The Bonkers Tenacious D iTunes Short Film That Led To Rick & Morty

Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland's first public collaboration was somehow an iTunes exclusive 'Tenacious D short' film.
The Bonkers Tenacious D iTunes Short Film That Led To Rick & Morty

A great way to waste a few hours is to go down the rabbit hole of mapping out which comedy icons began their careers with another comedy icon putting them on. You can probably trace the lineage of any great modern comedian/comedy writer all the way back to Sid Caesar if you spend enough time link surfing on Wikipedia.

If you’re a Rick & Morty fan, you might be surprised to learn that the first recorded collaboration of co-creators Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland was a made-for-iTunes “Tenacious D” short film about the comedy rock duo traveling back in time to save Abraham Lincoln from not being assassinated. No, that’s not a typo.

While Roiland and Harmon were already acquainted through Harmon’s monthly film festival called “Channel 101”, Tenacious D: Time Fixers appears to be the first time the two of them worked on a project that was released to the general public. With Dan Harmon writing the script and both Harmon and Roiland costarring alongside Jack and Kyle, Tenacious D: Time Fixers goes down in history as the first Harmon/Roiland project available for public consumption. And it’s absolutely nuts.

Tenacious D: Time Fixers was released as a free promotional video on iTunes intended to drum up pre order sales for the companion album of their first feature length film Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny. So to be clear, this was a short film that was made to promote an album that was made to go with a feature film. That’s not confusing at all.

In the short film, Tenacious D perform at an open mic where they get heckled by Dan Harmon. After the show, they go to their car where they get an urgent message from Michael Keaton, played by Michael Keaton, who tells them they must travel back in time to convince Abe Lincoln, played by Justin Roiland, not to walk out of the play on the night of his assassination.

Tenacious D / Channel 101

So you went back in time to make sure I get murdered… and this is going to be an iTunes exclusive?

Once they get back to 1865, they run into Lincoln in the lobby of Ford Theater and inform him of his impending demise. When he understandably refuses to allow himself to be assassinated, Kyle tries to pay him seven cents to return to his seat, reasoning that it’s “probably worth like a thousand dollars” in olden times.

Lincoln refuses to get paid to be murdered, and the duo encounter the villain of the story, the Time Goblin, who reveals that he is behind the foiling of Lincoln’s assassination and intends to steal Tenacious D’s time machine to wreak further havoc. They fight, the Time Goblin defeats our heroes, then he ties up Jack and Kyle in Lincoln’s chair to have John Wilkes Booth kill them instead. 

However, at the eleventh hour, Honest Abe returns to save Tenacious D and take his place to be murdered. He tells them that he was inspired by the two pennies that Kyle gave him which bore his face, and he reasoned that it was his destiny is to be murdered and immortalized on coins.

Adult Swim / Williams Street

And then later get crossed with Adolf Hitler

After the successful assassination, the Time Goblin escapes with Tenacious D's time machine, but visionary sci-fi writer H.G. Wells (who wouldn’t be born until a year after Lincoln’s death) arrives to help our heroes and lends them his time machine so that they can track down the Time Goblin to stop him from destroying the space-time continuum. 

Jack and Kyle travel back to “Dinosaur Times” to stop the Time Goblin from killing a single butterfly and thus permanently alter the course of history forever. Tenacious D defeats their adversary and saves all time.

Tenacious D returns to the show from the first scene of the film, but before Dan Harmon can interrupt their set to insult them, the club owner, of course played by Paul F. Tompkins, approaches Dan and reveals that he discovered a mysterious envelope on the lot where he began building his venue twenty years prior.

Harmon opens it to find a note listing the exact date of his death, a copy of his death certificate, and a picture of Tenacious D stunting at his gravesite.

Tenacious D / Channel 101

Dan after an average conversation with Chevy Chase

The mid 2000’s were an amazing time for bizarre projects like this, and the future Rick and Morty creators somehow found themselves at the center of all of them. Harmon’s “Channel 101” was a petri dish for chaotic alt-comedy, which pulled chaotic alt-comedy writer, actor, and producer Justin Roiland in like a moth to a flame.

Channel 101 even did a screening for Time Fixers in 2008. They also hosted the likes of The Lonely Island, Sarah Silverman, Bob Odenkirk, Jimmy Kimmel, Tim and Eric, basically anyone who ever did something funny in the mid aughts also did something ridiculous at Channel 101. 

While Tenacious D: Time Fixers probably didn’t directly lead to the more well known collaborations between Roiland and Harmon, it’s certainly an interesting footnote in the duo’s history together. Shortly after the filming of Time Fixers, Harmon and Roiland would team up to create and produce the psychotic cartoon show Mister Sprinkles

They would again work together on The Sarah Silverman Program where Harmon was hired and fired as the head writer for six episodes, with Roiland serving on the writing staff.

Roiland and Harmon pinballed around the comedy world for two decades before bringing their focused chaos to Adult Swim in 2013 with the massively successful Rick and Morty. Dusting comedy history for fingerprints brings out some bizarre stuff from time to time, and if Tenacious D: Time Fixers gave you some chuckles, we highly suggest doing a deep dive on the Channel 101 catalog to see other Harmon and Roiland prototypes. 

If you somehow haven’t seen Roiland’s original short that later became the premise for Rick and Morty, do yourself a favor and watch “The Real Animated Adventures of Doc and Mharti,” a Channel 101 original. Enjoy.

Top Image: Wikimedia Commons / Sven Mandel, Adult Swim / Williams Street

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