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Joel McHale talks 'Soup'

The E! host answers reader questions, about everything from his personal TV tastes to who exactly is in his audience

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Joel McHale

Joel McHale, host of E!’s The Soup, suggested we title this article ”Joel McHale: Television’s Roofie.” But there was at least one problem with that analogy: His strength does not go undetected. Readers of EW.com’s PopWatch blog made their appreciation of his celebrity and reality-TV skewering skills known when they declared E! one of their five must-have cable channels — just so they could watch him. And because McHale has four new specials to promote — the first, The Soup Presents: Pretty, Stupid Models, premieres March 17 at 10 p.m. ET — he agreed to answer questions submitted by those readers.

McHale phoned us March 6, right before taping an episode of The Soup (Fridays, 10 p.m. ET), and clearly, he had a lot on his mind: Would his in-studio guest, his favorite member of The Bad Girls Club, Tanisha, “beat his ass”? (No.) What happened to those Dina Lohan jokes he read earlier? (The network thought it was too soon for him to make fun of his future channel-mate, so excuse him while he edits Hillary Clinton punchlines.) Did Kady Malloy just get kicked off American Idol? (”I liked her Britney impression a lot,” he says.) And will his answers to these questions shorten his career? (You be the judge of that.)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So, you’re answering reader questions.
JOEL McHALE:
My answers will be a little different than what you’re used to. A lot of like, ”Mmm, f— you.”

They’ll love that.
Okay, good. [Silence] I’m just trying to think of other things that I can say that are inappropriate.

A lot of people want to know how the show actually works. SKYE put it the simplest: ”Do they really make you watch all of that crap on TV?”
When the show started, I used to [watch everything]. But now I force production assistants to do it. And I laugh, and laugh, and laugh at them. There is a person on our staff that has to watch the Today show. All of it. Every day. Well, it’s the fourth person to do that. The first three committed suicide. [To Soup writer Lee Farber, also in the room] Lee, what’s your average for TV? Six hours a day? [To EW] Oh right, we measure in how many hours we don’t watch. One of the guys on our staff made it to three. It was 21 hours of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Huge Ty Pennington fan. And also has a soul patch.

What about you, personally? What do you average?
Being the host of the show, I watch the shows that I want to watch now, which are usually what my wife wants to watch: Dancing With the Stars and American Idol. I actually watch those. I’m a big fan of The Ultimate Fighter because that’s the most honest reality show on television. It’s not like, ”Well, you didn’t sing very well. You’re a little off-key. Hope you don’t get cut.” It’s like, you go into a ring, and you have to bare-knuckle fight someone for two grand. And there’s a good chance that you’re gonna get your nose broken. I’ll watch other stuff, like Big Brother. But Big Brother drives me up the wall because it’s just conspiratorial whispering. The entire show is people lying around, conspiring and whispering. Literally, I believe it is a glimpse at hell. If they go, ”Joel, you’re going to hell,” I go, ”Oh. Am I being burned alive?” ”No. Worse. You’re gonna be stuck in a room with a bunch of really attractive idiots who will try to conspire to vote you off. And when you get voted off, you’ll just go to the next Big Brother house.”…. I do also watch Pants-Off Dance-Off sometimes.

You just touched on this, but several people, including DANIEL, asked, ”Are you a big fan of some of the shows you poke fun at, e.g. Lost?”
I really genuinely like American Idol, because it is an honest show. Sure, Paula might be there and her brain is somewhere around Cleveland, but that show is great because it’s a good old-fashioned talent show and there’s no living in the same house and hoping for conflict. I usually agree with Simon, every time he says something, almost to a T. Almost. I actually like Survivor, somewhat. Sometimes it’s a little contrived, but I think [Jeff] Probst is a great host. We’ll include clips from Lost and stuff like that, just to talk about what happened. We are devotees of Lost, and 24, and Battlestar Galactica.

Does your day job affect how you watch TV at night?
It does affect what I watch at home, because my 3-year-old will come in and go, ”I want to watch Cars. I want to watch Cars. I want to watch Cars.” And I go, ”Daddy has to watch Bret Michaels! Go away! Get outta here! Daddy’s working!”

Someone whose screen name is a little too dirty for me to reprint asks, ”How many TVs are in your office?”
It’s one TV. ”I have to watch Flavor of Love. Sorry! I have dibs.” No. It’s 14 televisions. Since it’s E!, they’re Zeniths from about ’74.

That person also wants to know who’s in the show’s audience.
Employees of E!, and friends of employees of E!, and people I randomly meet on the street who I give my e-mail out to against my better judgment. And I’m not kidding. I give out my e-mail way too much. A lot of the time I’m managing the audience and not paying attention to the show.

Really?
[To Lee] Lee, do I give out my e-mail to people all the time? [Lee answers] Did you hear that?

”Like it’s kinda sad.” Yeah.
It’s how I sign autographs. ”Please, please tell your friends about me and the show. Best wishes, JoelMcHale@eentertainment.com.” [NOTE: Not his actual e-mail address.]

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You do a lot of ad-libbing, but the show is scripted. That makes LULU’s question a good one: ”How did you have a hysterical show every week while the writers’ strike went on?”
JOEL McHALE:
Here are the reasons we could be on the air: E! was an unstruck company, we’re a news show, and we’re buried so deep on cable, we’re not nearly as popular as Bassmasters or Dutch Oven.

It’s funny you mention Dutch Oven, because JESSICA wanted to know how on earth you found that show.
This is why we’re professionals. We can find anything. We are the CSI of finding crappy television.

Clip of Dutch Oven on The Soup

CARISSA is curious about how you choose which clips to feature each week? Are there fights?
Oh yeah, we’re always like, ”Ughhhh. How can you cut that clip from Flavor of Love with the girl who’s got the herpes outbreak?” ”Well, Joel, we get to show part of the trailer for the new Anna Nicole Smith movie AND we have a Keeping Up With the Kardashians clip where Kim is being yelled at by her dead-behind-the-eyes sister. Come on, you jerk!” And that’s great, because when people feel strongly about the crap television they found, it makes the show better. It’s not like anyone’s screaming at each other. We are not doing anything important here. But we’ll get like, ”Well, I want this clip.” ”Well, I want that clip.” ”Well, I want this clip.” In those situations, I try to just make the best call. But sometimes it’s a toss-up, and sometimes we’re wrong. Those are the pitfalls that we have to try to avoid.

I love this question from ARAHSAE: ”Has there been a show that has gone off the air that provided such great Soup fodder that you were actually worried about what you would fill its time with?”
Oh, yeah. Viva Laughlin. Did Viva Laughlin last two episodes, Lee? [Lee: ”It actually got canceled halfway through the second episode.”] That’s right. Sad. There was another one. What was the one hosted by Donny Osmond?

The Great American Dream Vote.
We were sad that got canceled because that little girl was like, ”Girls have been buried with my crowns.” So upsetting. The more trainwrecky a show is, the more we want it to stay on. We are very sad Date My Mom has not come back. It’s a tragedy. A horrible injustice, damn it!

EVA asked, ”What’s your favorite bad TV show of all time?”
Easy. Being Bobby Brown. ”Kiss my ass.” Paula Abdul’s show [Hey Paula] is a close second, but Being Bobby Brown was groundbreaking television.

She also had this thought-provoking question: ”Do you ever have to bite your tongue from talking about bad TV to smarty-pants people who think they’re above it?” Her example is when she’ll be talking to people about politics and important-people stuff and she’ll find herself saying, ”That reminds me of last week’s episode of Bad Girls Club when Jennavecia — uh, I mean, I heard something interesting on This American Life.”
I would never pull a punch, because I know those people all watch it. I have knowledge in my head that I never thought I would ever have there though, about television and about celebrity news. I really liked television a lot and I watched a lot of television before I had this job, and I yelled back at the TV often. Like most normal people. But now, when you work at E!, where it’s a pipeline of news and you’re just constantly updated on everything that’s happening — sometimes I feel like I have this kinda weird, dark evil knowledge at all times. Much like a Navy SEAL knows how to kill someone in a thousand different ways and while, like, opening a can, they’ll accidentally slit the throat of their aunt or something, that’s how I kinda feel. ‘Cause at any moment, I can be like, “You wanna know what outfits The Girls Next Door dress up their dogs in? I can speak on that… for an hour.”

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Speaking of The Girls Next Door, EMILEE asks, ”How do you get away with making fun of other E! shows?” Not that we want you to stop.
JOEL McHALE:
E! is incredibly good to us. They are really generous with what they let us say about the Kardashians, about The Girls Next Door, about Dr. 90210. Seacrest is a really good sport. With [Dina] Lohan and Denise Richards coming on [the network with reality shows], it’s gonna be a bloodbath. I hope.

Many people wanted to know how Seacrest takes the ribbing. [It should be noted that when McHale phoned us, his opening line was, ”This… is Ryan Seacrest.”]
He lets me make fun of him a lot, and I can’t thank him enough for that. I think he’s too distracted by him carrying the pile of money out every day.

On your recent Jimmy Kimmel appearance, you said that you haven’t actually had any bad in-person run-ins with celebs you’ve dissed on the air. That was a popular question. MONA, however, wants to know who you’re afraid to run into.
I fear Tyra. I don’t want to know what she would do with me, but I think her wig doubles as some sort of incredible slingshot.

Watch a clip of McHale ribbing Tyra:

So, no contact with her yet?
No. Well, she tried to have us stop [showing clips], that’s about it. I’m tryin’ to think how I’m gonna word that… Let’s just say she’s not a fan of mine. [Representatives for Tyra Banks did not return calls for comment by press time.]

The only question we got that was somewhat critical of you was the following, from AA: ”Why do you go for the fat joke so often, and why is it only when a woman gains a couple? You’re much funnier than that.”
Clearly, coming from a fat woman. [Laughs] What fatty asked that question? [To Lee] Is that bad? I seem to make fun of almost every feature of almost every human being on the planet, whether they’re the Anorexic Twins or they are rogue elephants. So it’s pretty much open season…. But, I like ”What fatty asked that question?” [Laughs]

Let’s talk about people who definitely love you. How do you feel about your gay following?
I’m more concerned about my bisexual following. They’re a little confused at times as to where they’re going. Who said I have a gay following? That’s great.

Well, there’s NATHAN, who says, ”I hate to threaten your masculinity by saying this, Joel, but I find you very attractive. You’re absolutely adorable, and many of my male friends feel the same way. How does it make you feel to be wanted by so many gay men?”
I think it’s fabulous!!!!!!!!!!!! [Yes, he instructed us to use 12 exclamation points.]

Last question: How much longer will you be on The Soup? People want to know what you’ve got cooking.
Well, I love doing The Soup, and I have no plans to leave it because, you know, there is a lot of television to watch. The Soup is great because I have a very flexible schedule and that allows me to do stuff like [an episode of Pushing Daisies]. And I did two [ill-fated] pilots, one that was for CBS and one that was picked up by NBC but then was canceled by the regime change there. So, my plan is to do both [The Soup and acting] at once. So very Seacrest-y of me. And I’m shootin’ a movie in April. I think it’s called Lucky. It’s with Donal Logue and Heather Graham. It’s about a serial killer who wins the lottery. I play Heather Graham’s boyfriend that dumps her, and then eventually, gets murdered.

You had a great death scene on Pushing Daisies.
Thank you.

Is this the direction you’re heading in?
I hope to die in every production I’m in. That’s my goal.