Comedian Joel McHale is seemingly in constant motion these days. But he’s not afraid to stop and make offbeat and wryly delivered observations of what he sees in front of him. McHale is the long-time host of E! Network’s The Soup, where he’s flings satire and jokes at random pop culture and world events. In his spare time, McHale is an in-demand TV and film actor, including past roles in NBC/Yahoo long-running comedy Community and his most recent TV role in CBS’ The Great Indoors.
Prior to his performance this Saturday at the Pabst Theater, we sat down with the comedian to talk about Milwaukee, his fantasies about kidnapping Wisconsin comedians for research, his comedy inspirations and much more.
Since you’re performing at the Pabst Theater, I thought it might be interesting to note that you and Pabst Blue Ribbon are both making returns to Milwaukee this year.
Yes, I talked to Mr. Pabst about that and he decided that we would coordinate our comeback. And that’s worked out great because I love a good lager.
So you’re all ready to indulge in some of Milwaukee’s history and culture this weekend?
Absolutely. I cannot wait. I very much like Milwaukee. I think it’s a very good, well-kept secret because it’s a completely livable city with a lot of cool restaurants and good coffee and clearly Pabst Blue Ribbon.
I was looking recently at a few photos of you and Wisconsin native Frank Caliendo at the roast of Terry Bradshaw from a couple of years ago. What have you learned about Wisconsin working with comedians from there, like Caliendo?
Well, I spent a month with a group of comedians from Milwaukee. I kidnapped them and kept them in my basement and just grilled them with questions. Like “Is there a real WKRP?” [Wisconsin’s Kenosha, Racine Partnership] and “Why is the lake so big?” And those sorts of things. And much like Daniel Day Lewis I’m so well-researched that I’m going to stay in a Milwaukee accent the entire time.
What are some of your favorite stereotypes, jokes or observations you’ve heard or have made about Milwaukee or Wisconsin?
Oh I can’t tell you now. I’ve got to save them for the stage, my friend. I did grow up going to Door County, which is not Milwaukee obviously. But I ended up going there as a kid and thought it was a magical, beautiful place that I would like to live someday. But Los Angeles called me and now I’m a full-time member.
The Bachelor recently had a winning Wisconsin connection, as Nick Viall is from Waukesha and went to school at UW-Milwaukee.
Oh, oh boy. I didn’t realize that. I hope you’re OK with that. I hope the entire town is proud of him.
Nothing like a try, try again, Midwest approach, right? Since he’s been on there a few times.
Yeah, nothing like that.
You wrote a book about your life fairly recently. What was the biggest surprise writing that?
Well, the biggest surprise is that I’m a gigantic procrastinator. I guess that’s not really a surprise. When a book publisher wants you to write a book and you’ve agreed to write it and they give you money in advance, you have to write it or they’ll come and break your leg. I’m distracted all the time so it’s a miracle I finished it.
You’re currently in a lead role with The Great Indoors. What’s that been like?
Well, the cast is really an ensemble cast. I’ve had a ball. I’ve really enjoyed it. I think it’s a really talented cast. By the time this article is printed we’ll know if we have a second season. Working with Stephen Fry was a dream come true. I don’t know why he agreed to do it but he did and that was my benefit cause he’s a legend. And I was more than happy to. I’ve loved the show and I’ve always wanted to do a multi-cast. So it’s been a ball.
What was your favorite memory about being part of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 revival on Netflix?
Mystery Science Theater was such an important show for me as a kid that, when I got to know Joel Hodgman, I was as nervous around him as I probably would be for Paul McCartney. I have such reverence for his talent and his ability and the show that he created. One of the reasons I think The Soup works is I try to emulate what Joel Hodgman did with Mystery Science. I stole a lot of his tricks and his jokes and I was a straight-up thief.
The X-Files was just renewed for some more episodes. Did you like playing a more twisted version of yourself from The Soup?
Yes. I’m very thankful that when I was doing The Soup I didn’t become mortally ill, like my character did. When Chris Carter asked me if I’d do it, I practically burst out crying. Because I’m such a fan of the show and I tried to keep that hidden because I didn’t want to be with David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson and constantly handing them photos for them to sign. And X-Files memorabilia. It was a dream come true to be in that show. I couldn’t believe I was on it. It was so much fun.
Is being neighbors with Chris Hardwick inspiring for you, since you both talk a lot about pop culture and have lots of different projects?
Well, Chris Hardwick is not my neighbor. He lives in Silver Lake and I live in Studio City. If we had a highway service we could probably shoot over the mountain between us. But Chris has always been a hilarious comedian and, as we’ve seen, he’s a spectacular host. He’s incredibly good on camera and incredibly quick. So I need to steal some of his tricks too.
From what I’ve read, it sounds like you have family in the Midwest.
Tons. I have lots of family in Chicago and the Chicago area. All my cousins on my dad’s side and all my aunts and uncles are there. I have like 21 first cousins. I can’t even keep track of them all. But they’re all McHales so they’re all tall and they like to have two or three more glasses of wine than they should.
Are you’re looking forward to seeing some of them in Milwaukee?
Yes. I’m also coming back to Chicago in June. But I think a few of them are making a trip up. The act is completely new. Or 95 percent new. So I hope that people come to it to see some new jokes.
I hope you have a good time in Milwaukee.
Oh, I think I will. I did when I was there years ago. So I’m very happy to come back.