?
Dan Harmon: Yes constantly. More so from Sony who are – they are – in their defense because they are foremost experts at the syndication game. Their goal is to create packages of consistent juggernauts that they can sell worldwide. And they get nervous when I do things like acknowledge the time is passing. You know create episodes that look completely different from the episodes around it. Or talking about Chevy – pushing Chevy down some stairs. You know things that would make one season from another. You know they’re all about that. Let’s make 100 episodes of a hit, of a classic show. So a crazy person at the helm going like let’s make people ask what TV is not – it’s not historically the most profitable thing. So yes there’s respectful pressure on me constantly to find the joy in templating the show. It’s also very productively very precarious to be creative. It turns what it’s supposed to be – an ever increasingly efficient chain of production like television into an ever increasingly frustrating thing where each week you’re making a little movie that no one knows how to make and they have to start from scratch every week. No body like that’s either. So yes there’s a constant cry out for me to chill out and make something that has a kind of template to it. But they don’t demand it. Nobody’s fired me yet. They’ve always at the end of it given me my latitude and I’ve tried not to abuse it. I try to find a show that is just about regular – that’s just about people because I do know that that’s what’s truly for sale underneath all of the (shazam). So yes – short answers yes, the long answer is but its okay.
Joel McHale: Thank God. And I’ll just say on top of that thank God because without the innovations obviously we would still all be sitting around watching I don’t know I’m trying to think of a show – I don’t know, Perfect Strangers. Well yes, got you guys.
Dan Harmon: The other thing is yes everybody’s definition of a weird episode is different. I think that the Dungeons and Dragons episode is a grounded episode because they don’t leave the study room. Nothing – no one’s dressed as a gladiator, nothing weird happens. The camera isn’t the character. But other people choose to look at that as a departure episode because it’s not their cup of tea. Like everyone’s definition of a weird episode is whatever they don’t like. And so that conversation breaks down pretty quickly. When people say “you’re only allowed to do five weird episodes this year” I say “name last year’s ten weird episodes”. Like name them. And then very quickly the subjectivity creeps in and everyone gets flummoxed and the conversation turns to ruble and they just say – look just be less weird. And then I say okay.
Joel McHale: Yes and Dan you really do say that stuff in meetings which is the greatest thing ever.
Dan Harmon: Oh yes I mean I’m a terrible, terrible person to employ. And I do agree with Joel that if I do believe in this day and age as Rome is building in television, like new comers at that 8 o’clock time slot, like I always characterize us as Kevin Costner in Dances With Wolves being sent out to this outpost. We’re very, very dutiful, we’re on honor bound, we clean up the place but we’re weird. We dance with wolves, we are friends with Indians, we are doing weird shit out there because we’re surviving. And I think that it’s the only way to survive in this frontier. And I don’t just mean the 8 o’clock time slot, I mean 2012 when everyone can watch TV on their laptops and their wrist watches. And why on God’s earth would anyone ever hear about our show unless we were making some people in suits a little bit irritated.
Joel McHale: Yes, yes.
Dan Harmon: I tried to turn that into a good final question with an inflammatory answer.
Joel McHale: Yes.
Joel McHale and Dan Harmon Interview
Joel – “Jeff Winger” and Dan – Creator and Executive Producer
Community Returns Thursday Night, March 15 at 8 EST on NBC
March 9, 2012