As the voice of Rick, Justin Roiland has become a household name. In addition to providing numerous voices on Rick and Morty, he also created the iconic sci-fi/comedy series. Through that success, he has gone on to imbue his unique comedic sensibilities into various other projects. So where else can you see Roiland’s work, and what does he bring to comedy? That’s what we’ll explore, so let’s get ready to squanch.
JUSTIN ROILAND IS RICK
Who is Justin Roiland?
Roiland grew up in Manteca, California. After graduating high school, he went to Modesto Junior College before moving to Houston, Texas, and it wasn’t long until he became involved with Channel 101.
Did You Know?
Channel 101 is the brainchild of Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab. After creating their own absurd web shows, the pair decided to host screenings of other web series. Once a month, people can submit their web series ideas, and a live screening is hosted in Los Angeles. The audience at this screening decides which shows should have more episodes and which ones get canceled.
Justin Roiland submitted numerous web series to the channel, including The Most Extraordinary Space Investigations, 2 Girls, 1 Cup: The Show, and House of Cosbys. Here's a clip of that last series, which encapsulates much of Roiland's comic sensibilities.
It was also through working on Channel 101 that Roiland created The Real Animated Adventures of Doc and Mharti, which would serve as the inspiration for Rick and Morty. And it wasn’t long until Dan Harmon latched onto him, as Harmon says in his own words.
Justin Roiland knew that using a web series to break in was the way to go. Harmon was no stranger to TV, having filmed the sci-fi, comedy pilot Heat Vision and Jack, starring Jack Black and Owen Wilson, for FOX. He would go on to create Community and working as a showrunner for the first couple seasons. Harmon also popularized the Story Circle, a distilled version of The Hero's Journey.
But Roiland has done a lot more than simply make TV series. He voices numerous characters in many other popular animated series. For Adventure Time, Justin Roiland is Lemongrab, a high-strung, obnoxious ruler. Justin Roiland in Gravity Falls is also a delight to watch as he voices for Blendin Blandin and various other characters.
Adult Swim would soon approach Harmon to help create a new TV series. Together, Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland developed Rick and Morty, and TV history was cemented.
Rick and Morty became an instant hit for the network. The out-there, sci-fi humor blended with genuine emotion provided entertaining episodes with real weight to them. You can see this hybrid humor for yourself by reading the “Meeseeks and Destroy” script with StudioBinder's screenwriting software.
But Justin Roiland has proven he’s not a one-trick pony. He made a new show, Solar Opposites, with the help of Mike McMahan for Hulu. And in August of 2016, he set up his own video game studio, which would come to be known as Squanch Games.
Under this label, he released Accounting, Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality, and Trover Saves the Universe.
While he’s done a great deal of voice acting work, we want to focus on the projects where he had a role in creating and setting the tone for the show. What makes a project distinctly belong to Justin Roiland? Let’s look at a few themes that pop up throughout Roiland’s work.
JUSTIN ROILAND TV SHOWS
Numerous types of horror exist. And while Roiland’s works are definitely comedic in nature, he’ll infuse them with elements of horror, specifically cosmic horror to add a sense of dread and despair.
COSMIC HORROR DEFINITION
WHAT IS COSMIC HORROR?
Cosmic horror asks, “What if humanity is not at the center of the universe?” It’s a dark question, but one that Justin Roiland has a lot of fun answering in his own, twisted way.
In Rick and Morty, Earth is frequently at the whims of other extraterrestrials like when the Cromulons wanted Earth to engage in an American Idol-style contest. Humanity was just a plaything that would be destroyed instantly if they didn’t show them what they got.
This extends into Solar Opposites, a show about an alien family waiting until they can terraform Earth. Most of the episodes deal with the two main aliens, Korvo and Terry, as they create one monstrosity after the next to wreak havoc on the local town. Such as when two cloned “Fun Buckets” merge into one The Thing-esque beast and kills everyone.
Humanity as a whole rarely contains agency. Everyone is merely at the whims of some higher power. Instead of moping at the fact that nothing matters and life is meaningless, Roiland finds the humor in it.
RICK AND MORTY AND JUSTIN ROILAND
Absurdity means to be in a state of ridiculousness. And all you need to do is watch Justin Roiland record voiceover to see how ridiculous he’s willing to get.
Things often don’t make sense in Roiland’s projects, and that seems to be the way he likes it. Take the popular Justin Roiland VR game, Accounting, from Squanch Games. You start the game… as an accountant. Pretty basic stuff.
And then you’re transported to an alleyway filled with anthropomorphic animals that try to get you to do messed up things to join their gang.
Perhaps the best example of this is in Rick and Morty’s Interdimensional Cable segments. Roiland improvises the dialogue, and this often leads to weird, nonsensical storylines.
It doesn’t make sense. But in Roiland’s world, it doesn’t have to. One thing to remember about how Roiland approaches comedy is that he is aware of it. He isn't just being silly for it's own sake, he understands how comedy works and he uses that knowledge within the work itself.
JUSTIN ROILAND GAME
Lastly, Justin Roiland’s projects usually call attention to themselves and the fact that you’re watching a show or playing a video game. In the tutorial portion of the most recent Justin Roiland video game, Trover Saves the Universe, characters onscreen will tell you how to play the game. For example, they might call attention to the fact you have to rotate the right thumbstick to rotate your character’s chair.
Other video games try to guide you more subtly, perhaps by just showing what button to press on-screen. But since this is a Squanch Game, attention is drawn to the fact that you have to do something specific to move the game forward.
Roiland’s characters know they’re fake. They know none of this is real like the audience does. So having a character acknowledge that can be a bit disconcerting at first. But it allows the audience to connect with the story in a way. Of course, Season One of Rick and Morty ends with Rick literally saying, “Roll the credits!”
Since everything is absurd and topsy-turvy, the audience may have trouble latching onto any semblance of normalcy. In Roiland’s case, the fourth wall breaks tell the audience, “Yes, this is weird, enjoy the ride.”
Future Roiland projects
There is a lot to look forward to from Justin Roiland going forward. Season Four of Rick and Morty just ended, but with a massive renewal plan from Adult Swim, we’ll get plenty more in the years to come.
Plus, Solar Opposites was renewed for a second season by Hulu. It’s safe to say that if you enjoy his unique style of humor, then you have a lot to look forward to in the coming years.
And if you want to remain in the loop, then check out the Justin Roiland podcast, The Grandma’s Virginity Podcast. Along with Ryan Ridley, discuss all kinds of absurd topics. If you can’t wait until the next season of Rick and Morty drops, then this is a good way to get your fix.
No one does comedy quite like Justin Roiland. From TV shows to video games, all of his projects have his distinct voice and brand of humor. It may get dark, but he never loses the humor in what he’s creating, which makes us very excited to see what he’ll make next.
How black comedy works
Justin Roiland is a master of taking dark subjects and making them hilarious. His shows and video games deal with death, religion, sex, and every other taboo subject you can imagine. But what are some other examples of black comedy you can take inspiration from? Take a deeper dive into our next blog about making the forbidden hilarious.