SDCC: Marvel: Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends Panel
[AV Club]: You’ve employed a lot of female writers, in both seasons. That’s not true of a lot of other TV comedies. Was that a conscious decision?
Dan Harmon: It was conscious on the part of [former NBC programming head] Angela Bromstad, before she left NBC. Angela said, “Get more women on your staff. Make it half women.” I remember going, “Are you fucking kidding me?” to myself. “Okay, I got a sitcom, and this is as far as you go,” because I’ve just been told that half of my staff needs to be a quota hire. From the mouths of bureaucrats come the seeds of great things. I dug extra hard. You find somebody like Hilary Winston. You find people later like [Emily] Cutler and [Karey] Dornetto.
They’re harder to find. It’s definitely not because women ain’t funny, because I’m finding the opposite. It’s because there’s fewer of them. The statistical probability of picking up a shitty script, it’s compounded for women. There’s the same percentage of genius happening in both genders, but there’s less women writing scripts and out there looking for the job. So you dig a little extra-hard, and you end up with a staff that took a few extra meetings and a few extra shitty scripts to read. Now you have a staff that is just as good as the staff you would have had, but happens to be half women. And it seems like the greatest thing in the world, because the world is half women. And the male writers across the board, from top to bottom, in their most private moments drinking with me, when they’re fully licensed to be as misogynist, reactive, old-boy-network as they want, all they can say is, “This turned out to be a great thing.”
…I don’t have enough control groups to compare it to, but there’s just something nice about feeling like your writers’ room represents your ensemble a little more accurately, represents the way the world turns.
Race is another thing entirely. It would be fantastic to have 18 percent black writers on your TV staff and stuff. But the fact is, black women have ovaries and white women have ovaries; black men have testicles and white men have testicles, so actually, race is far more an artificial construct than gender. There’s a literal, actual difference between men and women, and it’s in their blood, and it’s in their brains, and it’s in their fingertips, and it’s in our conversations. I think women are different, and I think having them in the room is crucial to a family comedy, ensemble comedy, television comedy, where half the eyeballs on your show are women. As it turns out, I think Megan’s the only female writer who’s staying this year, so now, even though Bromstad’s gone, now I’m carrying this legacy, going, “Eh, guys, we really need a half-female writing staff.” I would teach it. I think we have to stop thinking of it as a quota thing and think of it as a common-sense thing.
––Dan Harmon, creator of the NBC sitcom Community, in the middle of an unforgettably long and candid episode-by-episode interview on his show’s second season with The Onion AV Club’s Todd Van Der Werff — technically “not comics,” but as relevant to this medium as any other. When you go out of your way to include more non-white, non-straight, non-dude creators (or characters, or panel participants), you’re not cutting yourself off, you’re opening yourself up. You’re not importing less-qualified people, you’re gaining access to eminently qualified people whom you might otherwise have ignored thanks to centuries of culture and a lifetime of ingrained, unexamined habits regarding who you hang out with, who you talk to, who you listen to, who you’ve worked with, whose opinions you’ve been conditioned to take seriously. When you force yourself to work around that, bang, a new world opens up to you, a world more reflective of the one we all actually live in, a world full of people whose differing experiences can only make your final product stronger by complementing your weaknesses and complimenting your strengths. (I get what Harmon is saying about the difference between gender and race, but I think the principle applies in either case.)
Within certain parameters, a monocultural lineup may make sense, and I think it behooves those of us who argue for the inclusion of non-white non-straight non-male people in a creative team or superhero team or panel or article or exhibit to have candidates ready to hand, but that’s almost always a vanishingly low hurdle to clear. Harmon’s quote, Cord Jefferson’s recent Good Magazine piece calling for a boycott of all-white-dude panels by white dudes, Erin Polgreen’s Graphic Ladies tumblr, and Tom Spurgeon’s repeated calls for a comics-industry version of the NFL’s “Rooney Rule” have all provided nourishing food for thought on this point for me as a straight white dude who’s been privileged enough to overlook this sort of thing in the past. This is something it’s within our power to change, and make comics the better for it.