‘Community’ creator Dan Harmon

We talk to the creator of NBC's hit comedy, 'Community'.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

'Community' creator Dan Harmon

Dan Harmon went meta on a Television Critics Association panel for Community. As his answers ran on, he chastised himself, “Stop blabbing, Harmon.” When Donald Glover complimented Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man, Harmon praised Garfield for being white. Somehow, after the panel wrapped, I was the only one to go up to Harmon for a follow-up interview.


CraveOnline: Can you not help satirizing this whole format of press conferences? 

Dan Harmon: That’s me self loathing. I think that I have no contempt for these venues. It’s me screwing it up that I’m like, “Come on, will you shut your hole?”


CraveOnline: Or the white power movement with Donald. 

Dan Harmon: I just felt like as soon as he started talking about Spider-Man, I couldn’t wait to do the race joke.


CraveOnline: Whenever I watch Community with all the pop culture references, I wonder what your Blu-ray collection is like. 

Dan Harmon: Oh boy, that’s going to be such a disappointing answer right now because I’ve been busy for three years. I just got Deadwood, the full Deadwood box set through Amazon. I got the Life, the proper one, the non Oprah voiceover Life series on Blu-ray. Courtesy of Damon Lindelof I got the 36 disc Lost Blu-ray box which must be worth thousands of dollars.


CraveOnline: Hundreds. 

Dan Harmon: That’s insane. He sent the entire Lost series to the writer’s room in a big giant box after the Christmas episode. I actually am looking forward to peeling into that.


CraveOnline: So you’re a big TV on DVD guy? 

Dan Harmon: I was before I got super busy. That’s how I would consume 30 Rock and The Office and stuff like that, grab the DVDs at retailers and take them home and get through them.


CraveOnline: After you’ve seen it once, how often does it come back in your rotation? 

Dan Harmon: Like a TV show? Only something like Deadwood or The Wire, something that’s that textural I could only imagine because it’s so multi-layered and real and intimidating that you might benefit from watching again. With comedy, it’s kind of tough unless it blows your mind how funny it is in some deeply transcendent way. Once you’ve laughed at the half hour of funnies, you’re kind of done with it. But I buy a lot of stuff like All in the Family and Barney Miller. I like going into the retail sections where they have just the TV sections and going, “Oh my God, yes, of course.” Sort of studying those old shows with the benefit of commentary and stuff like that. It’s a great tool for a guy like me.


CraveOnline: What do you do with your old ones? 

Dan Harmon: They just sit in a bench. Should I do something with them? Is there a charity I can give them to.


CraveOnline: You could sell them, give them away. 

Dan Harmon: I like having them. That’s what I like about DVDs.


CraveOnline: What was the moment you realized Troy and Abed were a special team? 

Dan Harmon: It was six episodes into the first season is when we started shooting those tags during the ending credits, the 30 second epilogues. For the first six episodes of the first season, we didn’t know we had to do those. They changed their format a little bit. A needlessly involved answer, the answer is what you see at the end, the bibliotque rap at the end of the first episode of the first season, when we were shooting that it was like oh man, these guys… and watching the fan response, like holy sh*t, that was the best thing about the whole show was those guys. I want to see those guys again. At some point down the road thinking well, let’s not be pigeonholed with having those guys be the tag guys and trying to do somebody else. The avalanche of “Screw you! Those guys belong at the end of the episode! That’s why I’ve been watching the whole time!” I was like okay, some things are out of my hands. Those guys are Ernie and Bert, Beavis and Butt-Head and Cheech and Chong rolled into one. They’re just interesting to look at together.


CraveOnline: Even as a pair during the episodes. 

Dan Harmon: Yeah, that’s what I was so excited about second season because it is just letting that be moved from the tags into constantly those guys are just hanging out and have their kind of rapport together. I love it.



CraveOnline: When Chevy tries to eat pizza and can’t get it in his mouth, is that just him riffing? 

Dan Harmon: Yeah. That’s Chevy. That’s what he brings to the table, the old pizza point. I remember looking at that and going, “Come on, knock it off. Stop trying to make eating pizza funny.” Then you get in the edit bay and you’re like, “Yeah, I needed it. It needed it. The old coot, you got me.”


CraveOnline: I thought the religion episode was profoundly good. 

Dan Harmon: Good, I’m glad you liked it. It was a very polarizing episode. Some people really hated that one. I think that some people felt preached to and it couldn’t have been less the intention. The whole point was can you tell a story about religious matters without politicizing, without having a point of view except that humanity is better than inhumanity. Some people do this and some people do that. Who’s more contrasting than Abed and Shirley in terms of their religion because she’s very meat and potatoes. Who hates his meta crap more than her? It was a no brainer for me in brainstorming episodes at the beginning of the season. I was like we’ve got to have Abed commissioned to do a movie for her church or something and have her be his producer so we can create that conflict.


CraveOnline: Were there levels of meta in that even I didn’t see? 

Dan Harmon: Probably not. It’s pretty self-flagellating. Abed is me in the sense that we always have to remember when we’re doing that experimental stuff that we are beholden to the meat and potatoes section of the world, that it is their world and that the miracles come through them. You’ll have an audience of one and you’ll be letting that audience down if you seal yourself off and become too autonomous, if you stop collaborating. It’s sort of an exploration of that stuff. I don’t know how much of that got through by the time you end up shooting the thing.


CraveOnline: I was reading into I’m watching this and they’re watching that and it’s about something else. 

Dan Harmon: It kind of hits the basics of the gospel but not in an obnoxious like oh, isn’t that inventive way. Just in a way that that’s a pretty standard story structurally, the life and times of the big J. It hits all those satisfying Star Wars beats. We needed to hit those anyway so I let them be kind of parallel. I didn’t want to do the goofy stuff that’s like oh, I made these credit cards work for more people than just one. It’s a miracle! I think people would’ve been annoyed by that.


CraveOnline: You said you’re doing a Dungeons and Dragons episode. Who’s the DM at Greendale? 

Dan Harmon: It had to be Abed. I didn’t want to get too ironic with that stuff. If Abed’s not the DM, it’s not going to be a good game. That’s a cool episode. What I like about it is it treats the game like poker in The Odd Couple. It establishes the possibility of playing that once in a while instead of just going there, pooping on it and getting out. It’s just another backdrop for a story about characters. The emotional stakes are actually quite high in it. Chevy is amazing in it. It’s going to be a historic 20 minutes of television for him. I really believe that. I don’t know what he was eating that day but he’s something else in that episode. He’s great.


CraveOnline: Are you hands on writing every episode? 

Dan Harmon: Yeah, each script at a certain point is a draft that a writer is at home writing. From there on though, it’s a giant everyone piling on. The key is I had to surrender and collaborate a little more with the writers who I’ve grown to love and trust now so we actually all pile onto these scripts and punch them up.


CraveOnline: When you’re on Twitter, can you see all our tweets at you? 

Dan Harmon: No, they’re at just the right number, a little narcissistic river I can gaze into any time I want. There’s usually seven or eight at a time.


CraveOnline: So we should keep praising you. 

Dan Harmon: Oh yeah, I see every one, sure. If you say the show sucks to me, it will affect me. You have lots and lots of power on Twitter with me.