Ahead of the show's much-anticipated comeback, Digital Spy spoke to Jim Rash - Greendale's legendary Dean Pelton - to talk outrageous outfits, karaoke and sexual tension with Joel McHale...
You've had more and more screen time as Community has gone on - did you ever have a clue how big the Dean's role would end up being?
"No - I was definitely just a guest in the pilot. It was always said that [the role] was possibly recurring, because it was the Dean of the school. I guess there was a need for a guy to come in and set [the study group] off on their adventure… and that worked out for me."
You also have the honour of delivering the first ever line in the Community pilot…
"Yes, I did! That was literally the last thing shot for the pilot, because I was cast while they were already shooting. I just came in on that last day and started at the beginning."
The Dean's outfits have become notorious - have you ever been presented with a new outfit and just thought… 'Really??'
"(laughs) No, y'know what, I didn't have any issue with it! I think at this point I've probably gotten close to birthday suit and once you get there, you sort of say, 'Well, there we go - there's really nothing else that you could put on me that could be worse'. I am happy to go there."
You're just happy to be wearing clothes.
"Yes, exactly! Some of them are more annoying than others, but for the most part, I can make it through it."
Even the Dean thought he'd gone too far with the half-man/half-woman outfit…
"Yes, especially when he went out in public. I think from the moment something awoke in him with the dalmatian [outfits], something gave him permission that within the walls and the context of the school, he was allowed to do this with no explanation.
"Suddenly going out in public to a bank opened his eyes. That was quite an ordeal to design, I imagine."
And to wear, I imagine?
"Yes, it was not comfortable - no matter how you do it, the seam of the pants and the seam of the dress didn't totally match up, so your crotch definitely felt the effect! Whenever you walked, the dress went higher than the pants…"
People talk about Jeff and Annie, or Troy and Britta, but it's obvious that the real love story in Community is Jeff and the Dean…
"I think so - I feel like that's what everyone's talking about!"
What have been some of your highlights working with Joel McHale?
"I think when we got to sing ['Kiss From A Rose'] together was probably one of the highlights for me. We had such fun, because we were standing in front of this [karaoke] computer trying to get where Seal got, note-wise, which is pretty impossible!
"It's always nice when you get paired up with one of the actors and I'm good friends with Joel, so it's just fun to work with him. We have a good rapport together… and then you just use all the sexual tension and go from there!"
You've written a Community episode for season four - was that always in the works or did you say, 'I've got an Oscar now - let me write one!'
"(laughs) No, it just sort of came up as an interest, and I said, 'Of course, [I'd write one] if there was ever an opportunity', but didn't think much of it.
"Then as we got into the fourth season, it was brought up and I said, 'I'd love to'. It was an honour but it was also scary, because you've been on the show and I know all the voices.
"Dan [Harmon] had created such a very clear vision and you don't want to do it wrong! But it was very cool, it was a great experience."
What can you reveal about your episode - it's Freaky Friday inspired, isn't it?
"Yes, it is. It's slightly an homage - it's a body-switching thing with Troy (Donald Glover) and Abed (Danny Pudi) and typical issues arise at Greendale because of it! That's really the crux of it, I can't give too much away."
If the Dean was going to switch bodies with anyone, who would it be? Jeff, surely?
"Oh, in a heartbeat. To feel like he was him for a day! I always feel like the Dean wants to be Jeff *and* wants to be with him. Either/or - or both - would be ideal!"
Community has done a musical, an animated episode, a puppet episode - is there any kind of episode left it hasn't done yet?
"I would hope so, yes! We often get asked what would be our favourite thing to do - Donald [Glover] always talks about [an episode inspired by] Back to the Future and Yvette [Nicole Brown] was the one who always talked about Muppets, and that sort of came true.
"I always keep saying - but it dates me - the ['60s children's series] Sid and Marty Krofft H.R. Pufnstuf sort-of world, I still feel like there's something there. That does have puppets obviously, but I still feel like that's such an iconic, weird Saturday morning thing and if there's anything that would be great to do, it would be what seems to be a drug-induced show!"
You've also just co-directed your first movie. Having written for Community, would you like to direct an episode too?
"Absolutely. It was a really cool experience this summer shooting this movie The Way, Way Back in Boston. It was stressful, but I definitely want to do it again.
"If that somehow segued into being able to do it on Community then again, that would be another stressful but great thing! Plus, I'd have to direct people like Joel, so that would be a problem in itself! (laughs)"
In terms of stress, was your own directorial debut easier than the Dean's in season three's 'Documentary Filmmaking: Redux'?
"I would hope so! But weirdly that was sort of like it was shooting the movie - I went a little crazy! I would hope we didn't hit the Apocalypse Now stage but maybe it's one of those things where art has become life!"
It's not always been an easy ride for Community - what has been your response to the ongoing support from fans?
"It's been great. This is a show that has benefited from such a fervent fanbase. They are very vocal and social media as an outlet for people to voice that kind of stuff is not something that was around way back when.
"I feel like they can heavily influence and [even] save shows. We're so lucky to have people who wants to make videos on YouTube and get the word out. Those things are heartwarming - and the fact that you can go to Comic-Con or PaleyFest four years in a row and have all these people pack in there and support it and love it more than you can imagine."
Some of the costumes at Comic-Con rival the Dean's own…
"Oh, they absolutely trump it! What they catch and what they know when it comes to the trivia side of things blows us out of the water and we were there [filming it]!"
What do you think the odds are of a fifth season of Community?
"From the very beginning, we've always been like, 'Well, we'll see!' - we've always been the little show that could, so I don't know. I don't think any of us ever expect anything.
"We all certainly hope [there'll be a fifth season]. We know there's more stories to tell and it was hard leaving the fourth season. But it's always that same way, because we so enjoy both the show that we get to be a part of, but also each other - that's the thing you would hate losing even more so."
Community season three starts on Friday, May 3 at 11pm on Sony Entertainment Television.