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Step into the Sick, Perverse Universe of ‘Rick and Morty’ with Creator Justin Roiland

Wubba lubba dub dub...

Rick and Morty is a show about alternate realities. In the fucked up sci-fi world the Adult Swim cartoon inhabits, anything is possible in other dimensions—chairs sit on people and use pizza as phones, jellybean kings try to molest little boys, and the top electronics retailer is a man with ants in his eyes. And surely, we must all be living in one of those bizarre parallel universes right now. How else could you explain the success of Rick and Morty? The show is one of the most morbid, absurd, and, at times, downright disgusting things to ever grace television screens. Yet in spite of this (or perhaps because of it), the show amassed a huge and rabid fanbase practically overnight.

Following the positive reception of the show’s 11-episode first season, Adult Swim gladly renewed it for a second, with its long-awaited first episode airing this Sunday night. For many, the face of the show is producer Dan Harmon, creator of NBC’s hit comedy Community. But viewers may be most familiar with the voice of Justin Roiland. In addition to co-creating the show, Roiland provides the voices for both of its title characters.

Before hitting his stride with Rick and Morty, Roiland created numerous animated shorts, including House of Cosbys, a series about a man living with multiple clones of Bill Cosby. We spoke to Roiland about his newfound cosplaying fans, expectations for season two, and the music he uses to soundtrack those depressingly hilarious scenes.

And awaaaaay we go...

Noisey: I wanted to start off by saying that I’m a big fan, but in doing research, I realized comparatively, I am not even close to being a big fan. Your fanbase is rabid.
Justin Roiland:
Yeah, it’s nuts. Last year at Comic-Con was the first indication of how big the fanbase was, and it was just on the heels of season one completing its run. Then this year it was equally insane seeing the cosplay stuff, and I didn’t even get to see all of it. Comic-Con is just a zoo. There are so many people there over the course of that thing that the odds of seeing everything are impossible, but we saw a bunch of stuff and it’s crazy. You’re in a bubble working on the show, and Comic-Con is one of the only times you get out of it.

It’s obvious from watching the first season that you created the show in a bubble, but now you’ve got this huge following. Do the fans’ expectations weigh on you now?
When the first season was airing, I got a little bit obsessed for a period of time. On the night of the premiere, I would go on the internet—various nooks and crannies of the internetand just read the response. And then after a little while, I sort of got sick of it, I kind of got over that. I had enough. I had my fill, and kind of receded from that, actually. I don’t even read interviews now, I don’t read anything. I don’t know why. I’m just weird that way. For me, part of that is I don’t want to relive things, but maybe the more subconscious part of it is moving into season three, which has not been announced, we’re still figuring that out, but I think I want to have a cleaner slate in my own brain.

Dan [Harmon] and I have talked at great length about going into season three and really having fun and following our bliss and not having any larger goals to accomplish in terms of “OK, let’s really blow people’s minds.” That’s always a recipe for frustration in the writing room. Usually the episodes we have the most fun writing are the ones where it started from just joy and we followed the fun train and usually those are the ones people respond to the most.

How much freedom does Adult Swim give you? Have you ever been reined in on anything?
No, they’re incredibly hands off. They trust us. They have an incredible amount of trust. Whenever there is a note, we deal directly with Mike Lazzo over there. If he has any notes or thoughts or something bugged him, we find ourselves wanting to make him happy, which is a really weird and uncommon relationship to have with the network executives. It’s very rare to hang up from a notes call and feel like, “We want to make this guy happy, he’s right.”

Rick uses a lot of ridiculous, non-sensical catchphrases, like “wubba lubba dub dub.” Is that a response to anything? Did any network people encourage you to adopt catchphrases?
No, we think catchphrases are so stupid, just the dumbest thing in the world. We never really intended that to be a catchphrase, but we originally wrote that scene and it was scripted as parenthetical Larry or Moe from the Three Stooges, “wub wub wub wub wub.” And Rick was gonna fall on the ground and do that circle thing they do. And in the recording, that was a last minute rewrite that I didn’t read, and I just didn’t know what the fuck I was looking at, and I just did it wrong. I completely disregarded what was scripted. What happens a lot of times on the show, which I think is part of the magic of it, is that if there’s a weird outtake that worked in a really unexpected way, we’ll use it. It’s interesting to hear stuff that’s real. We just thought it would be hilarious if we brought that back as his catchphrase. It was more of an inside joke in the writers’ room. And then everyone thought it was this fun thing, but then you come to find out that it means he’s in deep pain. [Laughs]

The show’s use of music is selective but strong. Those scenes with the Blonde Redhead or Mazzy Starr are some of the darkest endings I’ve ever seen, for anything. And of course, the DMX scene, which is hilarious. Who chooses the music?
Harmon has been really cool in trusting me and agreeing with the music choices. I knew I was gonna use that Mazzy Starr cue back beforethat was one of the first scripts we wrote when we got picked up as a series. I’m a huge fan of Mazzy Starr. All the bands we use on the show, I’m a huge fan of. My musical taste is all over the place.

There’s more of that in season two, more interesting bands. It’s tough, though. You have to pick and choose, there’s only so much money to license music. That can get expensive so you have to be really strategic.

How did the Simpsons crossover come about?
I’d heard through the grapevine that Matt Groening was a fan of Rick and Morty, which I was really skeptical about at first. It just seemed insane to me. But then when I confirmed that to be the case, I had this idea for the season one DVD to have Matt Groening and whoever he wanted to bring in to do a commentary track. We had this idea to do commentary tracks by people who didn’t work on the show but who were just fans and/or friends of the show. So we did that, and during that recording, that’s when Al Jean offered us the couch gag, and we immediately called and said, “Is that a real offer? Because if it is, we’re in. We’d be honored.” So that’s what got the ball rolling.

Did you hear from a lot of angry Simpsons fans?
[Laughs] No, not that I saw. I was certainly looking the night it aired, just to see what people made of it, and I couldn’t find much negative stuff. I definitely looked for a while that night, everywhere. Usually 4chan seems to be the most negative. So if I’m looking for negative stuff, I’ll always pop my head in there. I’m surprised we didn’t find much negativity about it.

After having time away from it, I was really glad we had Rick stealing a bunch of the Simpsons’ stuff, because it said in a deeper way that we appreciate The Simpsons. He wouldn’t be taking stuff if there wasn’t some kind of appreciation for the show. So we killed them, but at the same time, it’s all coming from a place of love and mutual respect.

One joke you made at the Simpsons’ expense was the show has a million characters. Are you worried about adding too many characters to Rick and Morty?
The Simpsons has had 26, 27 seasons or somethingthis astronomical number of episodes. So there’s a lot of reuse with characters. I feel like with our show, it’s definitely not plotted or planned, but we have so little reuse. We just keep plowing forward.

Well, yeah, you can just kill characters off very easily.
Yeah, and there’s very little going back and revisiting, at least in this stage of the game. I think maybe down the road, but that starts to be where you run the risk of jumping the shark. Let’s say Morty misses his dog and he’s like, “Rick, can we go to the world where we put Snuffles?” And then they go there, and we do an episode with Snuffles, and it’s like, yeah OK, that’s a cool character, we all love that character, and we want to see more of him, but… do we though? For us, it tended to be that new concepts, new characters, new worlds were easier and fun.

In the first episode, Rick says “Rick and Morty and their adventures, forever and ever, for 100 times.” How many seasons do you see this show going on for?
Oh I have no idea. That line was just an improv of absurdity. There was no real deep thought behind that, just dumb shit pouring out of my brain, just Rick being insane. In terms of how long the show can go for, Dan and I have talked and said, you know, if we wanted to, we could buckle down and do this thing for a while, and just keep growing it. But who knows? There are just endless stories we could tell with these characters and concepts we could explore. Who knows how far we wanna take this thing?

With everything that’s happened recently, how do you feel about making House of Cosbys in retrospect?
I've got to be honest, I was devastated when I found out. I didn’t wanna believe it at first. It’s like finding out that your grandfather is a pedophile or something. I loved Bill Cosby. The whole House of Cosbys thing came from a legitimate of place of love and fandom. It’s such a fun voice to impersonate. I loved The Cosby Show, I must’ve seen every episode multiple times. It’s just fucking insane, to find all that out, it was deeply depressing. Just sad on so many levels. It felt like he was one of the few good guys, and to find out he was this creepy rapist, it’s just like, what the fuck? It really bummed me out, to the point of wanting to cry.

Dan Ozzi was created to serve a singular purpose, for which he will go to any lengths to fulfill. Follow him on Twitter.