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Community Yahoo Exclusive: Dan Harmon on R-rated Language, Donald Glover and Harmontown

Dan-Harmon-1The news of Community returning with a sixth season on Yahoo is so exciting, we can’t even wait. But it will still take until the end of this year, or early into next year to actually see Community again. Right now, you can see more Dan Harmon in movie theaters and on VOD this weekend.

Harmontown follows Dan Harmon taking his podcast on the road, and the personal side of Harmon between shows. I got to speak with Harmon about the movie and his podcast. This was before it was announced that Yvette Nicole Brown would not be returning to Community, but I still got a lot of news about the new season.

Nuke the Fridge: What’s the status of the two unfinished pilots you were working on during the Harmontown documentary?

Dan Harmon: The CBS script, they read it and they liked it. They didn’t do anything with it. The Fox script, we never got started with it because Community got renewed.

Nuke: Kevin Smith just made a movie based on a podcast and his podcasting empire is more lucrative than his films now. Do you make money off the Harmontown live shows?

Dan Harmon: The comic book store takes $10 at the door. I ask them to have a bottle of vodka out in the green room. I show up, I do the show and then I leave. We are going to start doing some experiments with subscription services to offer a video feed for people that want it. But, I wouldn’t want to change anything about the nature of the podcast as it is. I want people to be able to continue to consume it the way they have and have the same relationship with it. People who want to go further, and if they want to help finance it with a $5 subscription fee, they’ll be able to access a video stream of what’s going on. We’re going to be going down that road. I don’t consider it a retirement plan, but it’s a hobby and I think part of the hobby is can you make it self-sustaining? At the right price, it could pay for itself. All the people that helped me on it could draw salaries, that would be great.

Nuke: Is podcasting more satisfying than screenwriting or show running?

Dan Harmon: Oh yeah, absolutely. That’s why it’s less lucrative. It’s a very easy job. You’re getting applause for literally nothing. You’re standing up. I didn’t have to write an act. I don’t have to be disciplined, I don’t have to make sacrifices, I don’t have to work at anything. The podcast is for that, the place that doesn’t make money. We’re like, let’s all stop doing it the minute anyone’s unhappy. It’s kind of refreshing. It rejuvenates me with energy I can kick into the writing.

Nuke: Is it a different exercise doing a raw talk versus a creative script?

harmonnnDan Harmon: Oh, absolutely. What you’re hearing in the podcast I think is an ingredient in the other things that I do. It sounds like what I sound like in the writers room, what you would hear other writers trying to give their opinions. When we write Community and when I work with collaborators on other stuff, I definitely consider the first step of the process to be a very, very raw kind of scrape up as much as you can and you’re going to throw all the stuff on the table. The final product may end up being a single big seed with a grain of salt on it, but it should start with dumping everything in the room and everything in your soul on the table. The podcast it certainly that step and then nothing monetizable happens after that.

Nuke: Was doing Harmontown on the road any different than doing it in the comfort of your hometown?

Dan Harmon: It was remarkable how not different it turned out to be. The big difference was that I went in thinking it was going to be different. We were going to comedy clubs and there were pictures of Louis Anderson on the wall. They’re serving hot wings here. This is a real stage. There’s garnished wood everywhere. I’m in trouble. They’re gonna pay for the house. People are going to wander into this mall looking for comedy and it’s going to be me. I need an act. I was going out there with a lot of those anxieties, and then a couple cities in I realized that the culture had changed. The club owner market had changed. They had adapted to podcasting faster than I had, so they’re making money now by having people like me come through town. They have ways of letting fans of that person know that that person is going to be there. They can make a lot more money with a lot less overhead than if they try to pay for the house and convince people to send a limo to pick ‘em up so they can watch a hypnotist. It turns out, I was going from city to city just visiting with all the same people in different bodies, which was a spiritual revelation in and of itself.

Nuke: On Yahoo, are you allowed to use more profanity and cable type content, and would it even serve Community to go in that direction?

Dan Harmon: Yes and no. Yes, I just found out that the answer to the first from Yahoo. Apparently we could if we wanted to. We could go into a soft R-rated sensibility. I don’t think it would service Community at all. For better or for worse, the product is a very familiar one to people. It’s a product of its neighbors being 30 Rock and Parks and Rec. It’s a very specific structure and tone. I think that my job is to carry that over to a new medium and take advantage of a new environment to service that show better, but even though this language is sort of amorphous, I do think my responsibility is to make sure it stays the same show.

Nuke: Do you have any episode ideas left after you put them all into your fifth season?

Dan Harmon: Exactly. That’s why it’s great if I come into the writer’s room, you spend all this time and money finding these writers and then you sit down at the table and they barf up 13 ideas. Some of them are going to be good and some of them are going to be bad, but you’re the boss and no one can question you. I would have a lot of anxiety doing that if I had no way of knowing if I was right or wrong. So I like to get in my head, go in, start having conversations and then I’ll fall in love with the ideas that come up collectively. That way we know. I’m just very phobic of that effect that we see in the entertainment industry where somebody actually does get some room to move creatively because of a little bit of success and you start to see the effect of nobody saying no to them. When in fact they came up lean and hungry and combative and needing to prove themself, and that was part of their style and their flavor. Now they’re talking into their hairbrush and everyone’s applauding them. There’s no accountability anymore. I’m probably a little more phobic of that than I need to be, but I don’t want to be that guy.

Nuke: I saw your tweet about your meeting with Yahoo about the fans being Julia Roberts and Yahoo being Richard Gere pulling up. Is there a difference being in a supportive environment versus having to fight for every idea?

Dan Harmon: I do want to be clear. I didn’t have to fight for every idea. I don’t know if that would be fair to NBC. I had three bosses in three years at NBC and the third one was the guy that stuck around. For all of them, they were inheriting Community as part of their new job as overlord of the network, where they were trying to turn NBC around. They had bigger fish to fry than this little show that could or couldn’t. It is incredibly different to walk into a room full of people who paid top dollar to inherit that problem. They sought it out and wanted it the way it is. That is a whole different conversation than when you’re going to the head of NBC and you’re trying to convince somebody that it’s worth keeping this show on your network and I don’t even know if it is. I don’t want to be a liar. I’m singing for my supper and I don’ t even know if I deserve supper, and I’m a bad singer. This was like holy cats, they want Community and they really want to talk about how we can help it and what new sh*t we can do. It’s a very conversation to be having with people in blazers.

Nuke: Any word on having Donald Glover back?

Dan Harmon: I’ve talked to Donald and talked to Yahoo about how important it would be to have him. I will move heaven and earth to have him back. I’m not giving up yet but I think it’s incredibly important to have healthy expectations. I mean, if I was Donald, I don’t know. I think he’s probably pretty happy out there right now so I don’t know what reason he has to come back, but I think he knows that I would buy him a spaceship if he came back.

Nuke: Could you tease the season premiere?

Dan Harmon: I don’t really have anything yet.

Nuke: Then I’ll ask about Rick and Morty, what’s up for them in season two?

Dan Harmon: Rick and Morty the second season, it’s coming together really well. It’s animation so even though I’m long done writing it, now I’m first starting to see it come together in real form. I will tell you that the show gets a little more intergalactic in the second season. We were bound in our minds in the first 10 episodes to maintain a template of a sci-fi A story and a domestic B story. But we very quickly found out that that wasn’t really anything that was necessary for the show to be good. So I think we loosened the reigns a little bit on that. More different combinations of the family going off to have sci-fi adventures in different combinations. It’s a little less templated and therefore I think it’s better.