SXSW: Dan Harmon is ‘not a hero worth saving’
After “Community” creator Dan Harmon was forced off his sitcom, he hit the road, taking his podcast on a 20-city tour with documentary filmmaker Neil Berkeley in tow. Now that trip is the warts-and-all documentary “Harmontown,” which premiered at SXSW this weekend. We sat down with Harmon the morning after the premiere for an appropriately candid chat.
So you saw the film with last night. Now that it’s the morning after, what’s your take on that experience?
I’m absolutely relieved. I don’t do a lot of things in my life where there’s delayed gratification or delayed effect, and this is one of the very few things in 41 years that I’ve spent a year or more anticipating — sometimes with a lot of dread, sometimes just with impatience, but all the time just living in a world where I’m out of control of something. It’s a relief to move from a world where nobody has seen this movie to a world where people have seen it, because now that’s over. I think it’s a very interesting movie because I’m a narcissist. Even if other people don’t like it or do like it, the great thing is that it’s not looming any more and I don’t have to worry about that part.
As the tour was happening I was curious, did you ever get any pressure to be less candid? Like, “Maybe don’t tell everyone about all of that.”
There’s always those voices. Usually they are people that are paid to help me. Believe it or not, I have a publicist — imagine how insane that job is. I’ve always been very regretful about the fact that the people who rely on me and care about me can actually be let down or victimized or frightened by my motormouth, but at the same time there’s a worse version of me, and that’s a version of me that bothers to be strategic, and political and diplomatic. In the best case scenario, that’s a useless version of me. In the worst case scenario, that’s a more effective version of me who gets terrible things done. The way that my brain is shaped, it’s best for there to be a valve on it that runs to my mouth, because it keeps me humble in the long run and there’s people who like it. I think that the people whose job it is to call me and say “Hey, can you cool it,” they’ve learned by now that the answer is no, I can’t.
When you were coming up as a writer, did you think, “I might have fans? Fans specifically of me, not just the shows I work on?”
I’ve always been just a rampant narcissist, always fascinated with myself, always just wanted attention, but at the same time I’ve always loved writing for people, trying to make them like me. It’s actually unfortunate in “Community”‘s case, that my name is ever soiling that territory. “Community” is its own thing, has its own personality, which is a very loveable one and an important one. “Community” is a hero worth saving and worth being enamored with, and I’m the guy that makes that product, but I am not a hero worth saving, I am not worth, like, actual romantic feelings on the part of a fan. But what I may be is either a cautionary tale or an interesting exhibit for other narcissists or people who feel embarrassed about what’s going on in their heads. It is a bummer for me; I wish I could pull a lever that made a wall go up between my identity and this thing that I love making called “Community.”
Now that you’ve debuted “Harmontown” at SXSW, what is the plan for the film?
I’m not even sure. I mean, I know that if nothing else, there’s a fan base that would love to just be able to download it and just watch it. So if we can just make it available to them for a small fee it will very quickly recoup the investment I represented. As long as it pays for itself, I won’t be embarrassed about it. It’ll be something we did that was worthwhile.
And what about developing new shows?
I have these two impulses: One is that I’m constantly fantasizing about never working again. I’m constantly fantasizing about focusing only on “Rick and Morty.” And then I’m constantly also fantasizing about all the cool stuff I could do while the iron’s still hot. If I go into a room at FX tomorrow, then I’m going to walk out all excited about something. And I’m going to end up trying really hard to get something on the air that will run contradictory to this part of me that fantasizes about taking a break, temporary or permanent. So I don’t really know. Every plan I’ve ever made always ends up sucking. So I guess I’ll just have to be organic and impulsive about what happens next.