Interview: Joel McHale & Dan Harmon from Community

We had the pleasure of talking with Joel McHale (Jeff Winger) and Dan Harmon (Creator/Writer) from NBC’s Community. Check it out below!

Joel, let me ask you, what was the appeal of this project for you?

Joel McHale: I read a lot of pilot scripts and always, you know, want to be in something that involves, you know, involved in something that’s good and read – after reading Dan’s script it was so head and shoulders above everything else that I was reading. And it had – I just, first and foremost it was just incredibly funny and then it had really strong characters and a lot of heart.

And I read it on a plane on the way back from a standup gig and I pulled this before, but I was sitting next to a guy who was watching it – What Happens in Vegas on his laptop and he was getting mad at me because I was laughing out loud while I was reading this script. And so I was interrupting his romantic comedy with Cameron Diaz and Ashton Kutcher and I thought that was pretty ironic.

I mean, from what we’ve seen of it, I mean it looks like a very funny show. Obviously, the critics are very big on it. It looks like it has all the makings of a hit. So what are your guys expectation coming into this?

Joel McHale: Nothing short of 900 episodes.

Dan Harmon: I mean, I’m from Wisconsin so whenever things are going this well all I can start anticipating is the other shoe dropping. But that’s what I’ve always done when things are going well. And also, you know, working in TV for 15 years what you learn to do because everything else is so outside your control, you just focus on what you do control. And it’s like – it’s so amazing to look over on the side and notice every once and a while that the critics are saying great things about the show and that NBC is being so supportive of it.

But, you know, the expectations of the show that I have are simply like, I – they can only be, like, I hope these scripts are good and I hope that the actors like them and have fun with them and stuff and I got to stop there.

Joel McHale: Yeah. And he might be from Wisconsin but I was raised Catholic, so I’m planning on being hit by a bus. No matter… how well it goes, I’ll just – somehow a bus is going to come crashing through my hotel room. But Dan (unintelligible) did exactly what I think is that, you know, the show has not aired yet, and all you can focus on is trying to do justice to Dan’s writing. And from there it’s really up to NBC to air it and hopefully people will come to it.

I know when you’re on The Soup, you know, you do a lot of writing and producing on the show and I was wondering if you’re planning on doing some of the same stuff on Community. Are you going to, you know, have a say in writing your material and kind of look over the script that way or will it be more in the writers’ hands.

Joel McHale: Well first of all, I do think The Soup is – it’s literally one camera and a green curtain, so it’s not nearly the operation that this is…


Joel McHale: …and by – I would not – I’d be – I could almost get Dan coffee, but I’m not even sure if I could pull that off. And no, you know, my role in this is as an actor and the scripts are so good that I can’t wait to read them and I just – I’m so – I’m just so honored to be a part of their project that I just get to be in it..

So as far as producing, no, I’d rather leave that up to Dan.

Dan Harmon: I mean, on the set, you know, when it comes to take-for-take and line-for-line, I mean, I think Joel is being suitably humble. But it’s, you know, he has – he feeds back directly into the dialogue because he has his own style and stuff and I try as hard as I can to capture it when I write his stuff, but to the extent that there’s a need there, like, he loosens it up and comes up with the fantastic stuff so.

Do you have any fears of working with anyone after your time on The Soup? Do you foresee any potential problems if there was a certain guest star on Community?

Joel McHale: Well we just covered a show called Into the Pride with David Salmoni and he lived with a den of lions or a pride of – I don’t know what you call it, but – I do not want to work with lions. They are horribly dangerous and anybody who does is stupid. Well Dave knows what he’s doing, so I wouldn’t know and I’m not working with Tila Tequila if I’m not properly vaccinated.

Joel, did you ever have a teacher in school who resembled any of these professors?

Joel McHale: Upcoming in one of our episodes with John Michael Higgins all I’ll say is that there’s a carpe diem future. And I had a guy in high school named Mr. (Anslow) and he was a teacher that would scream and he would yell and his passion about history was unbelievable and that is the only reason why I majored in history in college because of his screaming at us.

He would go, “Students, students, I’m waiting for the answer with bated breath.” And with that sort of same inflection and then he would stalk the class and then like stop in front of a desk and go like, “Mr. Hanson.” And then Mr. Hanson goes, “Yes?” And he’s like, “Who led the allied troops across Europe?” And so – and it was just, yeah, so he was a real inspiration.

So now you’ve both been talking about some memories from high school, what about some memories that you kind of relate to your college experiences? Any wild antics that always kind of fall in line when you think about college?

Joel McHale: Boy, Dan.

Dan Harmon: Well, you know, first and foremost I actually went to a community college in my early 30s and I very directly have had experiences there that sort of inspired the pitch for this show. Nothing really that specific enough to be incredibly interesting, but why don’t I keep talking anyway.

The – I was in a study group with a bunch of strangers at a community college to whom I actually took a kind of — I acquired a natural affinity in spite of my desire to keep them at arm’s length because I was kind a jerk, you know, just a tourist at a community college, just screwing around and these people really wanted to study with me.

And there was a spark there that doesn’t exist with people — you know, most of us are friends with people we know from work basically, people that are colleagues and that are above or below us on some kind of ladder we can understand. And we very rarely are forced into these quote/unquote “community situations” like a driver’s ed class or, you know you’re at a — the only times we do it are at 7-11s and things where — and strange things happen there. But that was a long answer so…

Joel McHale: Boy, I – boy, that’s a good — I woke up ten minutes after an Italian final started. And I have never run faster to a class and I was wearing boxer shorts and a T-shirt and had bed head. And I ran into the class and everyone burst out laughing and I was so bad at Italian that I couldn’t even curse them out in Italian. And I wasn’t – it wasn’t even worth it for me to go to the test because I think I came close to failing it.

Other than that, boy, I went to a party where we filled a room with about 400 gallons of Jell-O and a girl slipped and cut her chin open and needed about 25 stitches, you know.

Dan Harmon: I like how the part that we laugh at is the cut on the chin. It’s like the Jell-O is such an obvious reach for zaniness.

Joel McHale: The poor girl, they had put cinder blocks to keep the Jell-O in and of course cinder blocks being cinder blocks, people fell and hit them and she — you know, her chin burst open. It was horrible. I felt horrible.

As far as clips from this particular show making it to The Soup, is that ruled out at all? Or do you have like no problem pulling a clip from this show if you want to kind of make fun of yourself a little bit?

Joel McHale: I’ll definitely — I’ve already showed a clip promoting it because I am a selfless promoter and I will always promote it. But you know on The Soup we never make fun of — I mean I’ll be happy to show anything but we — the rule that I have had is that we never show comedy. Like we’ve never shown a late night show clip because those are funny for funny’s sake.

And so if we’re showing a clip from Community, unless, you know, I guess if Bret Michaels is a professor that would be one thing. But, you know, we never show comedy for comedy’s sake because that was intentionally being funny and they’re doing their job and then we’re not doing our job because we point out things like, you know, I Love Toy Trains, or, you know, what happens…

Right. Dutch Oven.

Joel McHale: …on The Bachelor. Yeah, Dutch Oven. Or last week on More to Love when the guy lured his – the girl he was trying to date to his room with cake and they were both obese. So, you know, unless something like that happens, then, you know, probably not.

What’s it like working with comedy legend Chevy Chase.

Joel McHale: It’s like working with Nolan Ryan. He’s older than everybody, but when he throws the ball, he throws it harder than anyone and he can be — you know, he’s Chevy Chase. He can be incredibly funny. And…

Dan Harmon: But fortunately that’s not actually a metaphor, Chevy just throws stuff on the set.

Joel McHale: Yeah, he shows up with actual baseballs, which is distracting and not part of the script. And, yeah, so it’s so strange to be acting with a guy who I grew up with.

Do you get to improv at all with him or do you stick pretty close to the script?

Dan Harmon: Chevy actually makes up quite a bit of things — sorry, we were dovetailing the Chevy thing there. Chevy tends to come up with lines that you can actually end scenes with sometimes. Like sort of — which I’m really impressed by. And Joel does it, Donald Glover does it. We have a really, really, really talented cast of people with a lot of improv chops.

Joel McHale: Yeah, and it doesn’t mean in any way at all that there’s a shortage of incredible writing because what Dan puts on paper is astonishing. And so it’s like getting the best strawberries in the world and somebody goes, “Do you want whip cream on it too?” And so the cast is amazing and the writing is amazing. So I’m sure it will all come to a horrible end when I step in front of a bus.

What do you find most challenging about the role, Joel?

Joel McHale: For me it’s — boy, that’s a good question. I – my main goal is to make sure that I bring this character to life and do it well and hopefully make it look like I’m telling the story and being – serving this – serving the writing and serving the character that I am doing those things.

That’s my massive — that’s what I always am trying to figure out. Where am I coming from? Where am I going? And what is my guy thinking? And those are the biggest challenges that I encounter and whether I can get a decent cup of coffee on set.

And Dan why do you think people want to take their time to tune in and watch Community?

Dan Harmon: I don’t know. That’s a tough one for me to, you know, because I would have to say, “Well because it’s obviously really good.” I think people will enjoy it when they do tune in because I run everything through a filter in my head when I’m writing, especially for something of this, you know, this kind of – in this venue.

Like I come from the basic cable world where it’s like, you do the Sarah Silverman program, there’s a certain section of the audience you’re trying to shock and this is more of a mainstream thing. And so like while that does not mean watered down for me, it means actually like heavier lifting, it means like working harder.

And I think between me and the brilliant staff of writers that we’ve hired, like we have accomplished this thing that’s sort of mesmerizingly satisfying to just about everybody. And I think that that’s kind of an accomplishment and a brave act in a world where there’s this temptation to go — you know what, we are hemorrhaging viewers to the Internet, can we just put a woman having diarrhea in a hot tub in it? Like can we just like have a shot of a kitten and can we cut really fast to a lot of eyebrows?

It — the show does not suffer from that fear. It still endeavors to blow your mind but with the characters having dialogue in these like beautifully shot scenes and stuff. So, I guess the short version of that answer, as if there is one, would be it might remind you of television from a golden age when TV was really kind of proud of itself. So, I hope that’s what people get out of it.

How is balancing this show along with doing The Soup – has there been any challenges as far as that’s concerned?

Joel McHale: No. What’s great is that both E and NBC have been incredibly accommodating. And I basically go into The Soup for one evening a week now, and I do all the jokes and all the kind of – scriptwriting from a laptop. And I’m not able to watch the television the way I used to, and that’s because the amount of time that I’m spending.

But The Soup staff is one of the best in the world and they are incredible at finding stuff. So I feel really well taken care of by both – you know, both NBC and by E and The Soup staff.

Dan, can you talk a little bit about how your vision for the series actually came to life?

Dan Harmon: Yeah, I come from a career path where I was doing more like robots, talking motorcycles, time travel kind of stuff. And I got tired and broke, and I just really, really, really wanted to find out what happens before I died if I actually sort of hoisted my sails to the system’s constant pleas for something a little more mainstream. Instead of just fighting it and listening to that as some kind of death – you know, call from my death. I wanted to do a show that my mom would kind of be into. Which sounds horrible to any comedy writer, but my mom liked a lot of really, really great stuff when I was a kid. And in fact she had so much respect for TV that it caused me to move to LA, I had to try to impress her by controlling what comes over this magic box.

And I – this is an attempt to like do a classic show in a modern world. And so, the – that was the sort of emotional (unintelligible), but the short, boring answer is I went to community college a couple years ago and I thought it’d be a good idea for a pitch, you know, when I ran out of robot stuff.

Interview By: Emma Loggins

Community Official Site


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