Former Glendale Community College student and comedic writer Dan Harmon returned this week to the campus that inspired his popular NBC television show “Community,” screening an un-aired episode and encouraging students to “follow your laziness.”
In a casual forum that could be best described as part inspirational speech, part stand-up comedy routine, Harmon told the standing-room-only audience that creative people have the most success when they give themselves the time and license to explore ideas.
“My belief is to not so intensely focus on what you maybe think you should be doing, and focus a little more on what you would do it if you could do anything you wanted,” Harmon said.
A rising comedic star, Harmon has written for “The Sarah Silverman Show” and the Academy Awards. Last year, NBC picked up “Community,” a sitcom about an eclectic group of teachers and students at a community college called “Greendale.”
Harmon attended Glendale Community College for a semester and a half in 2003, taking classes in biology, psychology and Spanish. His show was “emotionally” inspired by his biology study group, Harmon said, which consisted of himself and two Armenian American students a decade his junior.
He was earning a solid A and had no real incentive to help his classmates study. Nevertheless, he found himself caught up in their failures and successes.
“I was 32 years old and I gave a crap about whether or not these two strangers passed a test,” Harmon said. “And I had nothing to gain from them passing it. I remember while still sitting in the study room book-marking that emotion because it was so odd to me.”
The community college setting has proven to be fruitful. Because of the open-enrollment policy two-year colleges don’t have to be populated by one age group, race group or gender, Harmon said, making it a terrific backdrop for creative television writing.
But there was plenty of skepticism when he began shopping his idea around to television network executives.
“One of the first questions when I was pitching a show set at a community college was, ‘Is this going to be depressing? Are the roofs going to be leaky?’” Harmon said.
And the misconceptions about community colleges were not confined to high-rolling entertainment types, he said. Many educators and television critics inaccurately assumed that the show would mock community colleges and their students.
He recalled an NPR interview in which he was aggressively questioned about the content of the show.
Thirty-one episodes later, the confusion has been dispelled.
In “Community,” there is no attempt to accurately depict the ins and outs of community colleges, Harmon said, or devalue what is happening there. He described Glendale Community College as an “open admissions paradise” where students have the luxury to study things that interest them.
“It is fantastic to be here,” he said. “It is a really, really beautiful campus.”