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Joel McHale brings his 'friends' to Just For Laughs

By Curt Wagner

RedEye

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Joel McHale's Friday show at the TBS Just For Laughs comedy festival is titled "Joel McHale & Friends and Acquaintances," but I'm not sure how accurate that is.

"Some aren't even acquaintances," the "Community" star said Friday, laughing as he tried to name the comics he'll present. "Some of them I haven't even met."

McHale will emcee the night's festivities, introducing K.P. Anderson, the head writer of McHale’s E! show, “The Soup,” as well as comics Brooks McBeth, Shane Mauss, Deon Cole, Tim Minchin, Brooks McBeth and Sugar Sammy. (He does know some of them, and praises their work below.)

McHale and I talked about his "Community" character, Jeff Winger, throwing the first pitch at Saturday's Cubs game and potty training his 3-year-old. (“Joel McHale & Friends and Acquaintances” is at 7:30 p.m. Friday; The Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State St.; $32.50-$62.50 at Ticketmaster)

Find the Just For Laughs 2011 schedule at Metromix.
 
How are you?
I apologize profusely for being so late.
 
No worries. I was just watching Lisa Ray kiss her daughter on your "Condensed Soup” episode.
Oh, there you go. How disgusting was that and weird, huh?
 
Yeah, a little weird—no, a lot weird.
It was weird. I mean it was just, like, what’s going on? I was very confused.
 
So do you find these bizarre reality TV things for “The Soup,” or are the writers watching all the time?
No; well, when “Community” is in session I have no time. Some of [the writers] will just set their DVRs to record eight hours of TV late at night, and they find stuff. It’s amazing how fractured television is now.
 
So they just pitch it to you, is that how the show works?
The head writer, K.P. Anderson, who will be joining me in [Chicago] next Friday, and the writers have clip meetings and all those things and that’s where the clips are selected, and then there’s a joke selection. We’re kind of like-minded, so he puts a script together and then we pass it back and forth. Then we punch it up on Thursday and add any last clips that have come in, and that’s kind of what we go out with.
 
When you see those clips for the first time are you just shaking your head since you don’t have time to watch TV?
Yeah, it’s crazy. It’s kind of amazing what television has become. It’s a wonder. Believe me, there’s some incredibly great television out there, but most of it’s bad. But people are talking about the golden age of TV being the 50s and 60s. It’s not, I think it’s now.
 
The golden age of bad TV?
No, I think it’s the golden age of good TV and bad TV. I think there’s better TV on now than there’s ever been, and there’s never been worse TV.
 
I think you’re right. And what about that show at 7 p.m. Thursdays on NBC, huh?
So many people at home watching at that time. [Laughs.] Yeah, “Community” is a dream come true, to be on a quality show. I really am grateful to be on it because I think the writing is really good and I think it’s definitely original, and it’s a show I would tune into. So I’m thrilled that I get to be on it.
 
It’s great. So at the start of next season, will we see Jeff and Annie; Jeff and Britta; Jeff and Professor Slater?
Boy, that is a good question. I don’t know.
 
Or Jeff and Dean Pelton?
It could be Jeff and [Pelton]; yeah, maybe he’ll drug him and knock him out and get really crazy. [Laughs.] That’s a good question. They’ve not broken any of the stories yet and so none of the cast members knows anything at this point. I think they’re just beginning to meet. So it’ll be interesting to see what we get.
 
Are you always surprised by what creator Dan Harmon and the “Community” writers come up with? It’s always so original, and kinda of bizarre.
Yeah. It’s so creative. Dan has led this intrepid group of awesome writers and it’s just—some of the things they come up with—I can’t believe we get to do this on TV. [It is] so great, like the “My Dinner with Andre” episode, I was so, “This is crazy, [it’s] so great; so happy that I made it.”
 
I wanted to ask about a few of my favorite episodes. Are you a regular paintball player fan now?
No, I don’t have any time. I’ve got a 6- and a 3-year-old; are you crazy? We’re potty-training one of them, so it’s really busy. No, it’s been, you know, it’s busy; I don’t have time. But shooting those episodes was as much fun as I’ve ever had doing anything. Gosh, that was just a dream come true. It was like I had won a contest: be a guy in an action room before for 20 minutes.
 
They were so great. I loved the homage to the spaghetti Western.
Yeah. I’m always amazed at how they justify it. To me it more was like, “That seems very reasonable.” Some of the stunts they pulled off have been incredible, too. The first Paintball [episode] was directed by Justin Lin, who directed “Fast and Furious.” That guy knew what the heck he was doing.
 
I remember watching that with Danny Pudi and his Chicago crowd at a bar here. Speaking of Chicago, you’re coming here next week.
Yes, can’t wait.
 
Do you remember Danny’s mom’s two words of advice to you before you did your stand-up here last year?
No, what—oh, “no regrets.” I think that was what she screamed at Danny. [Laughs.] One of his first red carpets, his mom was there and she was so proud, and she said, “no regrets.” And he was like, “Huh? No regrets, what?” It was so great. His mom is such a great character. Yeah. Danny’s become like the mayor of Chicago.
 
He was just here last week throwing the first pitch for the White Sox game.
Yeah? I’m throwing out the first pitch at the Cubs game on Saturday.
 
Really? Oh cool.
I can’t believe it; so excited.
 
Are you practicing?
Not yet, don’t have time. I’ve got to start. I’m still doing the weight training—no, I’m kidding. It doesn’t matter how much I practice, [it's] still probably not going to be very pretty. We’ll see.
 
Did you know that Intelligentsia has started in Chicago?
I did. So did Argo Tea.
 
Apparently you drink a lot of Intelligentsia? Danny gave me that bit of intel.
I do drink Intelligentsia. I wish there was one slightly closer to my house. There are two of them right now. Hopefully, they’ll open more. But the coffee is—no, there’s three of them now, four; I don’t know. There’s a couple in Pasadena, one on Sunset and one in Santa Monica, which is not geographically conducive to me. But it’s great coffee.

The thing about Chicago, gosh they do food right on any level. I could eat Chicago hot dogs until I gain 900 pounds. And the pizza is incredible. Even the high-end food is like—the restaurant Alinea is like becoming world famous.

It’s just doesn’t matter. I’m sure the butterscotch candy or whatever is like the best in the country.
 
I saw you tweeted something about the potty training. How’s that going?
Great. He just pooped. He literally stands on the toilet, stands on it. It’s pretty awesome. He doesn’t want to sit. So I’m like, “As long as he goes.” But you know, you’re supposed to just praise the hell out of them when they go and we do. So every time he goes it’s a celebration in our home. It’s pretty great. It’s really fun cleaning up shit.
 
Would you ever let your kids be on a reality TV show when they got older?
No. Well, at 18 I can’t do anything once they’re out of the house. But no, no, never; are you insane?
 
Are they aspiring singers? No “American Idol” for them?
No, thank God, not that I know of yet, no. I encourage everyone to stay off reality shows. There’s good reality—actually I would say go on good ones. But stay off, stay off.
 
Are there good ones?
Yeah, like “Deadliest Catch” has been terrific.
 
OK
“Dirty Jobs” is terrific. Discovery Channel has some really good ones. But there are some really bad ones and I’ve made money because they’re on TV, and they keep giving.
 
And that’s great for you. Tell me about your live show. Will you have some of that “The Soup” snark in it?
Well, I’m hosting a show. I think people are misinformed. They think I’m coming to do my set. I am hosting the show. So I’m going to come out and do some time, definitely, believe you me. I’ll probably screw up and go way too long.
 
It does say “Joel and friends and acquaintances” on the bill. But it doesn’t say who that’s going to be. Do you know?
K.P. Anderson, the head writer of “The Soup,” is a seasoned comic; he’ll be there. A guy named Brooks McBeth will be there. I think a guy named Shane Mauss is there. They are all really funny guys. ... Deon Cole will be there. He works on “Conan” and that guy is insanely funny, really funny; I mean like damn funny. So I’m really excited to just be on the same stage with him.
 
And you’ll do jokes in between the comics?
Oh yeah, yeah. No doubt. I’m going to open it, I’m going to do time in between, yeah. Hopefully the show won’t be too long. I get terrified of shows that are too long and then I’m like, “Sorry, this has become a chore.” Not that I’m going to skimp or anything. My problem is I always don’t get off stage in time.
 
You’re afraid you’ll tell too many jokes?
Well, I just like being out there and stuff. I hang out too much.
 
Do you plan on taking any pot shots at any famous Chicago people?
[Laughs.] Oh yeah. Al Capone. No, didn’t make any plans. I’m formulating those plans of who I might take out now.
 
OK. Rahm Emanuel, our new mayor, might be on that list?
I like Rahm Emanuel a lot.
 
That means that he’d probably be OK with you poking fun.
No, you’re trying to invent an answer. Well done, but you’re not getting me.
 
[Laughs.] Sorry. Are you excited about any new summer shows? Have you paid attention?
I watched the “Ultimate Fighter,” which is now over. I’m watching “Game of Thrones,” which I love. I watch “The Killing.” But these are all ending [soon]. It's too busy this summer.
 
So when you’re off “Community” do you try to relax and not do much?
No. I’m shooting a movie right now. It’s called “Ted.” It’s written and directed by Seth MacFarlane. Yeah, we’re shooting in Boston. I’m actually back in L.A. right now, but I’ve been going back and forth.
 
So you keep busy all the time then.
Yeah. And doing standup and all the other stuff I’ve got. I’m doing “Soup,” and the rest of the time I do a lot of promotion for all the stuff that I’m doing. It stays pretty dang busy to the point where my wife is like, “Come on, dude, let’s just have a glass of red wine.” And then I do, and then I have 12 of them.
 
And then she regrets having suggested it, right? So how long does “The Soup” take each week?
We punch up the script during the day; that takes a couple of hours. And then at night we get in there by 6. We redo the script and make sure all the changes are in there we like. And then, I don’t know, we start taping around 7, 7:30, and hopefully we’ll be done in an hour or less. It depends on how many moving parts in the show we have.
 
Would Jeff Winger find your standup stuff funny?
I don’t know. I think he would be freaked out because it would be a spitting image of himself on stage.
 
Finally, Danny suggested I get your thoughts on free stuff.
I can’t get enough of it. [Laughs.] As long as it’s free I’m happy, even if I don’t need it. It’s free, I’ll take it.
 
And the favorite car you’ve driven?
Ooh, it’s a tie. It’s a tie between the Audi RAP 10 and the 911 Turbo.
 
And why?
Because they’re both tremendous sports cars and they both have great attributes, some different. So they’re both amazing cars. Yeah, Danny hit you up on the free stuff?
 
He did. Is there anything special you want to do when you come to town?
Well, that Cubs game is going to be very special. I will get some hot dogs. I will get pizza. And that’s all I have planned at this point. And see family. I’d like to go hang out with the kids on the lake now that you can this time of year, now that it’s like 109 degrees, whatever.
 
You have family here?
Yeah, all my cousins are there. My dad grew up there. So I’ve been to Chicago, jeez, 25 times. I mean throughout my childhood we went there almost every summer. I love it there.
 
Any great memories?
Yeah. My cousins are great people and most of them grew up in Skokie or Glenview—just great family times, great pizza. When I could drink, [it was] great going out. It was great. I think Chicago is one of the best cities in the world. I can’t believe they didn’t get the Olympics. I thought it was so apropos. So Chicago doesn’t get the Olympics; Rio gets them, and then that same day in Rio a gang shoots down a helicopter. And I was just like, “Good luck Rio; good luck in controlling that.”
 
Any final pitch for your Friday show?
Come see it. You will laugh. You will laugh, and bring free stuff for me.
 
Sounds cool.
Great. And bring some hot dogs and pizza, I love that stuff.
 
As long as they’re free.
And some Old Style.