Why Rick And Morty Creator Justin Roiland Likes Mocking Their Own Jokes Within The Show Itself

A little bit of meta-humor and self-awareness can go a long way, and the adult animated series "Rick and Morty" has practically perfected the art. After all, the series frequently hops dimensions and metaverse timelines, so a little fourth-wall breaking isn't exactly going to damage the series' version of reality. 

In a roundtable interview attended by /Film's Ethan Anderton, series creator and co-showrunner Justin Roiland detailed the reasons why he doesn't mind making some self-aware jokes about the jokes themselves, creating a kind of meta-humor that has become a part of the "Rick and Morty" experience. The series' protagonist, mad scientist Rick Sanchez (voiced by Roiland), often breaks the fourth wall, talking directly to the audience at home about the various things happening in the show. Sometimes he points out that a particular gag or joke is kind of silly, and it's served as a great way for Roiland and co-showrunner Dan Harmon to let out a little pressure release and let the audience know that they don't think they're some kind of infallible funnymen. 

Staying one step ahead of the audience

Sometimes it's not just Rick calling out the writing, but his chief co-star, grandson, and perpetual punching bag, Morty (also voiced by Roiland). In the season 6 premiere, Morty teases Rick about an "Iron Man" reference, asking, "who was that for?" It's a kind of way for the writers to acknowledge jokes that might not work, and make something more of them. Roiland described the self-aware jokes as trying to be one step ahead of his audience:

"Harmon and I are very similar comedic instinct-wise, and that's definitely a thing, because as much as I try to keep it out of my head, there is a little voice in your head that is the audience, because we are the audience as well. You can't resist that stuff sometimes, because it's just too good. Sometimes, you get ahead of the audience. Especially for me, if I'm doing something, and I feel like, as a viewer, I would be ahead of this, then I'm going to make a comment about it. [...] I don't want to say it lets you off the hook, [but it does] for a little bit though, right? The Iron Man reference is a great example, where it's like, you're off the hook a little bit for that joke. But also, I think what it does is it reinforces the viewer who's thinking the thing that they're about to hear you say. They're thinking a thing and then all of a sudden, the character says the thing and they're like, 'Holy s***. Okay. Well, all right, that's pretty f***ing cool.'"

Any time a "Rick and Morty" viewer might roll their eyes about a particular joke, there's the potential that Roiland and Harmon are already aware and have a second joke in the wings. 

Setting a high bar

The amount of thought that goes into a simple joke on "Rick and Morty" shows just how much the creators care about its reception. They want to create the kind of show they would want to watch, and Roiland admits that they can be pretty tough customers:

"We have a very high bar of quality of what we perceive as being good, as fans of sci-fi and all this stuff out there. So when we're writing this show, that bar of quality is something that just follows us like a curse and maybe a blessing as well. You know what I mean? It's both. It's like, if you want something to be good, it's not easy. So yeah, that's the curse side of it. But then we want our s*** to be good."

While some fans may feel like the meta-jokes are a way for the writers to spruce up an otherwise unfunny gag, I've always felt like they were an earnest way for the writers to say "we get it, we're trying our best here!" They take themselves down a peg and humble themselves a bit, which I love. I've been a sucker for a fourth-wall-breaking self-roast ever since Kevin Smith had Ben Affleck asked audiences who would possibly go see a Jay and Silent Bob movie in "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back," and "Rick and Morty" carries on that fine tradition. 

The sixth season of "Rick and Morty" premieres on September 4, 2022, at 11:00 pm ET/PT on Adult Swim.