Actor Joel McHale doesn’t take many things too seriously — and that’s been the secret to his successful career. He spent more than 11 years skewering celebrities on E!’s The Soup and found even more fame acting on NBC’s cult fave sitcom Community, which ran from 2009 to 2015.
Recently, Joel contributed his ringmaster talents as the host of an online benefit for the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association. “I love animals more than people, so it’s worked out great,” Joel, 48, exclusively tells Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. One exception to this rule is the love he expresses for wife Sarah, 49, and their sons, Edward, 15, and Isaac, 12, for turning their period in quarantine into something special.
“I think I was supposed to be going [from Southern California] to the East Coast six times during this pandemic,” Joel says. “But I will look back and go, ‘I really got to spend a lot of quality time with my family.’”
Scroll below to read our exclusive Q&A with Joel!
So Joel, how are you these days?
I have never been busier, and I’m not kidding. When home school is a reality, it makes life more frenetic. I also started a podcast with [Community co-star] Ken Jeong called The Darkest Timeline [on iTunes and YouTube] that’s taken up a great amount of time — and
I get to play with my friend.
How did you come to host the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association’s Virtual Beastly Ball fundraiser?
It’s because my sons love the zoo. With this pandemic, the galas for most places that rely on fundraising are canceled, so I’m really hoping this works. My son Edward has always been into animals — that’s why we have three dogs and two rabbits. I would definitely have more, but my wife would probably disown us.
What’s been your favorite role so far?
I’ll have to say Jeff Winger on Community. It was such a privilege — six wonderful years. I just had a Zoom call with the cast and it was so fun. I miss them desperately and count them as family. The Soup wasn’t a role — it was me telling jokes — but I really enjoyed those years.
Any update on a Community reunion movie?
There’s a better possibility of it now than there ever was, because the cast is on board. It really has to do with schedules, timing and this pandemic. [Creator] Dan Harmon would write it. If he can find the time, I would do it in a heartbeat.
Back to The Soup, what’s the best and worst response you’ve had from a celebrity whom you joked about on the show?
Early on, I was told by an E! reporter that they interviewed Julia Roberts and she said a) she really likes the show and b) she would never
come on it. I was like, “Awesome!” The worst? Probably some reality star. Tyra Banks wasn’t happy with us, but I met her a couple years later, and she could not have been nicer!
You also gave Today hosts Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb a hard time, but then they invited you on their show!
I would not say I was hard on them. They were getting visibly drunk on camera! I’m joking. They are goofballs who had a fun time. I love them.
Was it tough to switch gears from your 2019 online comedy special Joel McHale: Live From Pyongyang to a dramatic role in your new VOD thriller, Becky?
There is some comedy in Becky, but it’s not a comedy. To me, it’s just a different thing. I don’t have a “Now be a serious actor” switch. Not yet! Maybe I will.
When did you first know that you had a talent for making people laugh?
There wasn’t a moment where I thought, “And that joke changed my life!” I just always wanted to perform and kept thinking, “I’m going to do this until the real job police come and take me away.” In second grade, I did a stage version of It’s a Small World, the ride at Disneyland, and my mom and dad told me years later, “When we saw you there, we kind of figured that’s what you were going to do.” I can’t believe I get to do this. It takes a lot of work, but I thank God every day.
Your brother is an Episcopalian priest. Did you ever consider following in his footsteps when you were younger?
Definitely not! This was not a big tradition in our family — besides our great aunt who was a nun. I don’t know what I would’ve done if I hadn’t had success. Probably be a criminal!
Your father was dean of students at Loyola University’s Rome branch, so you were born in Italy.
We were only there for three years longer. Except for two years in New Jersey, I grew up in Seattle, which is just as exotic.
You also recently discovered that you are dyslexic. How did that come about?
About five years ago, when my older son was diagnosed with it, the doctor started describing the symptoms and I said, “You’re describing how I read!” It was somewhat liberating. It’s not that I denied it — I just thought I wasn’t smart. At the time, I was on The Soup. I would talk about it, like, “We’re going to do a live show and I don’t know what’s going to happen because I’m dyslexic!” It thrilled me.
Well, it hasn’t slowed you down professionally, and your personal life seems great. You’ve been married to Sarah since 1996. How did you meet?
I met her in Seattle on the set of probably the worst movie ever made. It never got released. Her mom was an extra and her brother was a production assistant. He recognized me from the University of Washington and said [to Sarah], ‘Hey come meet this guy!’ And she did not want to meet me! [Laughs] Then I met her and found we have a mutual friend, so I asked our friend for her number. The friend laughed at me and said, “You’re never going to get Sarah!” But Sarah took pity on me and married me.
Ha! You and Sarah will be celebrating your 24th anniversary on July 20.
I got very lucky in that I married the best person on the planet. She tolerates me, thank God. It’s like, you choose your partner every day, and once you do that over and over, you realize “Oh my gosh, I choose you every day and you choose me, and that’s amazing.”
That’s really sweet. You never seem to age. What is your secret?
I starve myself every day! And when I work out, I don’t need motivation, because I can feel old age just tapping me on the shoulder the whole time. So I’m just desperately doing push-ups and pull-ups. [Laughs] It’s a sad life.
For more on Joel, pick up the latest issue of Closer Weekly, on newsstands now — and be sure to sign up for our newsletter for more exclusive news!