It’s knowing just what to do with all the crap that’s become sort of an art form for the self-proclaimed “sanitation department” of television. The rise of social media has given every average Joe an online arena for quips and commentary on reality television, celebrity news and talk shows. But it’s McHale’s brand of smart-ass comedy that’s brought something special to “The Soup,” and, more recently, the stage.
After majoring in history and receiving an MFA from the Professional Actor Training Program at the University of Washington, McHale spent years doing improv, sketch comedy and theatre, landing small parts in several television shows.
He said he jumped at the chance to host the revamped “Soup” in 2004 because he saw the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of one of the program’s former illustrious presenters.
“I wanted it because of the Greg Kinnear pedigree,” McHale told Pollstar. “He started there and moved on to movies and that was what I wanted – to move on to movies or a network series.”
The gig did in fact open up the doors to a network series and movie roles for McHale (his new NBC program “Community” and movie “The Informant!” both debut in September) but it also took him in a direction he’d never previously considered – standup.
“I’d never hung out at comedy clubs,” he said. “That is a young man’s game and I’m married and have kids, so I wasn’t able to do what those guys do, which is really put in a serious amount of time and get incredible at it and become known for that.”
A frank discussion with his agent at Gersh changed all that.
“My booking agent, Doug Edley, said, ‘Listen asshole, here’s what we’re gonna do. If you go out and start working on this, you can make a crapload of money.’ And I went, ‘Oh really?’”
McHale started hosting shows around the Los Angeles area, working in new material between the sets of some of his more established friends in standup.
Once word got out he was hitting the comedy-club circuit, the offers kept multiplying. Hosting gigs turned into headlining gigs and McHale was soon doing six or seven club shows a weekend before his team decided to make the move into theatres last year.
Managers Jon and James Dolin of Sonesta Entertainment told Pollstar that while their goal has always been to get McHale into film, standup performances have definitely expanded his audience.
“Standup has been helpful because it’s really exposed Joel to so many more people,” Jon Dolin said. “Because, say, if women were predominantly watching ‘The Soup,’ which isn’t the case anymore, they’d bring their boyfriends or their husbands to his standup and they really respond to his sense of humor.”
Because crowds are essentially coming to see the guy from “The Soup,” McHale said he tries to include a balance of pop culture and personal stories in his shows. Jokes run the gamut from rants on reality television to problems potty-training his son to Tyra Banks’ fear of dolphins. Needless to say, some don’t enjoy it.
“I’ve heard different celebrities are not fans of mine because of things I’ve said but … I’ve never ran into anybody on the street where they’ve gone like, ‘You son of a bitch!’ and taken a swing at me,” McHale said. “I don’t wear a flak jacket or anything but there’s just so many inappropriate things on TV that I think go unchecked. It’s like, what do you expect? There needs to be a response to a lot of it.”
But even if he’s pissed off a few celebrities, McHale’s won over scores of fans with his easygoing attitude after performances.
The Dolins said McHale typically sticks around the venue, speaking to every single person that approaches him.
Gersh’s Edley agreed.
“Last Friday, two hours after the show, he’s still signing autographs,” Edley told Pollstar. “He really invests in his fans, which is smart.”
With two television shows and a relentless production schedule this fall, McHale’s touring plans may be limited in the coming months.
Edley said casino and college dates are in the works, but hinted that the next step will be taking McHale’s act to the next level with international audiences – namely Australia and Canada.
“With the exposure of ‘The Soup’ and being broadcast in a lot of different territories, we had him in Australia a couple months ago and crashed the ticketing system. We added extra shows – everything sold out. They want to get him back as quickly as possible,” Edley said. “This is definitely not just limited to the United States.”