I did stand-up comedy for more than a decade back in the 80s and early 90s and while I was a headliner for a long time, I was never even close to being a star. On some level that sucks, but one of the things I took away from the experience was that being a star didn't matter to me. It's nice to be rich, but it's okay if I'm not. I can live with the fact that my name is never going to be mentioned on "Entertainment Tonight." Because I didn't do all those thousands of shows for fame. I did them because I loved what I was doing. Well, most of the time.
And it wasn't just the work I loved, it was the passion of the people I worked with along the way. For all of my later success, some of my favorite times were when I was starting out and I spent hours after shows hanging out with other comics, cracking jokes, eating pie and just being with other people I respected and whose talent inspired me. At my age, I don't miss the stand-up and the traveling, but I miss caring about something that much. I miss the instant reaction of the crowd and the passive-aggressive behavior that comes from writing jokes 24/7 for months at a time.
I've never met "Community's" Dan Harmon and have no idea what he's like as a boss. But he seems like a guy that would be fun to have a drink with, because he's smart, passionate and I kind of get his take on the world. There are a lots of reasons to disagree with his behavior or with something he's said in an interview. But I get his passion for his work and as much as I hate to admit it, if I had a show, I'd probably be just a tough boss as Harmon. I would care about the show more than almost anything and that attitude is both liberating and self-destructive. It's difficult to care that much and while most veteran showrunners have learned how to separate their soul from their show, it's a hard lesson to learn. Particularly if you have a background that includes live performances. Because the best live performers have the ability to meld their core feelings in a way that is entertaining and inspiring. But it's a two-way street and television makes that interaction almost impossible.
Harmon seems to regularly show up on Reddit commenting about himself, his show, Grand Theft Auto or whatever catches his attention. A lot is made about the specifics of what he says but as I read some of his recent comments I understand why he can't seem to stop talking about the show. Why he keeps interacting with fans in a way that is very unusual for a person in his position in the industry.
Running a show is tough and it's easy to lose your perspective. You're creating a show that ultimately needs to be entertaining, yet the process of creation is separated by the act of consuming by weeks if not months. It's got to be a sometimes very awkward process for someone who needs feedback he can trust, and Harmon seems to be one of those people.
The irony of the situation is that your fans are likely to be the least objective. They like you, they appreciate your work and it's easy to find yourself surrounded by "yes" men. And without trying to psychoanalyze Harmon, he seems to put himself in situations in which he needs to defend himself in part because that forces him to sharpen his opinions and hopefully that ultimately leads to a better show.
Earlier this week, Harmon posted a few comments in a subreddit called "Unpopular Opinions About the 'Unpopular Opinions About Community'" and I was struck by these three posts:
1) I absolutely know about and feel the quiet, calm love. And I don't consider any amount or type of investment in a TV show to be the wrong type. The feelings I feel if I read a tweet that gets to me or something like that never affect my relationship to the work..well maybe, if anything, maybe I'll stay at work a little later and try to make sure something's good because a teenager called me a talentless fag. But that kid's voice was in my head before the internet anyway, now I just know his name is DragonBall69 or whatever.
I don't think "haters" on the internet represent the viewers and even if I did the hate isn't that bad. I was just expressing the emotion I feel when fans have this one specific conversation they have a lot (about season 3 sucking). I feel better having said it, the way I'm sure people feel better after they say a season sucked.
2) I'm sitting here in an empty office on a Saturday with McKenna and another writer trying to make sure a script is good for strangers. And of course for us - the two concepts are inexorably braided. Obsessing over the quality of this show beyond a certain level is not something that causes the show to get higher ratings or make more money, it is a thing we do over here because we want the show to make you and us happy. I get lots of positive vibes and rewards for that online, I am personally gratified by the work, so I'm not saying enough doesn't come of it. What I am saying is: What is your problem? I hate to grease the squeaky wheel but you are quite symbolic of something that confuses the shit out of me. You're shouting at a stranger, on the internet, for letting you down, as if he's some kind of deity. But he's right in front of you. So he's not a deity. Same height, same basic DNA, so what good is the slingshot doing?
I really do get confused about it. I understand the expression of "anger" about a show you're into, it's fun to rant about how Christopher Nolan letting me down and I understand the people therefore saying, to me, "go away, this is our show, we want to talk crazy about it without having to genuflect," and believe me, I am gone, I can't handle it, I'm just responding to my inbox.
But I definitely do not get yelling at me. Like Muhammad Ali. I don't get trying to make me feel bad. I don't get pointing at my face and taking your best shot at humbling me. Because I think if that happened to you, you'd turn your back on the person doing it. So either I'm wrong about that, and you'd take that kind of abuse, because you hate yourself, or I'm right, and you want me to vanish from your life ...because ..?
3) You're right. This is a place for people that aren't as close to the material or the process.
Whenever I talk to other TV writers, especially showrunners, about the online aspect of our work, they always ask why I interact with fans online, like the internet is a basement or a sewer. I always thought they were just being entitled upper class twits, repressing so much shame about their unearned stations that they didn't dare go to the marketplace for fear of getting robbed of their power. I was born and raised in the market. It comes with issues at the top, among the entitled upper class twits that run the whole shebang. I'll never pretend to like them and vice versa.
But I don't belong here anymore either. It's not heroic, it's not therapeutic, and, although I never thought of it as a sewer, I never really do go back up any cleaner.
It's an invitation to adapt and evolve. I'm on the Galapagos of ...I don't know, I'm on some kind of Galapagos.
Reading the above comments, I suddenly saw myself in Harmon's comments. He struggles to find a way to interact with "Community's" audience in a way that is healthy but not confrontational just for the sake of being a troll. And that's tough on the Internet, where there's always someone willing to try and grab the mantle of "Who's the biggest asshat?"
Television is a different medium than a live performance and sometimes that's a good thing. But one advantage a live audience gives you is that instant, honest feedback that's missing from TV. I know I would miss that if I was sitting in an editing suite 12 hours into my workday. I have a suspicion I would be just as cantankerous as Harmon and because of that I'm not going to obsess about every comment he makes online.
I'm more than willing to let Dan Harmon be Dan Harmon. I may love this season of "Community" or not feel a connection at all and as the season progresses I'll be writing about my feelings about the show. But I find myself not caring about Harmon's public statements because even in the best scenario, they're filtered through whatever site he happens to be on at the time.
Harmon would be a great guy to have a beer with..or maybe six. But I'm prepared to let Harmon do what he needs to do and not breathlessly write a piece centered around his latest comment on Reddit. We all have our own ways of coping with the process of creation and since I've never run my own show, I'd be a special kind of asshat to suggest he's doing it wrong.
As a journalist, I'm prepared to let Harmon be Harmon. Because at the end of the day, that's what I'm hoping someone would do for me if I was running a show.
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