If you have a Netflix account, you're surely aware of the new and popular Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale, the spiritual successor to the actor/comedian's E! show, The Soup. McHale also won fans in the role of Jeff Winger on the brilliantly clever Dan Harmon-led sitcom Community, a biting and hysterical look into the bizarre goings-on at a Colorado community college. McHale comes to New Mexico this weekend (7 and 9:30 pm Friday Aug. 17. $25-$45. The Stage at The Star, Santa Ana Star Casino, 54 Jemez Dam Road, Bernalillo, 505-771-5353; tickets here) for a standup performance. Bernalillo's not usually part of our beat, but c'mon—it's Joel McHale. We pretty much had no choice but to call him and get the lowdown.
Have you been to New Mexico before?
Hmmm. I haven't. No. I'm taking two horses to get there.
Ha! Honestly, we're sometimes starved for entertainment like this, so I think you'll find people are very excited you're coming.
You are? Oh, well that's good, then.
The new show on Netflix seems to be going really well. How is that change from E!? Like, is it more fun? It seems popular.
Is it popular? I dunno. They won't tell us. I guess we'll know if they pick it up again. We'll really know if they don't pick it up. It's really fun, I love doing it, I love the people I'm working with. The Soup kind of ended strangely with the stuff that was going on with E!, and I knew I wanted to do it again. Netflix is the king of the universe, and the fact they wanted to do the show was very exciting—to do it on a screening service, with no commercials, being able to say whatever we want, was very exciting. I hope people are watching it—I have my eye on a new Porsche. Really, it's like doing standup for 20 minutes with an audience and cameras. It's a ball.
Well, I hope it comes back.
They noticed that with the 13 [episodes] that dropped that people were binge-watching, and they said, 'Would you go to the binge model?' And it makes sense, since that's kind of how Netflix has trained their viewers, and we were happy to go with their model. I've had a couple older people—like people in their 30s and above—who told me they liked it when it was weekly. Anyone young doesn't even mention that. Maybe I'll just do one three and half-hour special.
Has E! had anything to say about the new show?
I'm sure they wouldn't be happy with what I've said about them. I've said very nice things and very not-nice things. The way it ended was, we knew the writing was on the wall. First of all, the new management said to please not make fun of the Kardashians anymore, and we looked around at each other and said, 'Are you serious? We have to be able to make fun of our own network!'
In the '80s, I'd watch Letterman, and he would make fun and light of GE and NBC, and that's what you have to do when you're in a position like that. When you're using criticism and satire, you have to be able to make fun of your bosses; bite the hand in a light-hearted, funny way. They were finished with that. And one of the biggest reasons was because E! is a non-union channel. … They said most of it was reality and news. They didn't have [Writer's Guild of America] writers, so everyone who wrote jokes on The Soup was technically a 'producer.' It's a weird unspoken thing. Everyone knows people are writing these things, so what happened was, the WGA came down on E!. We had Chelsea [Handler], Joan [Rivers] and me. Very sadly, Joan passed away, Chelsea left for Netflix and we were left. So WGA said, 'You're going union!' and we were happy—because it meant insurance for all the writers. E! makes all their money by repeating their shows endlessly and selling ads and not having to pay people outside of the first time they did it. We went from 14 reruns a week to none.
Did some of the writers from The Soup make their way over to the Joel McHale Show?
Dominic DeLeo, who plays One-Piece Man, he made it. A bunch of other producers made it. … We also wanted new blood, and that has definitely happened and that was great. We needed some of the same people to keep it going.
What was the development process like for the new show?
We have all these people watching the computer and watching TV. They're scouring as much as they can. Since it's a binge model, the shows have to be a little more evergreen, but I love when we find obscure clips from weird countries—when it's just these weird clips you would not expect, I love that stuff. It's a lot of gathering, a couple clip meetings a week. When we see the deadline for the show, you start sifting through, shoving in the different shows and different themes. It's not that complicated of a process, but it's definitely labor-intensive. I know that it sounds like a nice job to sit around watching TV all day, but you have to watch it actively and I think some of the [writers] are borderline suicidal. My soul gets crushed by anything with Housewives—they're just constantly hating each other, and that can wear you down. Then they get drunk and fight and make up. It's super popular, though. Andy Cohen's a genius.
You have a lot of celebrity guests on the show—Jack Black, Gillian Jacobs, Joe Manganiello. How does that work?
We still have to force people on through blackmail, but maybe that will pass soon. No, we make a list of people who we like—like, getting Ray Liotta was crazy and great because he doesn't do a ton of comedy, but he's really funny. Or you see someone like Justin Hartley from This Is Us not really exercising a lot of his comedy chops, so it's fun to see him do goofy stuff. We just say, 'Let's see who can do it,' we make a list and it kind of goes from there. We see what celebrities agree to be on, we promote whatever they're promoting.
And producer Paul Feig, does he just hang out as much as his appearances on the show make me think he does?
Strangely—and I say this because he doesn't have to—he does hang out more than you would think. I'm like, 'Don't you have a movie to make, Paul Feig?' and he's like, 'Joel, I just like being here, I love the show.' And I'm like, 'OK, Paul Feig. Thanks, Paul Feig.' He just hangs out in his crazily nice suits. And he's really funny on the show.
I've asked around, and no one can really tell me what the content of your standup show is like.
It's a lot like the Cirque du Soleil show O. It's got a lot of pyrotechnics, a lot of people scantily clad, a lot of water. It's very expensive. I lose about $250,000 a show, so that sucks. But it's how the show … it's funny, it's … what is the show? I'm not gonna tell you. No, it's a bunch of funny jokes. It's a ton of … I'm all over the map as far as content. It's definitely not me just going, 'Remember when I watched this funny clip years ago?' I talk a lot about America, I don't talk too much about politics—though that's definitely a part of the show, but it's not a political show. Let's just say it's the greatest show anyone will ever observe in their lives.
Were you one of these people who was always obsessed with standup?
I don't know. I was obsessed with many comedians like Richard Pryor and Robin Williams and Steve Martin and Madeline Kahn. All these folks I was obsessed with, but I didn't really get into standup until the year I started The Soup because I had an agent who said if I went out I'd make a lot of money. It worked out, thank God. When I started heading out, it was weird and wonderful because The Soup audience would show up. It's completely changed now. Now that I've done it 9,000 times or more, it's totally different. Younger people show up and they like Community. Not a lot of people show up for The Great Indoors except for old people—no one remembers that show. It's a mixed bag.
Just because my friends would kill me if I didn't ask, do you think we'll ever see a Community movie? There have been rumors.
Yep. We just got the $250 million approved. Marvel is making it. Community Movie. Well, one of the problems is that Donald [Glover's] career has tanked—it's just not going well and everyone knows it. He'll possibly have to get a job to get some money, I don't know. Dan Harmon just got picked up for 70 episodes of Rick and Morty, and that's a lot of writing and a lot of commitment. Getting the cast together would be very difficult. It would be very difficult to get Donald. He's possibly the biggest man alive. I'll never say never. People are super busy. Who knows? At this point there are not plans.