'Community': Q&A With Creator Dan Harmon (including when Joel McHale strips again)

Tonight's cuppa: decaf hazelnut coffee, with newlywed neighbors over pieces of the cake I decorated today

Community_NBC.jpg I typed some questions to Dan Harmon, creator of NBC's Thursday comedy hit "Community" -- and mad Twitterer -- and he typed answers back. That's just what writers do. And typists (are there still typists?).

But anyway, here we go ...

Has the show turned out like you conceived at the beginning, or have elements emerged that you didn't expect?


Narratively speaking, almost nothing but unexpected elements have emerged, because I didn't want to know where we were going, and I'm finding out everything the audience finds out a few weeks ahead of them throughout the season.


I found out every character's religion. Britta lived in New York but pronounces "bagel" the way I do. Go figure. Annie lost her virginity to a gay boyfriend on the floor of a walk-in closet. Awesome.


Tonally, the show has turned out to occupy a larger area than I thought would be possible. We have consistently had episodes in which a fast-paced round of crisp dialogue can build to a broad, base gag that explodes into fragments of absurdity, finally coalescing as a nice pool of heartwarming goo.


I really thought, before doing this show, that you had to choose between farts, snark and sonnets, and yet I love them all, and my happiest surprise about this show is that I might not have to choose, and might not be alone.


How important have the off-screen elements - the minisodes and other videos, the Twitter accounts - become to increasing awareness of the show?


I wish the answer was "massively," but I have no idea. This is an easy position for me to have, because I currently have the luxury of having a network show, but I look at digital content as an opportunity to feed the TV fans, to drive traffic from the living room to the office the next day.


I know that's probably stupid, because, if you look at the "Abed's Community College Chronicles" episodes they let us do, obviously those have zero promotional value, they're not going to get anybody that doesn't watch the show to tune into the show. But I don't care, because, as a fan of the show, I find it so amazing, the idea that one of the characters is a filmmaker whose films you can watch online, some of which are a show he makes, that, because he's IN THE SHOW, share plot elements with the real show, but, because he's a weird guy, are written differently and go different places.


Going back to your first question, my "expectation" was that by now, there'd have been 15 episodes of that show-within-a-show online, and at least three instances in the real show in which we're reminded it exists. What happened? We made two of them, and they don't make people watch the TV show, so, they sit there like monuments to the danger of listening to me. Wait, no, they're monuments to the danger of ignoring me, aren't they?


Well, how about monuments to the danger of doing the "look, it's strangers playing our favorite characters" bit before they're anybody's favorite characters?


Which characters are most clearly defined in your mind, and which ones are still evolving?


Although, biographically, I know very little about her, I think I might know Britta the best in terms of knowing what she would do in a given situation. In her inception, she was an amalgam of a few ex-girlfriends. She's an archetype that's been a social fixture in my life, the intimidatingly quiet and eclectic girl that, as she becomes less quiet, reveals that being eclectic is another way of saying over-filtered to the point of self-imposed blandness and crippling insecurity.


We all pooped our pants in kindergarten, and we take different escape routes from that memory, but I feel like I've met -- and loved -- and regretted loving -- but was thankful to have loved -- so many women that took similar routes to Britta's, that she'll always be the most familiar, therefore most abused, and therefore most pitied, therefore all the more familiar, to me.


Among the guest stars - Anthony Michael Hall (on the right below, with star Joel McHale), Owen Wilson, Jack Black, etc. - who mighThumbnail image for Community_Joel_McHale_Anthony_Michael_Hall.jpgt come back, and are there still guest stars on your wish list?


I would love to revisit AMH's character, because I still lose sleep about the fact that we broke a "Community" commandment with that character, as we have with a few of our archer villains: thou shalt write up to the character. In other words, what thing, however small, does the character share with the writer? We have to revisit Anthony Michael Hall's character, and I need to prove he was secretly human that Christmas.


As for Jack and Owen, they can come back anytime they want, but come on, it's "Community."


When will Joel McHale strip next?


My God, the poor guy, he's become Christina Applegate on "Married with Children." I will answer that question sincerely out of gratitude to our female and gay audience: Joel's shirt and pants will be off again in a few weeks.


I'm sorry I can't give you an airdate; you'll just have to suffer, weekly, through my thought-provoking stories, on the edge of your seat, wondering if this is the moment, but I can tell you it happens again.


I'm guessing it's the third-from-last episode this season. The shirt and pants come off.  At least the shirt, I know that.


Early in the episode, he removes his sweater like a male bimbo, revealing a tightly stretched wife-beater T-shirt straining against his heaving, rock-hard pecs. Later in that episode...that wife-beater's out of there. Discarded.


So, make sure when you're watching it with your husband that you laugh extra hard at some joke in the episode, that way you'll have a fake answer for "why are we saving this?"