EXCLUSIVE: Dan Harmon Talks 'Community' Movie, Divorce, and Bringing Dungeons & Dragons to the Masses
By Emily Krauser
Photo: Getty Images for Seeso
Dan Harmon seems to have found his community of "like-minded misfits."
At the premiere party for his new show, HarmonQuest, the many fans packed into Los Angeles bar The Virgil on Tuesday didn't just cackle throughout the pilot, they hung onto Harmon's words during the post-screening Q&A panel with the showrunner and his co-stars, Jeff B. Davis and Spencer Crittenden. In fact, many had vodkas in hand, just like their beloved, self-admitted alcoholic mayor (who had, impressively, brought his own flask so as not to interrupt the Q&A).
Even if you've never played Dungeons & Dragons (which this writer has admittedly avoided), HarmonQuest seamlessly blends live performance, animation, and role-playing games into a thoroughly enjoyable, laugh-out-loud funny show. As in actually LOL, not just tweet about it -- though Harmon fans will probably do that too. And that's kind of the point, while not being the point at all.
Sitting in a hidden speakeasy-themed room with a fresh vodka on the rocks, Harmon -- the brains behind cult favorite shows like Community and Rick and Morty -- told ET that he never set out to bring RPG to the mainstream, and while he thinks avid gamers will be "half of his built-in audience," plenty more won't like HarmonQuest.
"If you're really into [RPGs] and this was presented to you as, 'You should like this because you game,' I feel like I can see people going, 'No, that's bulls**t. People don't understand -- that's not what it's like to play,'" he said.
For that other half, the animation helps make the show digestible. Harmon got the idea for the added visual element from watching The Ricky Gervais Show and realizing he was "laughing so hard that I was crying and my sides hurt," something he did plenty while getting high with friends but rarely while watching TV. That feeling and aha moment was something to pay attention to.
Every episode also features a guest star, an element that is equally useful in converting nongamers. "It was really weird to find out, and I was pleasantly surprised, that everyone's styles created episodes that were sort of unique in and of themselves," Harmon admitted.
Hilarious pals including Paul F. Tompkins, who appears in the pilot, avid gamer Thomas Middleditch, Nathan Fillion, and Aubrey Plaza will all appear in the freshman season.
"Aubrey Plaza's episode, she couldn't be more over it. That episode takes on Aubrey's personality," Harmon said. "Everything about it is very dry and weird and methodic, and she drives the whole thing, and she's hysterical in it. Then you have Ron Funches, who's absolutely different from Aubrey. He's totally vulnerable and cuddly and down for anything. He just wants to make sure everybody's chill."
The guest stars help round out a gaming crew that consists of faces familiar to fans of Harmon's podcast, Harmontown: Davis, the "Comptroller," Crittenden, a resident Dungeon Master-turned-Harmon assistant, and Erin McGathy, a frequent podcast guest -- and Harmon's ex-wife.
McGathy didn't attend the screening, but it had nothing to do with their split. Rather, she's busy touring the country for her own podcast, This Feels Terrible. Plenty can be garnered about their marriage and subsequent divorce from social media and each other's podcasts, but HarmonQuest gives us one more almost accidental vantage point on their uncoupling. Taping began last September. One month later, the two announced their divorce.
"You're watching Erin and I going through the worst of our relationship," Harmon revealed. "She's fresh back from a vision quest she took to Ireland, and things started to fall apart, yet we had this show to tape. So, you're actually seeing two people on camera that are really doing terrible things to each other in text messages and trying to work through it and then both finding the adult-ness necessarily to go, 'This has nothing to do with who we really are.' You'll see tiny bits of it, but the truth is, Erin and I at our worst, that's as bad as it gets. And it's more than just putting on a mask and pretending you don't hate someone and then hating them. We didn't hate each other because the show must go on."
Continuing to work with an ex -- especially when they are just becoming your ex -- could have taken a dire toll on not just Harmon and McGathy but the production itself, but it may have kept them sane -- well, as sane as one can be, given the situation.
"It's funny, this show is a huge tendril between us that I think probably helped a great deal because it made you realize, look, this is something we wanted to last forever," he said. "In high school, when you break up with people, you have this fantasy about them walking off the edge of the earth and disappearing. You start examining that, and well, what are you really saying? Having that person's personality on parade in a show that you do together that needs both of
you in order to survive really helps you realize how dumb that is, that we do that to ourselves and each other."
Nothing feels off-limits when talking to the 43-year-old writer who's known for his intelligent rambles as much as for some very infamous Twitter rants. His lack of editorial restraint has gotten Harmon into plenty of trouble, and yes, he does regret "every single thing -- almost."
"I'd be hard pressed to sit here and hold up, 'Here are the things I'm proud of.' That would be weird. There'd be, like, five things, I guess?" he said. "After Brexit, I tweeted something that got a lot of likes. That Brexit tweet that made everybody happy was exactly what I was feeling in response to Brexit, and then everything else is like, 'Well, they don't like how you felt in response to Chevy Chase leaving you voicemails.'"
That voicemail is the now-infamous message Harmon played on-stage during Harmontown over four years ago, when it was a comedy show at The Nerdist Showroom at Meltdown Comics and not yet a podcast. That willingness to be so open about everything in his life can feel like a one-man war on Hollywood's often carefully curated personalities, but it really started forming two decades ago, when he was simply trying to control his life's narrative.
"I think it just comes from that nerd syndrome of when you're on the playground and the things that you don't know other people are perceiving are the things that ultimately are going to get you made fun of," the Great Minds creator said. "I just made up my mind in my 20s, if you ever come to shoot me, you're going to have a hard time hitting me because of the amount of holes through me that are self-inflicted. You will find there's very little to make fun of, because I have been hard at work before you got here. It's not necessarily like I'm saying I've achieved the secret and that's zen -- I'm just explaining that's my compulsion."
If anyone can understand those feelings, it's probably a Harmon fan. What many of those die-hards can't understand, however, is why they haven't gotten their dream Community movie yet after scoring the first half of the #6SeasonsAndAMovie prophecy. Even though Harmon said "it will happen" during an interview on Larry King Now earlier this week, that's only partially accurate.
"I don't have any satisfying answers in that regard," he told ET of a full-length feature. "I would feel worse than I feel about the amount of trending that that one line in an interview got except for the fact that I know if the alternative was for Larry King to say, 'Is there going to be a Community movie?' and I said no, [there'd be] an equal amount of trending, and I'm an a**hole. And also, by the way, [that's] equally not my place to say."
"If you put a gun to my head and said, 'Is there going to be one?' I would be a fool to bet against the possibility," he added, noting that in a world where the Veronica Mars could happen, Community can too. "I want it to happen. Therefore it will, not because I'm magical, but because if I feel that way, it'll only be a matter of time before things line up."