Dan Harmon: Writer, Podcaster, Alcoholic?

Dan Harmon: Writer, Podcaster, Alcoholic?

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If you haven’t heard of Dan Harmon, here are the basics: he’s the creator of Community, the host of cult podcast Harmontown and the creator of Jack Black and Ben Stiller’s Heat Vision and Jack pilot for FOX (the most expensive to ever be filmed on the network’s studio lot). He’s also fairly well established as an alcoholic.

In a recent interview with Vice, Harmon discussed his alcoholism as well as his issues with his ego and self-destructive behavior. Just how much does ego and self-destruction play into his life? Well, in the Harmontown documentary (playing in select theaters and available for purchase on iTunes), Sarah Silverman says that she’s his “biggest fan” but fired him from her show when he turned into “not so great Dan” while shooting. He was also fired from Community for, among other issues, playing Chevy Chase’s angry voicemail at Meltdown Comics on Sunset during a live recording of his podcast. If you need any more examples of what Harmon’s capable of, his lively Twitter feed should definitely do the trick.

Harmontown the doc shows us another side of the Wisconsin-born writer, who now lives in Old Hollywood’s affluent Los Feliz neighborhood with his fiancé Erin McGrathy. As the doc shows, Harmon takes bubble baths while working on two TV pilots (one for CBS and another for FOX). But mostly the doc centers on his 20-city, 23-day podcast tour. He goes from comedy club to comedy club across America, recording the podcast for a live crowd. The goal of the podcast (which Harmon records with his co-host Jeff Davis and, later, a Dungeon master Harmon discovers named Spencer Crittendon) is, Harmon says, to “improve humanity” and to showcase “a fat guy drinking vodka until he blacks out.”

When Vice asked Harmon if he’s an addict, he responded that he always says “yes” to that question so the conversation steers in another direction. I saw Harmontown the other night and the subject came up more than twice. Rarely without a drink in his hand, Harmon’s honesty on stage dances a fine line between giving his audience their money’s worth and total self-sabotage in both Hollywood and his relationship with McGathy. Harmon also contemplates smoking weed every day instead because he “[drinks]too much.”

Deep into the tour in the south, Harmon drinks an audience member’s Moonshine and the doc cuts to the next morning when he and his editor are finalizing the podcast. Quick cuts back to the live recording on stage reveal things unraveling for Harmon.

And yet despite his ego and self-destructive behavior, Harmon has achieved his dreams of success in Hollywood on his terms. He actually says the phrase “living my dream” several times in the documentary. The one thing Harmon doesn’t seem to be, however, is happy. He may not want to talk about it but his alcoholic tendencies clearly hinder him and his success seems to be in spite of his admitted shortcomings.

I first started watching Community several years into the show at the suggestions of friends and then immediately followed Dan Harmon on Twitter. I therefore had a front row seat when he tweeted about Sony firing him from his own show. I loved it. It’s so rare that people in his position of power are honest in any capacity, especially on the Internet. In the Vice interview, Harmon talks about his over-sharing and honesty that has gotten him the reputation of being the Dennis Rodman of bloggers. I don’t know where this all stems from but I’ve been around people who drink or used to drink as much as Harmon long enough to know that self-destructive behavior or the dreaded “I don’t have a filter” line can come from insecurity or fear. I’m not saying Dan Harmon is insecure or afraid I’m just saying his drinking has to stem from somewhere.

Harmon’s drinking has altered his career in entertainment but it certainly didn’t ruin it. To me, rejection is simply life going in a direction we’re afraid of going because things can often be a bit too comfortable when we just get what we want. I found that the best things in my life have come from when I let go of my ego and alcoholic insecurities and accept my fate. If Heat Vision and Jack had been picked as a series, Harmon’s ego might not have been damaged and he may not have learned the tough life lessons which may have not provided him with the motivation to write a TV script that NBC would have found suitable for its acclaimed Thursday night lineup in Community. Harmon may be called an alcoholic or an asshole but that doesn’t take away the fact that he’s rich, living his dream and working on his drinking. The first step is admittance of a problem and Harmon has very much done that—on record, available on iTunes.

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (Dan Harmon) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons (resized and cropped)

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About Author

Carlos Herrera is a comedian, photographer and writer whose work can also be found on The Fix . He has been featured in LA Weekly and has performed at The Hollywood Improv among other places.