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Exclusive: Dan Harmon speaks candidly about “Community” departure

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Fans of “Community” found it very disheartening when it was announced earlier this year that NBC was going to continue the show without its showrunner Dan Harmon. The critical darling wasn’t performing with the numbers the network wanted, and Harmon kept pushing the show farther and farther from the mainstream by having episodes dedicated to obscure films like “My Dinner with Andre” and taking place in multiple timelines. Harmon has been candid about his departure since NBC let him go, but it’s clear that he’s unhappy that his baby is going to be moving on without him.

IFC had the chance to catch up with Harmon at the red carpet premiere for Daniel Gillies’ documentary “Kingdom Come,” and we asked him about life after “Community.” He signed a TV deal with CBS and was in talks with FOX about a new show back in July, but it’s unclear just what those projects may be.

“I haven’t really thought about [the new shows] all that hard,” Harmon admitted. “My philosophy coming off of the NBC thing is that I’m not going to work quite as hard right out of the gate because working hard in network television, you’re not supposed to. You’re supposed to delegate and you’re supposed to take notes and you’re supposed to be diplomatic. I need to prove with my next couple of jobs that I’m capable of working without burning bridges and biting hands and things.”

He continued, “That’s why I went with CBS and Fox because they’re the two biggest networks and I want to do something good and something that’s successful and somehow not be the bad guy every day that I go to work. If that doesn’t work, I’ll immediately dump the third thing and become unlikable again, but I want to see if it’s possible to have all three and keep my job and make people happy and do something of quality.”

From the sound of those statements, it seemed as though Harmon was talking about maybe toning down his voice in his new television projects. When we asked if that’s what he meant, he explained that it’s a tricky line to walk.

“That’s a really good important question. Obviously if I say, ‘Yes, I’m going to try to tone it down,’ that would be [a trap]. Not that it’s like a ‘gotcha’ thing, I’m just saying, ‘What is the real answer to that question?’ What am I saying when I say I want to not get fired or hoist my sails to the wind that’s there?” he said. “It’s like, I hope that that doesn’t involve toning anything down.”

As an example, he explained that “Community” was his “earnest attempt to make a mainstream show,” so fans shouldn’t worry about him “selling out tonally.” And even though he’s hopefully going to end up on a network whose best comedies are sitcoms, he doesn’t think his project will fit with that mold.

“I’m not really able to write ‘Big Bang Theory.’ If I tried, it would be worse than ‘Big Bang Theory.’ The guys that are good at that write that, do it well, and then the stuff that I write is going to end up inevitably being like ‘Community,” Harmon said. “The sad fact is that that’s as close to the bulls-eye as I get. Just don’t tell CBS that I said that; it may repeat itself all over again. I’ll find some way to make it my own, otherwise it will be bad.”

“Community” has had plenty of iconic and experimental episodes, from the episode-long paintball fights to the stop-motion Christmas special to our personal favorite: “Remedial Chaos Theory” with its multiple timelines. We asked Harmon which of the episodes were his favorite, and he said there were too many to choose from.

“Since the end of the first season onward, it was all about, ‘We’re going to get fired every day now, we’re going to get cancelled, but it didn’t happen today, so what else has anyone else wanted to do on TV for their entire life as a writer?’ and whatever the answer was we’d try to find a way to do it up to and including a multiple timeline, which is something I’d wanted to do for a long time,” he said. “Ever since I’d seen ‘Run Lola Run.’ I mean, I’m a derivative writer. You can see online, I posted a text message conversation I had with one of the writers, Megan Ganz, about just watching ‘Run Lola Run’ a second time and going, ‘There’s got to be a way to do this sliding doors, video game stop-and-start multiple timelines something.’ You can see us hashing it out.”

We asked him about the season three episode “Digital Estate Planning,” which guest starred Giancarlo Esposito and, like the stop-motion episode, ditched live action to instead be told through the style of a retro video game. It turns out that one doesn’t rank to high on his list of favorites.

“That was ridiculous,” he said. “I haven’t watched that one again because it was just like too far. I know that that was the final straw [with NBC].”

What about season two’s “Critical Film Studies,” which is largely inspired by “My Dinner with Andre” and “Pulp Fiction” and features Abed’s hilarious “Cougar Town” crossover?

“God, that’s another one I thought was it,” Harmon said, and then continued on to explain why he thinks so many of “Community’s” experiments slipped through the cracks. “We were very lucky to be at a network that was sort of in flames the whole time because it was like Beirut wasn’t a nice place to live in the ’80s but there was a lot of ammunition lying around and people got to do some stuff they had always been dreaming of doing. I think that’s what NBC was at that time.”

Even with those harsh words, Harmon made it clear that he wishes all the best for the network that sent him away.

“I hope for NBC’s sake that the impulse that made [NBC chairman Robert] Greenblatt get rid of me is coupled with an impulse that brings stability and Camelot back, because it is one of the greatest networks, the one that I grew up watching: ‘Night Rider,’ ‘A-Team,’ ‘Cosby,’ ‘Cheers,'” he told IFC. “It would be great to see them keep fighting that fight for taste and quality but, I don’t know. That’s out of my jurisdiction, I have no idea if that’s going to happen. I saw a poster with a monkey on it and some guys with BabyBjorns, so it’s not looking good.”

What do you think about Harmon’s comments about NBC and “Community”? Tell us in the comments section below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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Play along with movie trivia during "Scarface" tonight at 8P on IFC.

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Tony Montana is all about money, power and respect. And while we can’t promise you’ll get money or power by taking our Scarface quiz below, you will get respect if you get a perfect score. One out of three ain’t bad. Click below to take the quiz, and catch Scarface this month on IFC.

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Photo Credit: YouTube/Tufts University

We’ve made it! Memorial Day weekend! But before we can complain that it’s over too quickly, take a moment to bask in the pre-break lack of productivity and enjoy some lighthearted videos.

From Hank Azaria channeling Chief Wiggum and other Simpsons characters while talking to college grads to “Shark-spert” Jason Alexander sharing questionable shark facts, here are five funny things from this week you need to watch.

1. Kermit Informs Fozzie Bear That They’ve Been Canceled

It’s never easy to see someone receive bad news, much less a Muppet. But if anything, Kermit’s poise and acceptance during a time of crisis is impressive, admirable even. Fozzie Bear, on the other hand, reacts with greater similarity to how we would: with baseless anger and utter despair.


2. Jason Alexander Offers Shark “Fin Facts”

Memorial Day weekend means the start of beach season, aka Shark Feeding Season. As part of IFC’s Shark Half-A-Day Memorial Day marathon, “sharks-pert” Jason Alexander offers up some interesting “fin facts” about our sharp-toothed friends from the deep. You can also check out Jason’s beach tips, and catch the Jaws movies with more “fin facts” from Jason this Memorial Day on IFC.


3. Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke Confirms Dothraki Is a Real Language

With eyes still dewy from the climax of this past Sunday’s Game of Thrones (Hold the door!), the Mother of Dragons herself Emilia Clarke dropped by Late Night with Seth Meyers to throw the diehard fans a reason to smile: Yes, Dothraki is a real language. Watch Clarke discuss the phonetics and grammar involved with vying for Westeros rule.


4. Hank Azaria Gives Advice Through Simpsons Characters

Hank Azaria — star of The Simpsons, The Birdcage, and Brockmire, premiering in 2017 on IFC — gave the commencement speech at his alma mater Tufts University. In the hilarious speech, Azaria discusses how he got through college, recounts his early career struggles, and offers up life advice via fan favorite Simpsons characters like Chief Wiggum and Comic Book Guy.


5. X-Men: The Animated Series Gets Honest

Screen Junkies are back this week with another round of Honest Trailers. This entry focuses on the cartoon mutants that comprise X-Men: The Animated Series — an ultra-’90s Marvel property that predates the comic book adaptation boom of the 21st Century. But looking back at the decade of Rob Liefeld and Todd McFarlane, this video finds much to mock.

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With a career spanning five decades, “Weird Al” Yankovic has defined the song parody genre and become a beloved pop culture icon. Starting June 3rd, you’ll be able to catch him as the brand new Comedy Bang! Bang! bandleader Fridays at 11P on IFC.

We recently chatted with Al about joining Scott Aukerman on the new season, his upcoming tour, favorite CB!B! characters and his future dream projects. (Hint: it might involve actors spontaneously breaking into song.)

The Comedy Bang! Bang! bandleader gig seems like a natural fit for you. Did it take any time to get acclimated?

Weird Al: Yeah. It’s a slightly different skill set. The accordion is my main act, but I don’t use it on the show at all. It’s a keyboard setup. The actual setup is a little bit of a combination of what Reggie [Watts] had and [Kid] Cudi had. And a few extra things thrown in. So I’m trying to do my own version of what they brought to the show.

You’ve been on the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast and the show many times. Do you have a favorite CB!B! character?

Weird Al: I’d probably have to say Doctor Time. Every time Scott wants me to do an evil character, he’s always got a bad English accent. [Laughs] Any time my character goes evil, he becomes sort of British.

Any favorite guests you’ve worked with?

Weird Al: Gosh, I love them all. Paul F. Tompkins is always fun. His Andrew Lloyd Webber character, Cake Boss, everything he does. And Andy Daly as well. They’re so versatile and so amazing at improv. That’s the one thing I was a little nervous about because I’ve never been super confident with my improv skills. But Comedy Bang! Bang!, particularly the TV version, is good for that because it’s all heavily edited. So it kind of gives me permission to try out whatever comes to my mind, so if it really sucks, they’re not gonna use it. [Laughs]

Scott Aukerman Weird Al

Your upcoming tour is a continuation of your Mandatory Fun tour from last year. Any new elements to the show?

Weird Al: Well, it is the same tour, so it’s not that much different. I might freshen some video a little bit. I’m hoping to use a bit or two from the current season of Comedy Bang! Bang! and slip that into the show somewhere.

The tour starts June 3rd in St. Petersburg, Florida and ends September 24th at Radio City Music Hall. How do you keep up the pace? 

Weird Al: It’s just a mindset. I’m really only working for two hours a day, so I basically just save up my energy for the show. I relax, surf online, watch satellite TV, read a book, rest my voice, and then give it all I got when I’m onstage.

Looking back at your vast song catalog, was there ever a parody that came to you immediately upon hearing the song?

Weird Al: Yeah, that’s happened a few times. More often than not, I have to think about it and analytically work out all the variations on a theme that I can and pick out the one with the most potential. But there’s been a few times where the idea came to me spontaneously. I think the first time I saw Michael Jackson’s “Bad” video, before it was even over, I thought, “Oh! I gotta do ‘Fat’! Super-plus-sized actors trying to get through a turnstile on a subway! I gotta do that!”

Do you have a favorite of your many hilarious videos?

Weird Al: Oh boy, it’s hard to say. “White and Nerdy” has been my biggest hit and that was a really fun video to do. But in terms of making a video, “Tacky” was really fun to do because it was so easy and I got to work with amazing people like Jack Black, Margaret Cho, Kristen Schaal, Eric Stonestreet, and Aisha Tyler. And we knocked it out in a couple of hours. We were having so much fun while making it, I kinda wish we weren’t so efficient and professional. [Laughs] I could’ve done that all night.

Was it filmed all in one take or was it stitched together?

Weird Al: That was all one take. Some people say, “Oh, I see where the edit is,” but it was all one shot. We did a total of six takes, and I think four of those takes were usable, but the last one was the best.

And you were directing while performing?

Weird Al: I directed that one, yeah. We location scouted and found a building in downtown LA that I thought was good for the shoot. I’ve since seen that building in a lot of other movies and TV shows — I think it was used in The Big Lebowski and a few others. It was difficult because I start the video in one set of clothes and I also end the video in a completely different set of clothes. So while the cameras were off me, because there’s only one elevator in the building, I had to run down five flights of stairs, quickly change my clothes, and hit my mark for the end. And after the take, we’d all just watch what we did, and say, “OK, let’s do it again.”

Is there a director you’d love to work with in the future?

Weird Al: Oh gosh, yeah, but I mean, music videos are notoriously low-budget so that’s why I end up directing them myself. [Laughs] But I’d love to be in a movie codirected by Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino.

Do you have a particular genre of music that you love parodying the most? Or is it more of the moment and different for each song?

Weird Al: It doesn’t necessarily revolve around personal taste so much. It really depends more on the song than the genre. But I found rap songs tend to lend themselves to parody, mostly because there’s a lot of words to play with. A lot of pop songs are repetitive, and that’s sometimes been an issue. With rap, there’s no shortage of syllables to mess around with.

Given that you’ve been so prolific and done so much, is there any type of art left that you’d like to dip your toe in? Dramatic acting, perhaps?

Weird Al: Well, if Spielberg and Tarantino want me for their film, I wouldn’t want to turn them down. But there’s no burning desire to do drama. I love doing comedy and feel comfortable doing that. Writing a musical might be something I do down the line. I don’t know when but I might take a shot at something in that area. Other than that, I’ve done pretty much all I wanted to do in my life so far. A lot of it not successfully. [Laughs] But I took a stab at it and feel gratified by that.

You’ve had such a eclectic career in music and comedy. What do you attribute your longevity to?

Weird Al: [Laughs] I don’t know what I’d attribute the longevity to. There’s a modicum of talent, but it’s mostly because I surround myself with very talented people. I’ve got a great support group, I’ve got the same band since the early ’80s, and I’ve worked with the same people for decades. And I got a very loyal fan base and I love what I do. And somehow I’ve been very lucky and it’s worked out so far.

Watch “Weird Al” in an episode from the new season of Comedy Bang! Bang! right now, before the season premiere on Friday June 3rd at 11P.

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