Joel McHale Interview – LIVE LB Magazine, March 2009

From film– to TV– to radio, fans can catch Joel McHale practically everywhere. Whether he is providing a snapshot of the latest celebrity news and gaffes or contributing to several memorable films, McHale is a sure-fire Hollywood name. Most know McHale as the host of E!’s The Soup, where McHale’s witty satire on pop culture parallels the happenings in Hollywood and gives an honest opinion or reaction to those we idolize. But McHale cannot be contained in front of the camera. He has taken his act to the road, touring and performing in front of sold-out audiences all over the country.

With deep comedic roots as a former cast member on Comedy Central’s skit comedy show Almost Alive, comedy comes easy to McHale. But this year, McHale will further show his versatility. This year McHale stars alongside Matt Damon in the dark comedic thriller, The Informant, playing an FBI agent who tries to stop a price-fixing scam. The film, based on the best seller, The Informant: A True Story, undoubtedly will reproduce the suspense of the nonfictional portrayal of business executive Mark Whiteacre. What makes McHale such a unique celebrity is that he gives us options to view him in these versatile roles. If you want to see him on TV, tune into The Soup. If you want to see him in person, go to one of his shows. If you want to see him theaters, catch him in the upcoming thriller, The Informant.

Writer:  Jon Khoshafi an
Photography:  Collin Stark
Interview:  Damion Stein

DAMION: So Wikipedia says you were born in Rome, Italy but you’re not Italian so what’s the story there?

JOEL: My mom’s family lived there because my grandfather was the head of an organization called F.A.O., that’s still in existence today. They regulate fish populations around the world, amongst many other things. So they moved from Vancouver, Canada to Rome in the early 1960s, when my mom and my aunts and uncles were young, and they lived there for 20 years and thought it was one of the greatest experiences of their lives. My father was from Chicago and he was going to Loyola University in Chicago and ended up living there [Rome] for 10 years and while they [my parents] were there they met on the campus. He was the Dean of Students and she was a student… scandalous.

DAMION: So what was life like growing up in the McHale household?

JOEL: Well, let’s see, you know that Austrian family that was trapped in the ground with the father who took his daughter and repeatedly raped her and then she had kids and all that?


JOEL: It wasn’t anything like that at all. It was a great place to live, and I was very fortunate that I had great parents and still do. It was a very loving and wonderful place. What’s great is my Dad and Mom had a great sense of humor, my dad especially. I got all my smart ass-ery from him. And my brothers are both smart asses, and it’s just one big, huge smart ass fest. Once in a while my mom would say “I can’t tell if you’re being serious” and then we would all say “We can’t either.” So, it was a great time.

DAMION: You studied in Washington and then you moved down to Hollywood, how was the transition and was it what you expected?

JOEL: Yeah, we moved to Seattle in 1980 and it was an ideal place to grow up. I loved it and I still love it there, deeply. I went to the University of Washington and also attended graduate school there, for acting. Then my wife and I moved down here to Hollywood in 2000. I said “I gotta give myself like five years to try this, to see if it will work or not,” but I just need to be able to say that I tried and so… I failed. I’m on basic cable…no… Things are going well.

DAMION: What do you think of California so far?

JOEL: I love Los Angeles. I really love it, and I think it’s become a sport to take a dump on it and I say to those people “Well, then leave.” I truly believe that it’s the most creative city in the world and it’s no wonder why everybody showed up here between 1920 and 1990, because it is an ideal place to live. There are too many people here, but I really see it as home now.

DAMION: You have such a cult following on E!’s The Soup, are there other projects from the past that you would recommend checking out for someone who is a fan of your work?

JOEL: Actually, The Soup is not a cult following. It is a full blown cult that makes blood sacrifices. For my fans, geez well, somewhere there’s a videotape of me doing It’s a Small World when I was in first grade. I did Oliver in eighth grade, there’s a video of that somewhere. I don’t know… my past work…oh boy, you can see me for five minutes in Spiderman 2 and multiple guest staring [roles] on different television shows, but haven’t had anything that you can go “Oh, I’ll go grab the DVD of that and watch Joel on an entire season.” You can watch old film clips of The Soup all over YouTube and on the E! Entertainment website I guess.

DAMION: How many years have you been doing The Soup now?

JOEL: Four and a half.

DAMION: With TV getting more outrageous and celebrities seeming to do more and more embarrassing things, does it make writing for the show easy?

JOEL: Well, as far as celebrities doing embarrassing things, I think that handful of celebrities that do embarrassing things have been doing so since celebrity was invented. It’s just now with camera phones and websites like D Listed and TMZ, they keep track of those things for us. Then we report on the reporting, we cover the coverage. We don’t break stories, we just react to how people are reacting to things. So we’ll watch Inside Edition, Access Hollywood or Entertainment Tonight and see how they are covering stories, much like the Jessica Simpson story where everyone was freaking out that she was wearing mom jeans. And [Ryan] Seacrest was like “The startling photos next” and I’m like “Really? Are they startling, buddy? Are you actually that startled by them?” So with that and with television, of course, there are so many channels and shows now and it is so cheap. It’s much cheaper to make a reality show than it is to make a high quality show like Lost or 24 or Mad Men, so you might as well have a skank fest on Rock of Love Bus. It obviously benefits our show, but we try to tell people that they should expand their minds, hopefully, and watch something else or include something else.

DAMION: Any reason why a person would want to watch those shows is pretty much summed up on The Soup.

JOEL: Yeah, well, that is our goal. That watching The Soup will just be a fun and easy hang and we’ll catch you up on things that are going on. Not that you really need to know who Lindsay Lohan is dating, but, hopefully, it’s like when you sit at home in your underwear yelling back at the TV; that’s basically what we’re trying to do. It’s just that I’m standing in front of a green curtain and I’m wearing a skinny tie.

DAMION: So, you’re coming to the Orange County area doing stand up at the Long Beach Terrace Theater on March 13th, for someone who hasn’t seen your live performance before what can they expect to see?

JOEL: Well, it is a lot of pop culture references and me talking about the kind of behind the scenes at The Soup and the experiences I’ve had with celebrities who have been upset. And I will talk a lot about reality shows but I also talk a lot about my family and my four year old and my eleven month old and my wife. So it’s not like an episode of The Soup, it’s me alone with a microphone telling stories, hopefully you’ll enjoy them; if you don’t then you won’t get your money back, especially if it’s after.

DAMION: You also have a movie coming out in September of this year called The Informant. What’s this movie about and what character do you play?

JOEL: It’s a true story about a guy who was making a ton of money at a company called Archer Daniels Midland Corporation, who decides to go undercover and expose his own company and was the whistle blower for a major scandal. Now that is not remarkable in itself. What is remarkable is the guy who did it had no reason to do it and on top of that, he was bipolar, really bipolar, to the point where he would wake up at four in the morning and dig holes in his yard looking for tunnels. Matt Damon plays him [Mark Whitacre] …you might have heard of Matt Damon, he’s been in such movies as Mystic Pizza and Stuck On You and I play an FBI agent name Bob Herndon, who I actually know now. He was one of the agents assigned to the case, Scott Bakula is the other agent and you have to see the movie to see how incredible the story becomes. And I know it’s sounds cliché, but you couldn’t write something as nutty as how the story unfolds.

DAMION: Is this a serious role that you play or is it one that has some humor in it as well?

JOEL: It’s defi nitely a comedy, but it’s got some serious things in it.

DAMION: What was it like working with Matt Damon?

JOEL: It’s no mistake that he is a gigantic movie star. He is a virtuoso actor. He is oneof just a handful of people in the world that are gifted that way and on top of that,he is as regular a dude as you’ll ever meet. He’s just as nice as you can imagineand because of that, he creates a really easy working environment. There’s no sort of tension or pressure on the set. Steven Soderbergh, who directed the movie, is the same way. He is a genius and he makes everything look easy. I can’t believe how much fun it is to make movies and I tell myself how deeply blessed I am for being able to do it. I still look back and don’t believe it will actually come true, that they’ll somehow edit me out and there will be some restraining order against me that will force me to be a thousand miles away from the premiere or something like that.

DAMION: With you participating in a variety of television and fi lm, do you have an ultimate goal, and if so, what is it?

JOEL: Well the ultimate goal is to do high quality work in television and movies. That is my goal and I try not to make it too much more specifi c than that. I feel that The Soup is hopefully high quality comedy and I was lucky enough to get in to The Informant.

DAMION: So the ladies will be sad to hear that you’re happily married. How did you and your wife meet?

JOEL: I have a great wife and two beautiful boys. My wife and I met on the sh*tiest movie ever made in Seattle. It was called American Messiah. I don’t even know what it was about, but it was a feature fi lm shot in three days. A friend of mine had a part in it and I played an assassin in it and it was about some women that decided they were God or something; my wife’s mom was an extra and her brother was a P.A. and I met her [my wife] there. We had a mutual friend and I called the mutual friend and said “I want to take this lady out” and then, you know, after six months of negotiations, she allowed me to.

DAMION: So what is something about yourself that many people may not know?

JOEL: Oh geez, I freaking love videogames. I’m playing Gears of War right now on the Xbox 360 and I’m really excited to get Killzone 2 for the PS3. But right now Gears of War is about as good as it gets, as far as fi rst person shooting games go, I love it.

DAMION: So what’s on the horizon for Joel McHale?

JOEL: Well, I’m doing a pilot for NBC. I just got it last Friday and it’s called Community and it’s written by a genius writer name Dan Harmon and directed by the Russo brothers. They directed tons of Arrested Development episodes, so I am thrilled to be doing it. And I’ve got a script deal with Fox and then, hopefully now, I’m going to do a lot of movies, thank God, which is something I’ve always dreamed of doing. So hopefully one of these will happen. More importantly I am working on raising my kids not to be freaks. That’s pretty much goal number one. I don’t want there to be a ton of blowback later on as adults by my kids, so… we’ll see how that all pans out.


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