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Joel McHale and Dan Harmon – It Takes a Community

Updated: Jul 23, 2023

COMMUNITY — “Advanced Gay” Episode 306 — Pictured: Joel McHale as Jeff — Photo by: Justin Lubin/NBC

Joel McHale and Dan Harmon

It Takes a Community

by Jay S. Jacobs

After an extended winter break, the crazy students and faculty at Greendale Community College are back on campus – and you know what that means, new episodes of the cult fave must-see sitcom Community. 

A few days before the show returned with a rash of new spring and summer episodes, star Joel McHale and show creator Dan Harmon gave a conference call with media outlets to talk about the show’s return.  And just like the Wichita lineman, we were on the line for this chat.

Since we’ve seen the cast of Cougar Town do a major push to gain viewers doing things such as holding fan viewing parties and preventing spoilers and having lots of interviews, have you considered such extreme measures for Community?

Dan Harmon: No, we haven’t considered it.

Joel McHale: You’re looking at it right here because this is it. This is all we’re doing – this call.

Dan Harmon: 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 nauseous 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 I welcome NBC and Sony to promote the hell out of the show. I think they should definitely do that.

Joel McHale: I would like to get the budget from Kourtney and Kim for Community.

Dan Harmon

Do you think that Jim Rash at the Oscars mimicking Angelina Jolie will give the show a boost?

Dan Harmon: Yes, I think there’s a huge demographic out there looking to see Angelina Jolie get hers – 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. That’s probably one of the benefits of pulling a 1.4. Also, if someone’s cast us on the remote you know that could set things in a whole different direction too.

Joel McHale: Yeah, that one little leg move may make things go up.

Joel, you did make a NASA comparison at PaleyFest to getting viewers to watch Community. Would people be there when radio silence ended? How did you come up with such an interesting metaphor?

Joel McHale: 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 shows the insane support for the show by the fans. That was just so wonderful. The tremendous response was just… I think it’s kept our show in the conversation and created even more of a conversation about the show. I hope that huge brush fire that the fans started will spread to other people and will catch them on fire and they will be burned by it.

Dan Harmon: It’s true 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. So, all of a sudden it felt like there were more people watching our show than ever when we were off the air.

COMMUNITY — “Biology 101” Episode 301 — Pictured: Joel McHale as Jeff — Photo by: Colleen Hayes/NBC

Joel McHale: Yes. It was so weird because we used to read the ratings and 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 the viewers and not watching young viewers [using] appointment viewing and in reality, that there’s a huge number of people that I think watch – or at least it makes me feel better – that watch the show not in a way that is traditional. 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 is will be a…

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 ad.

Joel McHale: That’s true.

Dan, what do you think the Webisodes will bring to the show?

Dan Harmon: I don’t know. 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. Will it increase ratings? I don’t know. Like I said an earthquake could change our ratings, a basketball game changes our ratings. Everything changes your ratings when your audience is into the wits of the meter’s needle.

You guys have mentioned that it’s going to be a darker season this upcoming season and Joel even came on that little trailer even dumped a dead body. Is it going to get to that point to take the season in a different direction? I’m sure Dan you and the writers have a way to make even death funny somehow?

COMMUNITY — “Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps!” Episode 305 — Pictured: (l-r) Donald Glover as Troy, Danny Pudi as Abed, Gillian Jacobs as Britta, Yvette Nicole Brown as Shirley, Chevy Chase as Pierce, Alison Brie as Annie, Joel McHale as Jeff — Photo by: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

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. I think that 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. 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. When I said that this would be the darkest season it was more of a prediction then anything. It turned out to be right, because the show itself in a medi-sense suffered a cardiac arrest. And yes, that energy trickles into the writer’s room then when you’ve got a guy like me, who thrives on constant affirmation. A big spoiled baby who is so used to the show airing once a week and us getting that feedback and having that ego stroke. Me being deprived of that, we can translate that into a darkness that seeps into the second half of the season. But expressing darkness is just another way of worshiping the light. So, it’s all good, as they say in the hackie sack circle.

Joel McHale: If you look at one of the darkest episodes last year of “Dungeons and Dragons,” which was literally dealing with a guy who was giving away his stuff because he was going to commit suicide. 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 with the other hand he was taking a photo of himself with his cam phone. 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 probably 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.

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. I’m going to get together with a flag team. Jeff’s romantic life in the second half of this season it’s not like a huge topic. There’s always stuff going on with Annie and Jeff, but….

COMMUNITY — “Football and Nocturnal Vigilantism” Episode 309 — Pictured: Joel McHale as Jeff — Photo by: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Dan Harmon: The focus is very much on the group for this season. The relationships between two people are sort of a subset of that. 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 [Lauren Stamile]. 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. 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 watching 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 [Ken Jeong]. In the trailer they just ran you see the Chang poster being revealed and the group needs all hands on deck to battle him.

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 vindication 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 have to stress, and this isn’t diplomacy, this is religion for me. I do not take pleasure in seeing… I did not like being put in the position where I was rooting for a fellow creative’s 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 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. 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. I watch Breaking Bad. I’ve never turned my dial to AMC. So 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 – but if you get to the wedding and you didn’t watch American Idol you might as well not have 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 experience terror 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 enemy’s 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. I’ve felt like maybe now our 1.5 can be looked at with a little more than a frown.

COMMUNITY — “Contemporary Impressionists” Episode 310 — Pictured: Joel McHale as Jeff — Photo by: Neil Jacobs/NBC

Now that you know that unless something goes really wrong you’re going to be on through May – through the May sweeps. Now that you look back you know does the time off now seem like okay we weren’t like spread out? We 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. And 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 are negatives to throw in there. I don’t follow basketball but apparently, we have [March Madness] to contend with. We would have if we were in repeats or not. But yes, I think Big Bang Theory will have a lot of repeats going against original stuff by us. That can only help.

Joel McHale: CBS is actually pre-empting 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 the great thing is that you know the groundswell is seemingly huge and I pray that that reflects in people watching it. I pray to God.

Dan Harmon: To answer your question, yes. I hope that that will be a positive factor. I also hope that things like all of our episodes being available on Hulu during the hiatus [is] 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.” 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.” My naive hope is that there’s a million of those people joining us next week.

The Timeline episode was so acclaimed, got so much excitement, people watched it over and over. Are there any future episodes you can tease us about that sort of scratch a dirty 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 wretch at it because it was a conceptual episode that mainly focused on people eating pizza. And that 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. 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. 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. You’re going to get plenty of those people that you love.

Joel McHale: I know that studio is really excited about the Law and Order one, right Dan?

COMMUNITY — “Urban Matrimony and the Sandwich Arts” Episode 312 — Pictured: (l-r) Gillian Jacobs as Britta, Charles Walker as Minister, Joel McHale as Jeff — Photo by: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Dan Harmon: Yes, we’ve been excited about episodes that have been met with faint praise. 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 fort. I don’t know how that’s cut together, but I’m really excited about for that one just because biolystically it will be totally different than anything.

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 the hiatus is the best and worst thing that can happen to this show simultaneously. It has awakened a fandom – an intensity of which may, like what if it outweighs quality of the show? What if people love this thing too much? 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 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, just think Dan if you were the opposite where you were just way confident and over confident. 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! Agghhh! Dammit!

COMMUNITY — “Football and Nocturnal Vigilantism” Episode 309 — Pictured: Joel McHale as Jeff — Photo by: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Joel, you also do The Soup. Between that, this and all your 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. When Community is in season that’s my focus and that’s where I spend my time. The Community production has graciously allowed me to run away to do The Soup. And I come back. 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 really busy but thankfully at Community we all like each other. So, it would be difficult if it were… you hear horror stories about sets, 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. 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.

When is the new Spy Kids coming out? 

Joel McHale: It came out last summer.

(Teasing) Oh, Joel, I’m sorry…

Joel McHale: It’s okay. I had a feeling that you weren’t going to see it in the theater, so I bought you a Blu-ray edition of it.

Is this the one where they become Spy Men and Women and they actually have Spy Kids?

Joel McHale: The original Spy Kids are older, and they are adult spies. Not adult like porn stars, but they are adult spies. I play the husband of Jessica Alba. That was tough. The kids are our kids. So, they are not the exact… it’s kind of… All right, I’ll stop talking. It’s not as complicated as it sounds – as I just made it.

COMMUNITY — “Advanced Gay” Episode 306 — Pictured: (l-r) Joel McHale as Jeff, Alison Brie as Annie, Yvette Nicole Brown as Shirley, Gillian Jacobs as Britta, Danny Pudi as Abed — Photo by: Justin Lubin/NBC

The cast is full of comedians and fun people like yourself and Joel. Who’s the most difficult person to do a scene with without cracking up or messing up? Who makes you laugh the most you know 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 did comedy where there was no comedy. They make moments out of things that I didn’t think were possible. They’re just so – they’re just comic – they’re just different. They’re cut from a different mold. But for that matter, Danny Pudi is just wonderful. So, I have trouble getting through a lot of stuff and once again it’s a great problem. But there are 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 take.

Now what can you both tell us about the upcoming episode? 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. That does create a revelatory moment for him.

Joel McHale: I can tell you that at least in the trailer and they keep showing it because it’s so funny. Gillian Jacobs 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. 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 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. Even if you’ve been running from it your whole life or you really feel like you are her. Her zealousness you know. She’s called a feminist icon and the worse thing to happen to women in the same breath by certain people. It wouldn’t be possible if there weren’t really, really, really smart funny girls working here.

Joel McHale: Yes, and Gillian is comedically touched. 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. She’s amazing.

Dan Harmon: But wait we’re not answering. The question is what we could tell her about 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 his 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.

COMMUNITY — “Advanced Gay” Episode 306 — Pictured: (l-r) Chevy Chase as Pierce, Joel McHale as Jeff — Photo by: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

So, do you have a favorite Jeff and Pierce moment?

Joel McHale: 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 Dragons” episode. I’m yelling at him because he’s being terrible to this unstable kid, Fat Neil. And just out of blue he just screams “I can still get erections” 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 funny because the characters are real in that moment. I really have a wonderful show.

Joel McHale: You do.  (They both laugh.)

Dan Harmon: Thank you.

Joel McHale: You should end every single question with that.

Dan Harmon: Well, that’s the way I feel. It’s the elephant in the room. Like why are you talking like this?

The professors on the show are so great. So, are there any plans to see Michael K. Williams and John Oliver at some point in time the rest of this season?

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 twelve 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 we had to finagle and got like three episodes out of him. That’s the trouble with guest stars. It’s the same thing with John Oliver. When you see him in the show it’s Jon Stewart doing us a huge favor letting him go and John Oliver doing us a huge favor making it work with his schedule. Because of Michael K. Williams and John Goodman’s involvement this year, John Oliver we just 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. 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. Would love to see him return when we get our fourth season.

Joel McHale: Yeah!

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 kind of serve Community well to have a little bit fun with?

Joel McHale: I would like to spoof Hillbilly Hand Fishing. I don’t know if you’ve seen Hillbilly Hand Fishing, but these hillbillies stand 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.

COMMUNITY — “Football and Nocturnal Vigilantism” Episode 309 — Pictured: (l-r) Yvette Nicole Brown as Shirley, Joel McHale as Jeff — Photo by: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

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 Radiohead 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. On one hand you want to see something like that for five seconds but what kind of show would that be.

Joel McHale: That would be awesome. How about maybe Flipper? That also takes place in the tropics…

Dan Harmon: Yes, maybe if we – when we – get a fourth season I kind of want to see if we could just do a full blown Scooby-Doo Halloween episode. Or maybe just do something like an ersatz like sort of in that very familiar style, like Jabberjaw and all that stuff like the 70’s gang of sleuths and animated in that style. 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. Yeah, dammit, that would be great!

You guys had so many fans that had all these creative ways of showing their appreciation of the show during the hiatus. What 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 make 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. 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 [it]. There’s a video on YouTube that is 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 Mouse-ing. 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. 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.

Joel McHale: My personal favorite was the week when they changed the Battlestar Galactica opening. I loved that show, so it was great.

Dan Harmon: I haven’t seen that one.

Joel McHale: It’s awesome. So awesome. Not nearly as difficult as the “Freaks and Geeks,” but… And there used to be a neat Batman trailer. Anyway, it’s amazing, the fans’ response.

COMMUNITY — “Biology 101” Episode 301 — Pictured: Joel McHale as Jeff — Photo by: Colleen Hayes/NBC

In what ways are you the happiest with the way that the show has evolved overall?

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 a bunch of inside jokes and lampoonery. 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. Much like Peanuts or The Muppets or the cast of Gilligan’s Island or any other of these very iconic ensembles, you can just take them and put them in space suits, you can put them in a musical, you can make them pirates and it still stands. That makes me very proud. It 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. In the imagination the universe of that show is under the imagination of Dan and the writers is so vast. When you get the new script it’s like opening a gift on Christmas morning. 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 have probably been network discussions on wanting to rein the show in, but I think the fans would burn the place down if that happened. 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 this show is unmatched I think in television history. Thank you very much. I actually I really do believe that. I’m not kidding when I say that.

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 your 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. So, whether you’re doing that with real families – i.e. modern ones – or a group of friends or people who hang out at the same bar or people who have been launched into space or stranded on a mysterious island, 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: What’s great that Dan has done and what Dan doesn’t realize [is] he takes the regular convention of television like the battle episode – points it out and then does a battle episode, makes a comment on battle and executing a great battle episode – a perfect battle 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.

COMMUNITY — “Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps!” Episode 305 — Pictured: (l-r) Joel McHale as Jeff, Gillian Jacobs as Britta — Photo by: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

I wanted to know 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?

Dan Harmon: Joel brings his 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. 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. 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. 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 really interesting. I’m joking, that’s not going to happen.

Well I mean have you thought about doing any stunt casting like that or getting the Big Bang Theory gang there or like somebody from Glee? 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 that we did for Christmas, you know.  I mean they shoot next door to us. Actually, to her credit I think she was down for it but contractually it was just impossible. But 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 somebody that’s supposed to draw people in because they want to see “Oh how’s that person going to be on that show?” 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 people love her. 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.

COMMUNITY — “Competitive Ecology” Episode 304 — Pictured: Joel McHale as Jeff — Photo by: Jordin Althaus/NBC

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. In their defense, it’s because they are foremost experts at the syndication game. Their goal is to create packages of consistent juggernauts that they can sell worldwide. They get nervous when I do things like acknowledge the time is passing. 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. 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. Nobody 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, the short answer is yes. The long answer is but it is 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. 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. Then very quickly the subjectivity creeps in and everyone gets flummoxed and the conversation turns to rubble and they just say – look, just be less weird. And 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. I do agree with Joel that if I do believe in this day and age as Rome is burning in television, like newcomers 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. 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. Why on God’s earth would anyone ever hear about our show unless we were making some people in suits a little bit irritated. I tried to turn that into a good final question with an inflammatory answer.

Copyright ©2012  All rights reserved. Posted: March 4, 2012.  

Photo Credits:

#1 © 2011 Justin Lubin. Courtesy of NBC. All rights reserved.

#2 © 2012. Courtesy of NBC. All rights reserved.

#3 © 2012 Colleen Hayes. Courtesy of NBC. All rights reserved.

#4 © 2012 Lewis Jacobs. Courtesy of NBC. All rights reserved.

#5 © 2012 Lewis Jacobs. Courtesy of NBC. All rights reserved.

#6 © 2012 Neil Jacobs. Courtesy of NBC. All rights reserved.

#7 © 2012 Lewis Jacobs. Courtesy of NBC. All rights reserved.

#8 © 2012 Lewis Jacobs. Courtesy of NBC. All rights reserved.

#9 © 2011 Justin Lubin. Courtesy of NBC. All rights reserved.

#10 © 2012 Lewis Jacobs. Courtesy of NBC. All rights reserved.

#11 © 2012 Lewis Jacobs. Courtesy of NBC. All rights reserved.

#12 © 2012 Colleen Hayes. Courtesy of NBC. All rights reserved.

#13 © 2012 Lewis Jacobs. Courtesy of NBC. All rights reserved.

#14 © 2011 Jordin Althaus. Courtesy of NBC. All rights reserved.


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