The Rick and Morty Phenomenon

Warning: What you are about to read contains language not suitable for children…but if you got here, you probably knew that already.

Where Did Rick and Morty Come From?

The year was 2004 and the Channel 101 film festival was in full swing. Justin Roiland had been submitting “shock-and-awe” pieces that, while not loved by the audience, caught the attention of Dan Harmon. Roiland was then fired from his TV production gig. Down the road a bit, Dan Harmon, known for the hit show Community, would also be fired, forcing him to leave the show he created with NBC. It was only then, with the help of Adult Swim, that a duo was born. One that has since taken over the animated comedy world and changed the landscape of adult cartoons for years to come.

Harmon and Roiland developed Rick and Morty after being approached by Adult Swim looking for some prime-time. The duo took on Doc and Mharti, early shorts by Roiland that bastardized Back to the Future. After changing the character names, adding a family, and producing real artwork, the pilot for Rick and Morty was sold to Adult Swim with the first episode airing December 2nd, 2013.

In 4 short years, we have lived through 3 seasons, a merchandise explosion, board and video games, and a sauce epidemic the likes of which the world has never seen. But why? Why are people so in love with this series? Sure it’s funny, but it has to go deeper than that, right?

What Makes Rick and Morty Funny?

Rick and morty intergalatic tv

Here we see our main characters watching some intergalactic TV

Humor is a good jumping off point. Most of what happens revolves around Rick, the genius, crass, drunken-scientist grandpa. But what I think a lot of people subconsciously connect to is not Rick’s antics, but the believability of the show’s family dynamic. The Smiths aren’t loveable do-gooders. There is a brother-sister dynamic between Morty and Summer that is both funny and real. Jerry, the weak and jealous father, is not over the top, but has real fears and problems (problems that can be really funny when put in uncomfortable situations). All of these things combined with wacky, mostly inappropriate and over-the-top sci-fi adventures has really hit a niche. And it all boils down to this:

People love laughing at others’ misfortunes.

Your Brain on Rick and Morty

It may sound bad, but it’s true. What happens when you see a video of someone trying to do a backflip and they land on their head? You laugh, right?

Now you’re not a bad person, you just delight in others’ pain, you sick son of a bitch. Just kidding. But it’s true—the Germans even have a word for it: Schadenfreude.

You get pleasure from feeling superior to others. And what makes you feel more superior than when bad stuff isn’t happening to you but to someone else?

Rick and Morty harnesses this reaction, but goes even further. Rick realizes what happens and berates the other characters for the actions they have taken or what has happened to them. We first laugh at the action, then at Rick’s reaction. This is what I like to call a classic “Double Whammy™”. The show speaks to everyone’s inner masochist, whether you want to admit it or not.

Another trend I have picked up on is fans saying that the show is just really smart. Now is the show really smart or is it just Rick?

Weddings are funerals with cake

Some of Rick’s humor on full display

Rick is a genius. He travels to different dimensions, invents a device for everything, and has seemingly all the knowledge in the universe (and others). He is no doubt smart, but he is really the only smart person in the show by the definition of the word. Saying that you need to be smart to understand the show is not only not true, it’s a veiled attempt to overstate your own intelligence. 99% of the smart things Rick says he will go on to explain, thereby giving you the information to process what is happening and why. If something has to be explained for you to understand it then are you really as smart as you think? And if the show was so smart would they have to explain it? Part of what makes the show funny is just how dumb it can be. Take the episode Inter-Dimensional Cable for example. Most of the content in the shows from other dimensions is ad-libbed and makes no sense at all. But it is funny because of how dumb it really is. If you haven’t seen it, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Go check it out here (some are NSFW) when you finish reading. What I think draws people back (besides the humor) is just how real the show can get.


Oooo, Right in the Feels!


Rick and Morty tackles everything from divorce to relationships and even death and the meaning of life. There is an episode where Rick and Morty literally bury versions of themselves from another reality in their backyard. Morty realizes that possibly hundreds of other Mortys from other dimensions have died and that he isn’t even the original Morty. At the end of season 2, Beth and Jerry get divorced and the kids have to deal with custody going forward. While these parts may not necessarily be funny, they are poignant and reveal that a show chock full of dumb shit can have a point and be serious before going back to making you laugh. The Smiths may have a hard time telling each other how they really feel, but it eventually all comes out in one way or another.

The Rickmobile

The Rickmobile is a majestic beast

Now given a little background, let’s start to take a look at the fanbase. Nerds everywhere have clamored for anything Rick and Morty that they can get their hands on. This spawned Adult Swim to create a Rickmobile (pictured) and drive it around the country to music festivals and comic shops selling all sorts of limited and not-so-limited edition merchandise.

The Fandom & Szechuan Sauce

A lot of Rick and Morty fans share a common love and understanding of the show, which brings us closer together.

Then, there are the other fans. The obsessive ones. They are rabid, rude, and relentless. They will scream references from the show at you on the street and then mock you for not understanding them (even if you don’t watch). They call those that don’t like or watch Rick & Morty stupid, claiming that they just aren’t smart enough to get it (like I mentioned above, pay attention!). They will even scream and riot. Footage showed fans jumping up on McDonald’s counters screaming “We want sauce!” and “I’m Pickle Rick” during McDonald’s poorly-handled Szechaun Sauce promotion.

Unfortunately, acts such as these stigmatize almost the entire group because bad views often take precedence over good ones.

Many of us Rick and Morty fans are harmless. We enjoy the usual crude humor and marvel at the witty writing and vibrant animations. We tune in every week to see what they could possibly do next and they haven’t failed to surprise or delight yet. We are easily amused by things others may consider stupid but that’s ok. It’s wonderful how a mere show can bring a group of people together and this should be the focus. Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland have created something that hopefully withstands the test of time and continues to grow and stay original. I’m not sure they knew what they had started when they took Roiland’s crude animations and turned them into an Adult Swim goldmine, but we are all glad they did.


Written by: Greg

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