An Asian male, approximate age 26, dressed in a white lab coat and a powder blue wig takes a selfie with three other men and screams, “Asian Riiiiiiiick!” his free hand holding a beer.
It’s early evening Saturday, and Shannon’s on Pine, a cheap excuse for an Irish pub in downtown Long Beach, California, is filled with more than 200 fans of the hit Adult Swim show Rick and Morty. They’re in Rick and Morty-branded hoodies and hats and at least 30 different kinds of Rick and Morty-branded T-shirts. Then there are the diehards: A man in Mr. Meeseeks onesie; two men dressed as Mr. Poopybutthole; groups of men dressed in yellow T-shirts like Morty, the show’s bumbling teenage sidekick; and at least two women cosplaying as sexualized, female versions of Rick, the show’s other eponymous main character.
“I just want to get drunk with people who like Rick and Morty,” Louis Bodnar, a 28-year-old Long Beach resident, says between sips of his gin and tonic. “You have Santa bar crawls, and Easter bar crawls. This is a Rick and Morty bar crawl!”
With Amazon, Hulu and Netflix and now even Apple and Facebook producing original series, television is increasingly about catering to a growing array of niche interest groups. But even in this TV landscape, Rick and Morty stands out as having particularly devout fans. “We’re getting a sense of humor we’re not getting anywhere else,” 28-year-old Pasadena resident Brenda Thompson says of the show’s rabid fanbase.
A perfect example of the show’s twisted sensibility, she says, is in the Season Three episode “Morty’s Mind Blowers.” In one segment, Rick and Morty befriend an adorable alien creature named Beebo, only to slice Beebo open with a bowie knife because Rick mistakenly thinks they need to use the creature for warmth. Soon thereafter, Rick realizes he miscalculated the planet’s climate and killed the animal for no reason.
The show’s dismal outlook is what largely explains its niche appeal. Indeed, Thompson admits she didn’t “get” Rick and Morty the first time she watched it. “I think I was too high,” she admits. But she’s more than come around. She’s watched through the series four times and has seen select episodes — such as “A Rickle in Time,” the second season premiere — 10 times or more. She eventually turned her girlfriend, 26-year-old Redondo Beach resident Lisa Rimassa, on to the show, too. Now, here together on the bar crawl, they down a round of Jägerbombs.
Indeed, the show seems intended to attract only the the nerdiest, most morbid of viewers. It centers on Rick and his grandson Morty as they slip between dimensions and explore all corners of the multiverse. Rick is a narcissistic, manipulative drunk, and Morty is his incompetent, often co-dependent sidekick.
The subject matter is esoteric, the characters are unlikeable, the humor is bleak and the episodes are a pastiche of obscure sci-fi references. It is, quite simply, not an easy show to get behind — and that makes being a fan feel like being part of a select fraternity.
“[Rick and Morty] isn’t King of the Hill,” Django King, a 33-year-old Manhattan Beach resident in a brightly-colored Rick and Morty hoodie, tells me while waiting to order a drink. “It has quantum mechanics, multiverse theory. You need a certain amount of intelligence to enjoy it. And I’m a highly intelligent person.” (King adds he discovered the show one night while tripping on LSD, making him the second person to tell me, apropos nothing, that psychedelics prominently factor into their enjoyment of the show.)
It’s comments like King’s that have left Rick and Morty fans with a reputation for being a bunch of pretentious assholes. “People either love it or hate it,” says 25-year-old Kate Hamilton of Long Beach. She likens the show to the kid in class who raises his hand and knows all the answers, and whom the rest of the class resents. “It’s kind of alienating when you’re smart.”
At times, though, fans of the show have gone beyond mere smugness and been outright hostile. Fans harassed two female writers last year who were hired as part of an effort to diversify the show’s writers’ room. And just a month later, hordes of Rick and Morty fans descended upon McDonald’s franchises and berated employees for running out of a special Szechuan sauce referenced in the show. The events amounted to a very bad look for Rick and Morty, so much so that even its creator, Dan Harmon, was compelled to disavow some of his fans.
Not everyone on the bar crawl is aware of the show’s larger cultural perception, though. Both Bodnar and Thompson are shocked to learn the show’s fans have a negative perception, proving that in today’s fractured media landscape, people can live within their own distinct reality, just like their favorite characters on Rick and Morty.
Troy Boce, 32, who’s dressed up as Uncle Steve, and his 28-year-old girlfriend Miranda Larsen, who’s dressed up as Summer, are conscious of the show’s stigma, however. But for them, it’s a function of the show’s willingness to push social boundaries. “It quickly goes from stoner comedy to something dark and satirical, and dealing with real-life issues,” Larsen explains. “It’s not trying to be [politically correct] or appeal to a broad audience. It’s ridiculous, but it’s real.”
For his part, Boce was “meh” on the show until he realized just how dark it was, such as in Season One, Episode Five, when King Jellybean, a man who’s universally beloved and respected, attempts to rape Morty in a bathroom stall.
“People should be pushing boundaries and factioning off all the time,” says Nick Fortino, a 33-year-old Rick and Morty devotee from Irvine. “If everyone loves something, those people are either lying, or it isn’t very good.”
There are several ironies to staging a Rick and Morty bar crawl, the first being that Rick, the show’s main attraction, is a raging but highly functioning alcoholic. The second being that Rick is helplessly lonely. While Rick is frequently cited as the “smartest man in the universe,” a distinction he happily agrees with, the subtext of the entire show is that Rick’s egomaniacal brilliance has made him incapable of meaningful relationships.
It’s this nihilism, though, that Fortino says binds — an attitude probably best explained in a monologue Morty delivers in Season One, Episode Eight (“Rixty Minutes”): “Nobody exists on purpose. Nobody belongs anywhere. Everybody’s gonna die. Come watch TV.”
Or in this case, come get drunk.