McHale, of course, became famous for playing another smartass, ex-lawyer Jack Winger on NBC’s “Community.”
TheWrap recently spoke with McHale about both shows, his new book and the inevitable problems with former costar Chevy Chase.
TheWrap: Is “Great Indoors” really about sticking it to millennials?
Joel McHale: No, that is a fallacy. That got perpetuated at the TCA event. This millennial reporter lost her mind. Stephen Fry said: “Millennials have it harder in some ways because of rent and the way the cost of life is much higher,” and she just goes, “No s—.” She thought it was a searing indictment of the show. Then another website was like, “War broke out at the TCA.” It was pretty hilarious how they wrote it and it got this reputation that we’re taking out millennials.
The show is about three generations of people working together. It seems like it’s an obvious thing. You have Stephen Fry, the end of the Baby Boomer generation. I’m Generation X and then you’ve got the millennials. It’s equal opportunity for people getting ribbed. My character, of all characters, gets it worse than anybody.
This is a traditional multi-camera comedy, quite unlike “Community.” Have you been feeding off the energy of a live audience?
Yeah. It is a completely different beast and I love it. It’s like putting on a play; we shoot it all in one night … it is the oldest and most classic form of television comedy that there is. I’m a huge fan of “The Honeymooners” and what they did there.
How close is you character to the real Joel McHale?
Not close. Other than in looks. I wouldn’t wear some of the stuff he wears, but I am not an adventure reporter. I am a family man with a wife and children and dogs and a house. This is a guy who’s sleeping in a hammock in his friend’s apartment at this age. I don’t spend weeks in the wild and I’m definitely not a proficient writer. I mean, yes, I just did a release a book (“Thanks for the Money”) but that was a grueling torture.
Torture? How so?
Well, I am very ADHD and dyslexic. I am such a scatterbrain and I never complete things, so when you have deadlines, where they’re like, “We need 100 pages by this date,” that is a looming, horrifying thing. Thank God I brought in one of these guys that are writers and producers on “The Great Indoors” and they wrote the White House Correspondents Dinner with me. We write speeches together, we write my commercial campaigns. I was like, “You need to be with me while I try and tap this out like a crow stepping into some ink and then walking on a piece of paper.” I needed them to be there to kind of motivate me and to stay focused and help formulate what I was trying to say.
This was writing that was going to be read on the page, not performed by you. Did that change your thinking about writing?
Yeah. Sometimes when you read funny writing, it doesn’t translate to saying it out loud. I didn’t run these jokes by some sort of stand-up situation. We just had to trust that the jokes were funny. The book is very visual in that sense. There’s lots of pictures and graphs and charts and games. Yes, it’s very much a book. It is not a collection of essays that I’ve said on stage.
You spend some time in the book on Chevy Chase
Well, there’s one chapter but that’s about it. It’s actually a very small part but it’s obviously what people are asking about. Yes, there’s a chart that’s “How to Survive a Chevy Chase Attack.”
Where did that idea come from?
Well, I knew that I was going to talk about “Community,” and I knew that Chevy would be a big part of that. I was asked about Chevy in every single interview that I have ever given about “Community” — I mean, he was the biggest star of the ’80s. He’s a living legend. People are always curious about him and he has a bit of a reputation. People always ask about that and I thought, “All right, I will talk about it and hopefully make it humorous.” Chevy and I did often wrestle and/or fight and so I thought that would be funny to put in. There’s a lot about him. I talk about everybody in the cast, but he definitely gets the … a well-illustrated warning card, or whatever.
Have you heard from Chevy about the book?
No. I spoke to him about six months ago because I’m playing Chevy in a movie (the National Lampoon biopic “A Futile and Stupid Gesture”). We talked about how he’s being portrayed in it. I think he loved the subject and he loved what it was about. We had a really good discussion and we even made dinner plans. I’ll be curious to see what he thinks of the book. Hopefully he sees it as an honest portrayal of the time on “Community” and a humorous look at it. But I don’t know. He could be like, “You son of a bitch!”
How about a “Community” movie? Will it happen?
I don’t know. Boy, it would be great. I would do it. I think the cast would do it. I think it requires people to give money and I don’t know how that goes down. I know everyone is really busy now, especially Donald [Glover]. He’ll be in London making “Star Wars.” We’re all game, but boy I don’t have any sort of Magic 8 Ball that can tell me whether it will actually happen. I would love it. I think it would be fun to do.
Dan Harmon, the show’s executive producer, has never said to you, “Book that time in your schedule? I think we’re getting close,” or something like that?
I mean, booking out time in schedules is so far down the road. When you’re finally booking a schedule for a movie shoot that’s when tons of things have already happened. I know that he’s very busy with “Rick and Morty” and he tours and so it’s busy. Making a movie is a massive undertaking.
Thanks for the interview! And also for the Chevy tips – although I don’t know if I’ll need them.
Sure, but just like you’re in the plane, you have instructions for the water landing. How many planes have ever made a water landing successfully? One? But, you will know what to do, if it does happen.
Right. If I interview Chevy and it doesn’t go well, and then he kind of turns on me and then goes for my neck, I’m going to know what to do.
Absolutely. In fact, I would memorize that thing.