Rick and Morty and Community creator Dan Harmon has apologized for an offensive comedy sketch from 2009 that was excavated on Monday in an attempt by right wing trolls to get him fired, and Adult Swim has condemned the sketch but will not fire Harmon.
The sketch was released in 2009 at a short film festival Harmon used to run called Channel 101. In the sketch, Harmon simulates sexual assault on a baby doll. It's a tasteless, unfunny joke from an era of comedy that was more tolerant of shock and empty provocation, and Harmon is sorry for it.
"In 2009, I made a 'pilot' which strove to parody the series Dexter and only succeeded in offending," Harmon said in a statement to Variety, after he had deleted his Twitter account to escape the firestorm. "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."
Adult Swim, the network that airs Rick and Morty and recently renewed it for 70 episodes, accepted Harmon's apology.
"At Adult Swim, we seek out and encourage creative freedom and look to push the envelope in many ways, particularly around comedy," the network said in a statement to Variety. "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."
Rick and Morty does not contain any humor as extreme as the Channel 101 sketch.
The targeting of Harmon is part of a concentrated far right campaign to get outspoken critics of Donald Trump fired for past tasteless jokes, usually about pedophilia. It worked on Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn, who Disney fired after offensive jokes he made in the past were dug up. They're also targeting comedians Michael Ian Black and Patton Oswalt. Right-wing internet posters are obsessed with pedophilia conspiracies (see: Pizzagate) and getting people fired (see: Gamergate), and these people either sincerely don't understand that comedians are kidding and see their jokes as evidence of actual pedophilia, or (more likely) they are willfully ignoring the context and complaining to corporations about their employees in an attempt to get people they disagree with politically to lose their jobs.
Outspoken anti-Trump entertainers are being targeted as revenge for Roseanne's cancellation in May — it happened to Samantha Bee in the days after Roseanne's cancellation — and the campaign was re-energized this weekend after Roseanne Barr released a statement saying her show was canceled because she voted for Donald Trump. Polygon has a thorough breakdown of how the campaign against Harmon happened, and found a smoking-gun quote from a poster on 4chan: "If they get to take scalps for someone making racist jokes, we get to take scalps for them making pedophilia jokes." They're not offended about jokes. These are people who regularly make jokes about rape and murder. They're just out to get people.
There's a false equivalency at play here. Harmon's joke was indefensible content-wise, but it was clearly a joke and not an endorsement of pedophilia, whereas Barr's anti-Muslim bigotry is sincere. Companies should recognize the difference and respond accordingly.