Murphy’s Law – The “real” Dan Harmon

Joel Murphy

Joel Murphy

Since the conclusion of season four of Community, there have been two exciting announcements about season five of the show. The first was that creator Dan Harmon would be back as showrunner after being ousted prior to season four. The second, which came just last week, was that the show is returning to NBC’s Thursday night lineup on January 2.

Unfortunately, there have been a handful of other stories in-between those two that were not quite as joyous. One was that Donald Glover would be leaving halfway through the season. The rest of the headlines all involved people reacting to comments made by Harmon about season four, which came in the form of quotes from his Harmontown podcast and comments Harmon posted on Reddit.

The original comment that got Harmon in hot water was when he talked about watching season four for the first time, which he described as being “like flipping through Instagrams and watching your girlfriend just blow a million [other guys].” He later compared season four to Jeffrey Dahmer.

Sites like Vulture and The AV Club took these comments and ran with them. It got them a lot of hits painting Harmon as a guy who doesn’t know when to keep his mouth shut. And perhaps that is true to some extent. As Harmon himself will admit, he’s been fired from every job he’s every had in the entertainment industry, including Community.

This week on the Harmontown podcast, Harmon had two Community fans up on stage to engage in a dialogue after one of them wrote on Twitter that she wished he would stop talking. If I were a less scrupulous man, I’d pull a few juicy, out-of-context quotes from that discussion to get some extra clicks. But I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’ll simply encourage anyone who is interested to go listen to the entire show, in context. It’s worth the time.

It’s easy to vilify Harmon, painting him as a loudmouth jerk. But today, I wanted to do something more worthwhile. I wanted to show you the other side of the guy – the part that’s responsible for all of those loving Jeff Winger speeches that put a heartfelt bow on his episodes.

On Harmon’s Tumblr account, a fan recently wrote to him asking for advice on being a doctor. His responsible was absolutely wonderful and, instead of pulling bits and pieces out of it, I’m going to share the entire exchange with you guys.

Can you give some advice for a person who dropped out of college, to follow her dream (I want to be a doctor.) But I failed the test I need to take to get in med school (in Brazil) more than 3 times. And today my Mom said to me that when other people ask her what I’m doing… she feels ashamed to say that i’m still studying to get in college. I mean, I’m still nothing. I’m feeling like shit, but I can’t give up, but I have the feeling that no one believes that I’ll be in med school someday. :/

– queensalanderstark

Nobody has ever been nothing. We are all equally something and some of us are much luckier than others. I was less lucky than I am now for over a quarter of my life, which is something like three quarters of my adult life – I’m not lucky enough to be good at math – my point is, I’ve felt like “nothing” for more waking hours on this planet than I’ve felt like anything.

I’m as bad at giving advice to others as you are at passing that med school test. But believe me, that’s all that test is measuring: your ability to pass it. It is not measuring the type or quality of doctor you might one day be, and it is certainly not measuring your worth as a person. If this is something you honestly want, I would bet you’re going to end up getting it. Or, at the very least, being totally satisfied that you left no stone unturned.

Your Mom is probably just expressing, in that frequently frustrating Mom way, that she’s worried she’s not being a good Mom. She doesn’t want to see you fail, she doesn’t want you to have a bad life, because she’s measuring her abilities as a Mom by your outcomes, same as you’re measuring yourself by this med test. I’m sure being a Mom is harder than being a doctor but I’m also sure the entrance exam was easier. Moms can’t push a button and stop being Moms just because we’ve decided we’re grown up, and the things they say in an attempt to keep “raising” us can get under our skin. But the biggest favor you can do yourself and your Mom (and everyone else) is to be confident about what you want. To know why you want it. Then you have honesty on your side. Then anyone opposing you is opposing the truth, and that’s a bad side to be on in the long run.

I don’t know you, I don’t know you’ll be a perfect doctor, or a doctor at all. There are realities with which to contend. But because reality is inescapable, it’s important that we make a choice, in our heads, to counterbalance reality with things that defy it. Gravity is a reality, but humans fly. The language we’re exchanging, the fillings in our teeth, the pavement on the road outside, everywhere you look, for better or for worse, you’re going to see evidence that accepting reality is not a human’s tendency, and not what we’re good at, and not, in my speculation, what God or Natural Selection hired us to do. We’ve been hired, by this universe, to dream, to aspire, to make things that weren’t real real – and because that involves a lot of failure, we’re damn good at doing that, too.

Without the benefit of details, I say stay the course. I say keep failing. Fall flat on your face, feel every scrape, roll in the dirt and scream in frustration. Tell your mother you love her but the fact is, she either raised a doctor or she raised a girl that’s going to fail, spectacularly, at it, and in either case, she’s done her part. Go fail that test a fourth time. And get it on the fifth. Or sixth. Push this thing to the absolute limit, make them create a new law against your level of desire, make them arrest you for wanting to be a doctor, and when they let you out, run to fail the test again, so that when you’re slipping away from this reality, which could happen at any time, you’re not spending your last moments thinking anything but “well, I did my best.” Also, watch Rick and Morty on Adult Swim in December.

Harmon is a complicated figure. He’s someone with a bit of a self-destructive streak who gets himself into trouble for saying too much. Perhaps someone like that would be wise to avoid hosting a podcast or making himself available on social media sites. But there’s a flip side to that availability. Sometimes it can be used to do a lot of good.

Feel free to draw your own conclusions about the man. But just make sure you take it all into account, not just the out-of-context, attention-grabbing headlines.

Or don’t. Just, whatever you do, please, for the love of God, watch season five of Community in January. I’m still holding out for that whole “six seasons and a movie” thing.

Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. Follow Joel on Twitter @FreeMisterClark or email him at

Comments (1)
  1. Levi Burzlaff October 23, 2013

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