Known for his deadly sarcastic humour as Jeff Winger in ‘Community’, as well as the reality television mockery ‘The Soup’, Joel McHale’s humour has become a recognisable part of the television comedy world.
We spoke to Joel McHale about his upcoming New Zealand show, gender equality in comedy, and more…
When I come to New Zealand, I would like for people to give me wine - that would be great.
COUP DE MAIN: So, September is going to be your first visit to New Zealand! Do you have expectations for what our country will be like?
JOEL MCHALE: I’ve never been to NZ and I can’t wait to get there. Well, I’m a huge fan of ‘Spartacus: Blood and Sand’, so I expect it to be exactly like that.
CDM: Is there anything that you want to do in New Zealand with your time off?
JOEL: I think I have a couple days. I would like to visit Sam Neill and his winery, if he’ll have me. I’d like to reunite Crowded House and see if they’ll let me play with them. That should take up two days, right? Perfect.
CDM: For anyone who’s never been to a Joel McHale show, how would you describe the show in one sentence?
JOEL: It is like a Bon Jovi show from 1986. Pyrotechnics. Feathered Hair. Leather. Chains. Cowboy boots. It is very loud, and very expensive. How would I describe the show? It’s the funniest show you’ll ever see and everything after that will be disappointing.
CDM: So it’ll be everyone’s life highlight and everything’s just downhill from there?
JOEL: Yeah! This is it. You have to make a decision whether you want to experience that much joy. It’s like seeing ‘The Godfather’, because now you’re going to compare it to every other movie.
CDM: How do you go about preparing for a stand-up show? Do you meticulously plan, or does it have a lot of spontaneity to it?
JOEL: Of course I have material prepared because it would be quite irresponsible to walk out on stage for an hour-and-a-half and just kind of wing it. I definitely have stuff that I’m going to talk about, and I’m thinking a lot about what I’m going to say in Australia, and then when I get to New Zealand I’m going to figure out how to make fun of Australia so you’ll be on my good side.
CDM: As long as you don’t think Australia and New Zealand are the same country, because a lot of people get that confused. You’d be surprised.
JOEL: Oh yeah, yes. That’s the same problem here with America and Canada. Everyone thinks they’re basically the same place. No, I will definitely do a lot of preparing for New Zealand. A lot of ‘Xena: Warrior Princess’ jokes. Hercules jokes, that sort of thing. I always prepare for the place that I’m going. I love talking about... wherever region I’m in I love hitting it, and a lot of my comedy has to do with the places I’ve been, especially in America, that I find hilarious.
CDM: When we interviewed Donald Glover a few years ago he said he promised us he’d come to New Zealand, even if only two people came to see him. Are you hoping to have more than two people in attendance at your show?
JOEL: No, because all you need is two people from New Zealand. Because that’s like a quarter of the population, right?
CDM: Yeah, well that’s what Donald said. He was like, “You guys only have like four people, right? So two people is a good turn out.”
JOEL: Yeah, I don’t know how it works there with comedy shows. If two people come but they tell everybody that it was great, then I’d be happy. And if each person pays $50,000 for those tickets, then that would be gold.
CDM: You’ve said your book includes practical advice on how to be a celebrity and how to get things for free. What's the best thing you've ever gotten for free?
JOEL: Oh that’s a good question. A car, I think. It’s the dumbest thing. If you become famous and you start making money, then people want to give you things. It’s the exact opposite of how it’s supposed to be.
CDM: It’s so contradictory, right?
JOEL: Yes, believe me, I’m very happy to take the money and take the free things, but it’s so contradictory to how it should be. I mean that’s partially what the book’s about and making fun of. I’m trying to think of other stuff. I’ve gotten a dog.
CDM: A dog?! For free? Oh my goodness.
JOEL: Yeah I got a dog! My children. I have them for free. They cost a lot of money now.
CDM: I was going to say, long-term, they’re more expensive. Same with the dog. I feel like you end up spending more money.
JOEL: Way, way more. It’s ridiculous. The amount of clothing and shoes I’ve gotten, it’s criminal. I feel like Imelda Marcos from the Philippines way back when in the 80s. But yeah, there’s all these celebrity biographies out, and I don’t think half of the celebrities have interesting enough lives for an entire book - and my life definitely, so I filled up half the book about me, and then the other half is how to use the things that I’ve learnt to get free stuff and money.
CDM: What's one thing you've never gotten for free, that has always eluded you?
JOEL: Well, I’ve gotten a free trip to Australia and New Zealand, so I’m okay with that. Oh boy. Well, I’m going to aim pretty big, but I’d love one of those SpaceX rockets that would get me from Hong Kong to New York in a hour-and-a-half. But I know that’s fleeting. I would like eternal life. I would like to have the power to choose who lives and dies. I have big goals. I’ve gotten a lot of wine and booze, so that’s been great. When I come to New Zealand, I would like for people to give me wine - that would be great.
CDM: Hopefully Sam Neill will give you a special gift from his winery, and then you’ll be sorted.
JOEL: I think he makes a shiraz that everyone loves, so we’ll see. The book is making fun of Hollywood, and making fun of the absurd - because I have made a living out of fart jokes and pretending to be a jerk. I feel very fortunate and ridiculously blessed, so... It doesn’t make any sense, because if I lived in the Middle Ages I would be one of those people riding around the back of a wagon and then I would go to a town and put on a play and then put out a hat, and hopefully people would throw out a few coins in the hat. That's what I would be doing. I don’t know what you call it there, but here in America, we say, 'It’s all gravy.' We love gravy here.
CDM: Obviously many of your ‘Community’ co-stars have gone on to do their own TV shows - Gillian Jacobs has ‘Love’, Alison Brie has ‘Glow’, Donald has ‘Atlanta’. Do you have a favourite of their projects? Have you watched any of them?
JOEL: Okay, the good news is I can be very objective here. I’ve watched none of them. That’s not because I’m not very fond of those people, I am insanely fond of them, and when I die, I’m sure I will count them as friends, as lifelong friends. I love those people, and I will never forget the six years that we’ve had. But, I don’t know what you call it there, but I have ADHD on a level that’s pretty-- I have a hard time sitting still. So to sit and watch a television programme all the way through, it’s pretty near-- I went and saw ‘Dunkirk’ and I was like, "Well at least there was a lot of explosions and a lot happening."
CDM: And there’s Harry Styles in it.
JOEL: I couldn’t even tell which one he was.
CDM: One of the British soldiers. They all kind of looked similar.
JOEL: He was one of the British soldiers? Yeah, well that narrows it down. No, but my wife and I have an eternal date - where we’ve got to watch ‘Glow’, ‘Atlanta’, and ‘Love’. It’s pretty offensive for me to say that I haven’t watched my friends’ shows, and this interview alone is really sending enough guilt through me that I need to buckle down and watch. So let’s just say that out of all those shows, I’m going to say that I love ‘American Ninja Warrior’.
CDM: Yeah, that’s a great show.
JOEL: But I apologise to Alison, Gillian and Donald. No, they don’t care, they’re making a bunch of money.
CDM: I know you're a fan of video games, so if you were to design your own video game, what would it be like?
JOEL: Oh man. This is where I have zero creativity because I think a game like ‘Battlefield I’ is near perfect. Or ‘Friday The 13th’ is perfect. Or the ‘Sicario’ game is near perfect. The level of imagination that-- I think maybe a game like ‘Prototype’ would be a game that I would make. I swear to you, every time I turn on ‘Battlefield I’ which my friends and I are playing now, I cannot believe the detail in how good this game is. That is not my expertise at all, so my game would probably look a lot like ‘Dig Dug’ from 1982.
CDM: You could steal ‘Battlefield I’ and say that it was yours.
JOEL: Oh I wish. Or ‘Titanfall’. That continues to be an amazing game. It’s like when people... I know a couple of people who speak like four or five languages, and when I meet people like that, I’m like, ‘Why don’t you design a spaceship because you’re clearly a thousand times smarter than me, and I feel like you could design a spaceship.’ I can’t believe the level of skill, it’s mystifying to me.
CDM: You've spoken before about how comedy is a "boys club" and incredibly chauvinistic - how do you think the world of comedy can become more diverse and allow more women to succeed?
JOEL: It’s not just the world of comedy, it’s the world. I think there’s a little bit of hope with people like Ellen DeGeneres, in America at least. Thank God for people like Amy Schumer - the list is pretty long of people that are doing great. But it is a constant problem because the business is established by older white dudes, and no matter who you are or from what framework you’re coming from, you have a bias. So thankfully, those things are beginning to break down. It’s way worse in directing. There’s not enough female directors and there’s not enough female producers, and it should all be equal. It should be an equal number for what the population is, and I don’t know what the solution is. I mean, just in America, gay marriage is legal, thank God. And so when things like that become-- now it’s normal here, you know? There’s no debate over gay marriage here, and it is now a part of the culture, thank God, because it’s accepted. I feel like it’s going to take time, sadly, and I hope that time is short and that it equals out, and that in twenty years, we’ll go, ‘Hey, remember how things weren’t equal? Boy that was a crazy time.’ And everyone’s working together and happy because it tires me when I hear the argument, ‘Do you think women…?’ I’m like, ‘Of course they should be.’ It angers me because I’m like, it should all be equal. It should be. For it still to be imbalanced, and for that matter, for races not to be represented, is also-- that is also changing, thank God. And it is not just a boy’s club, because that’s representative of a small one part of culture and every other part of the culture should be represented. That’s a very long answer. I can’t imagine the nightmare it’ll be printing it, and it’s not necessarily coherent. But, when I hear old-timey comedians say, ‘Women aren’t funny,’ or something like that, that is just deep terrified insecurity.