The 2009 sketch, entitled Daryl, was a spoof of the show Dexter, and showed Harmon graphically pretending to rape a doll. Dexter (remember Dexter?) was a massive show at the time, celebrated for among other things its graphic violence and moral ambiguity - the title character was a serial killer who exclusively targeted murderers. He had been “turned into” a serial killer as a baby after witnessing brutality, and had his serial killer-ness directed “positively” by his father. The sketch seems to have been made to poke fun at this idea, and the ridiculous morality of the show - it had Harmon’s character “curing” a baby of future violent tendencies through rape.
It was part of Harmon’s Channel 101 film festival, a live monthly event in LA that started in 2003 and allowed creators “total creative freedom”, providing something of a launching pad for, in addition to Harmon himself, The Lonely Island, Tim & Eric, Human Giant (Aziz Ansari’s sketch group) and Derrick Comedy (featuring Donald Glover).
The sketches were available online, although Daryl was taken down in 2012 and only resurfaced this week thanks to the efforts of anti-censorship site BitChute (one of the sites that people banned from YouTube for being too racist/sexist/offensive have migrated to), along with members of the 4chan, the The_Donald subreddit and Breitbart. Between them they managed to make the video go viral, which was quickly followed by Harmon deleting his Twitter account.
It’s worth noting that the spreading of the video has almost exclusively been done by right-wing groups. Harmon is very left-wing and has been very outspoken in his criticism of Donald Trump, referring to him as both a coward and a fascist.
“If they get to take scalps for someone making racist jokes, we get to take scalps for them making pedophilia jokes,” read one comment on 4chan, seemingly a reference to the cancelling of the sitcom Roseanne following racist jokes made by its creator and star Roseanne Barr.
It’s arguable that the target of Harmon’s joke was the weird morality of a controversial TV show, while the target of Roseanne’s one was black and Asian people, and that Roseanne’s joke was broadcast to millions earlier this year while Harmon deleted his sketch some years ago, but still, we can all agree that both situations are quite gross.
Harmon’s leaving Twitter comes just days after James Gunn was fired as the writer and director of Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 3 after some extremely distasteful tweets he’d posted (again, joking about rape) several years ago came to light. He had earlier apologised for them, but the furore surrounding their rediscovery led to him being removed from the film, the fate of which remains unclear.
Regarding the Daryl sketch, Harmon issued a statement to news site Polygon which said: “In 2009, I made a ‘pilot’ which strove to parody the series Dexter and only succeeded in offending. I quickly realized the content was way too distasteful and took the video down immediately. Nobody should ever have to see what you saw and for that, I sincerely apologize.”
Rick and Morty broadcaster Adult Swim also commented on the sketch: “The offensive content of Dan’s 2009 video that recently surfaced demonstrates poor judgement and does not reflect the type of content we seek out. Dan recognized his mistake at the time and has apologized. He understands there is no place for this type of content here at Adult Swim.”
It’s all deeply unpleasant time to be in really and raises lots of questions: how much can people be judged for stupidly offensive jokes they made when they were younger? It’s really complicated - lots of people go through phases of being as offensive as possible and gleefully breaking taboos in order to get shocked laughs, but does that excuse it? Not really. How old is too old to forgive? How offensive is too offensive? Should James Gunn have been sacked from Guardians Of The Galaxy for offensive tweets he wrote a decade ago? No idea. Should he have written those tweets, when he was in his forties? Absolutely not. Is Dan Harmon a paedophile? No. Was his sketch a good idea? No.
In conclusion, ugh. Famous people… please stop disappointing us.