Interview: ‘Rick and Morty’s Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland Get Intergalactic


Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland are the brilliantly bizarre minds behind Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty, which was one of my favorite surprises of the last TV season. During Comic-Con 2014, Dan Harmon took some time from his other little show, Community, to join Justin Roiland in Adult Swim’s press room for Rick and Morty, where I got to pose some questions about the wickedly funny, sci-fi skewering animated series and what’s ahead in the upcoming Season 2. _____________________________________________________________________________________

Rick Morty Dan Harmon Justin Roiland SDCC 14 03

On what’s coming up on Season 2 of Rick and Morty:

Justin Roiland: “We don’t want to give away too much, but we’ve sort of maintained that episodic, kind of any episode is a good point of entry type of approach to Season 2. Up until… well I don’t want to say too much. [looks at Dan Harmon] What’s the line too far?”

Dan Harmon: “I don’t know. I think its accurate to say that in Season 2 things get a little more intergalactic. We felt in Season 1 that the formula would always be a domestic B-story about Beth and Jerry’s marriage, or family concerns…”

Justin Roiland: “It’s grounded.

Dan Harmon: “…and that the A-story would be this crazy sci-fi thing by comparison. But quickly we found in Season 1 that that formula wasn’t as necessary as just having an A-story and a B-story, one of which should probably have an emotional grounding point. So having learned that from Season 1, I think we’ve been a little more fancy-free about just saying “Well, Beth and Jerry, they go into outer space in this episode because of this reason. and meanwhile Rick and Morty have to stay home and work on something in the garage.”

Justin Roiland: “But both stories will be sci-fi. Not all the time, but yeah, we’ve sort of freed ourself up to be sci-fi across the whole episode.

Dan Harmon: “And we bring in just a hair of canon. A little bit of world building regarding Rick’s past and his relationship with the larger universe.”

Justin Roiland: “Yep. There’s not a ton of… well, I don’t want to say that. Here’s what I will say: There’s a lot of interesting pairings this season that we haven’t done, that are in Season 2. Different characters that we see together on adventures. The only time we saw Morty, Summer and Rick together in Season 1 really was the last episode. The house party episode.

In Season 2 we sort of organically, in the writing process, discovered that the three of those guys – there’s a lot of fun to be had there. Putting them all together on the same roller coaster ride, so to speak story-wise. But we’re in the thick of it. We’re still… the last two scripts, we’re writing over the next month and until those are done, we really won’t know one hundred percent exactly what the pulled-back… we kind of know what we want to do, but we don’t want to give away too much… this is the worst interview ever, isn’t it? [laughs] I am the worst human being. I’m like a politician right now. Saying nothing and rambling.

On writing comedy into sci-fi:

Rick Morty Dan Harmon Justin Roiland SDCC 14 02

Dan Harmon – Writer/Co-Creator of ‘Rick and Morty’

Dan Harmon: “That’s an interesting question. My philosophy with sci-fi is to focus more on the ‘fi’ than the ‘sci.’ I think people like it when it holds up a little bit to logical scrutiny. But that logic can often be pretty magically enforced. I mean, you can just tell people that Doctor Who’s TARDIS is larger on the inside than it is on the outside, and he can explain that with what we call gobbledygook in the writer’s room.

You tell people, like in Harry Potter, you just string some Latin words together and it’s like ‘okay, that’s the spell that does that.’ I think what’s more important to sci-fi is that people recognize a mythologized version of something they have encountered in their lives. So, ‘oh, this is the sci-fi version of a drive-thru at McDonald’s, this is a sci-fi version of the DMV, this a sci-fi version of the way police treat civilians in times of stress or this is the way America behaves at war-time.’ You know, exploring things that have some point of connection to the real world.

Justin Roiland: “Dan does a great job too, of taking a sci-fi concept and grounding it in a really awesome, structurally stable, narrative. It’s more character based. You’re really putting yourself in the shoes of somebody when you’re watching the show. You’re really relating and connecting with somebody’s decision or choice or adventure.

But a lot of times, those things will start from “Oh, it would be cool if…“, when you think about sci-fi, you know: freezing time. Or a cool invention. Or being able to look through people’s clothes. X-ray vision. Those kind of ideas. Those are all cool points of entry in terms of breaking story. Rick is the scientist that can create anything. What are cool things that we would want to see? Or what are cool things that we would want to create if we had that ability?

A lot of times stories will start from that, and then we’ll kind of have a lot of fun and screw around in the writer’s room and, at a certain point you start to lock things down. Then it becomes this cool story about – we’re not doing an X-ray vision story. That was a bad example – but like okay, we love X-ray vision. We love the idea of goggles that Morty gets or whatever it is and now everyone looks to Dan. Okay, how can we make this emotional? How can we make this awesome in a sci-fi standpoint, but then also be really relatable to your mom or your dad or anyone who is going to watch? Really broad appeal, and they can follow along. But also, almost tricking them into enjoying something they may not even be into, which is hardcore sci-fi stuff. Which is our favorite thing.”

On balancing the comedy and sincerity, particularly the episode Rixty Minutes:

Rick Morty Dan Harmon Justin Roiland SDCC 14 04

Justin Roiland – Voices of Rick and Morty – Writer/Co-Creator of ‘Rick and Morty’

Dan Harmon: “Well that was sort of like an example of balancing it at a seasonal level. Justin was like “Let’s do one episode where we don’t try to win people over with our…sincerity,”  as you call it. Justin is going to go into the VO booth and improvise. He’s going to be crazy and just do ridiculous things and then we’re going to animate to them without breaking a story for those things. So we cautiously paired it with a B-story that would be very emotional and sincere and grounded. So far we’ve been very chicken about giving you too much…”

Justin Roiland: “…for Season 2, yeah…”

Dan Harmon: “…silliness without any sincerity. I suppose that’s a good kind of chicken to stay for a while.”

Justin Roiland: “[Ricksty Minutes], by the way, is the penultimate example of Dan and I playing to our strengths and then weaving them together. That story with Beth, Jerry and Summer is so awesome. And it’s so… it’s a drama. It’s sci-fi, it’s connected to what’s going on. It’s the goggles. But there really are emotional stakes, there’s discoveries going on, we’re learning these things about Jerry and Beth and the fact that Summer almost was, would’ve been… it’s heavy shit!

And on the other side of the story is me in the booth going “Aaah, I’m Mr. Poopy Butt! I’m Poopy Butt! Come to ‘Poopy Butts Poops …and buy a…” whatever the hell I was doing, then to marry those together in a way. We did a little work at the very end when we got to color, we were looking at it and we kind of did some polish at the very end to sort of help dovetail the two things.

But ultimately, that might be my favorite example of you and I sort of doing what we do best and sort of merging those two things together in a way that people can enjoy as one jawbreaker, or whatever.”


Still craving more Rick and Morty during the long wait until the premiere? Stay tuned to for part 2 of our coverage of Rick and Morty from Comic-Con 2014, which will feature co-stars Chris Parnell (Jerry) and Spencer Grammer (Summer).

Rick and Morty returns for Season 2 in late 2014 or early 2015, only on Adult Swim. 

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  1. Love the insight here. Great questions! I really like hearing how they sort of marry the genre-defining concept with a relatable, story-oriented instance that affects the characters. It gives some food for thought in future writing and brainstorming sessions.

    1. Thanks for reading! Yes you can definitely see that they have a fascinating creative balance that gives the show its unique sci-fi with heart tone.

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