The Community panel was just one long crazy adventure, here at San Diego Comic-Con. Show creator Dan Harmon, back after a year of being fired, was in high spirits — emerging in the DIY cardboard Iron Man costume you see above.
Said Harmon, "It is good to be back. Did you miss me? I missed you too. I am billionaire playboy and creator Dan Harmon." He would not promise that "television is going to enjoy its longest period of quality in years because of me," or that he's risen like a phoenix, or that he's "created a machine that eats pain and craps joy." Because it's not about those things — it's about what you leave behind: it's about six seasons and a movie!
And then we saw a hilarious old-looking black-and-white video, featuring Joel McHale (who couldn't be there), promising a wonderful future of "little pills that taste like Steak Dinners," because "everything is possible through Community." For every 40 million people who watch the show, the chances increase that one of them will be in Iowa and have a Nielsen box. And then "we'll all become mimmortal and TV can watch itself while we all go get some fresh air."
So here are all the most memorable things Dan Harmon said on the panel:
On his fear of failure: "I have new feelings of anxiety that will trickle into [my writing]. Nobody wants to not fail more than me at this point because it's kind of a weird story, going away and coming back, so I really have to make these 13 [episodes] count. I don't consider them the last 13. I will do everything I can to get that sixth season, but I do consider them the most important 13."
On his scrapped plans for season four: "When we were doing season three I had plans for season four, [to] get the audience used to not having to be in school all the time. All kinds of plans, good plans, that in a good way are absolutely out the window." Instead, he says the new season will focus on reestablishing the characters with good grounded storytelling, instead of gimmicks, in the first few episodes.
On upcoming gimmicks: "We're going to have an animated episode. The reason I can scoop that is that we have to know we're going to do that way in advance." He also says there's a "D&D part two" episode on the writers' whiteboard, sandwiched between two normal episodes.
On this year's approach to writing: "We're taking a different approach in the writers room this year. We're taking off all our clothes and just singing to ourselves and waiting for a story tell itself."
On trying to heal the show's pain: "This show, it's like a rescue dog. It pees itself every time there's lightning. It's been through a lot, and I really want to give it a milk bone and make eye-contact and make it [feel safe], and that means it's really about these characters."
On where these characters come from: "Annie was a ripoff of Tracy Flick in Election, but then Alison Brie climbed into her and turned her into Annie over the course of several stories. Like something from Prometheus. Britta is an amalgam of various ex-girlfriends, but all of her politics are my politics. She is the one who will start ranting in the corner of a party but she has not read a lot of it lately. Abed is a lot of parts of me — just listen to me. Ken is the guy from the Hangover — we got him! That's just a get. That's what we call that on TV. Yvette is the part of me that is incredibly outspoken and idealistic, and I'd like to explore stories this season where she gets in trouble for that. Now that she's an independent business person, I'd like to do stories where she gets in trouble for being an unwitting political figure...
The Dean is the guy that everything that you are that you think is weird, everything that you think people would make fun of you ehe's got it going on behind closed doors. He's at Greendale so he just kind of snapped at one point and started unfurling. What am I saying right here?"
On being loved by the fans: That makes [this crowd] my LeVar Burton. I can only disappoint them. This is the whole point.
Host Chris Hardwick: Everyone tell Dan that you love him.
Crowd: We love you, Dan
Dan: I can't hear you. [Hangs head] I'm the worst person in the world for making that happen.
On producer Chris McKenna: "[McKenna] is the only person who could behead me Highlander style and take my power. Go back to season one and you can mark the spot with a sharpie where Chris starts working and things explode creatively. He and I are partners creatively, and now this is the ideal team creative-wise."
On the bad luck the show has had: I get really excited about it, because it makes the stories in the show resonate with the stories about the show, and it makes for really character-defining moments. So bring it on — bring on the nutkicks!
On the fact that he criticized the writing of season four online: "I was talking about my own experience watching it, and in the context of my own personal petty diary of a podcast. I am making this show to adjust for the despicable person I am, and make a valentine. Community is never going to hurt you. I might, like in a car or something. I apologize to these peope, if I hurt any of your feelings when I said that stuff. But a fan of Community does not have to be a fan of Dan Harmon, or vice versa. I implore you to make that distinction. I am a creepy jerk."
On Senor Chang: Chang's been all over the map. He's the Gollum in our Middle Earth. Is he evil? Is he good? Where does he live? Why does he pluralize the word precious? Ken is one of the great parsts of this show. He's a madman. He was great as a Spanish teacher and then like a dummy I thought, let's not have him be a Spanish teacher again becuase we'll be locked in this template, I'm the first to admit it's been hit and miss with Chang. I liked him as a security guard. Yeah, he'll be back this season.
On the show's sets: "The hallways are a great place to start, and every time you walk down them the bulletin boards are covered with written material that the writers didn't write and you can walk down the hallway and see a ton of story ideas that would a great idea for a club. You lift up any corner of that set and see something hilarious."
On whether there will be a Kickstarter for the Community movie: Sony will pay for the movie. They've got some money. They've got some funds squirreled away from Spider-Man 9. Our movie won't cost so much.
Stuff that Dan Harmon didn't say:
Danny Pudi told a story about a guy trying to shake his hand when they're both peeing at a urinal and the guy tells him, "It's cool. I haven't touched my penis yet." In terms of Abed's future, Pudi said, "I hope we discover Jamie Lee Curtis is my mom this year." Danny Pudi keeps talking and talking while Alison Brie and Ken Jeong ar sucking on each other's fingers very slowly and then Alison puts her finger in Danny Pudi's ear.
Also, Starburns showed up to ask thirty questions on the microphone.
Update — here's the whole panel in nice quality video: