Joel McHale on ESPYs, Caitlyn Jenner, and his favorite sports movie
On Wednesday, Community and The Soup star Joel McHale will host the ESPYs, that annual celebration of athletes and the sports world in general. There’s a lot to look forward to — including Abby Wambach presenting Caitlyn Jenner with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award — and McHale took time to discuss it all with us.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This will be the first time the show will be on a broadcast network rather than on cable. Will there be any difference?
JOEL MCHALE: I’m going to wear two layers of Spanx for network television! I’ve got to definitely look slimmer. And I’m going to charge more for autographs. No, I don’t it’ll change for me a whole lot, from a comedy standpoint. Maybe there’ll be a few more Goldbergs jokes. But I don’t think I’ll change what I’m doing. But I do hope we get more folks watching. For me, it makes it more exciting, knowing that there’s that many more people watching.
Will your act include more non-sports humor than usual for the ESPYs?
No, I mean, it is still a sports show for athletes. So I won’t be venturing off into whether Screech is going to jail or something like that. It’ll be mostly sports-related, but sports culture is the entire nation. There are athletes out there who are bigger starts than any movie star. So I’ll keep it sports-related, but I won’t be like, “Can you believe the Brewers’ backup shortstop? Oh my god!” Unless the backup shortstop has done something.
There’s been a lot of hot-button sports stories this year, from Ray Rice to concussions and even FIFA. How do you plan to tackle topics like that?
We definitely want to address the biggest stories of the year, if we can do that in a non-bummer way — meaning, if the story’s just really awful, it’ll be hard. But you know, we’re comedians, that’s our job. But I don’t know if there’s any Deflategate jokes left to make. They’ve all been said! But we will definitely also want to hit to positive stories — the World Cup, the Triple Crown, the Golden State Warriors.
So a lot of people, including Bob Costas, have had things to say about Caitlyn Jenner receiving the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. What’s your game plan for handling or addressing the semi-controversy during the show?
Well, everything’s up for grabs as far as comedy goes. If it’s in the media, there’s jokes to be made. So, there’s that. But as far as the deservingness of the award for Caitlyn, there’s no doubt that her accomplishments in the ’70s were enormous. She probably was the most famous athlete next to Muhammad Ali. And to win the decathlon is nothing short of incredible. So there’s that. And clearly, after gender reassignment, the whole thing becomes a much bigger story. It’s obviously very divisive, but I’m not in charge of giving these awards away. But if somebody did what she did in the ’70s, then I’m like, well, of course. And what she did to become a woman was very courageous. I can’t imagine it was an easy thing.
Do you, personally, have a favorite sport to watch?
I really love watching football and basketball. But I’m also a big tennis fan. I would’ve loved to see more tennis players there.
What do you prefer, UFC or traditional boxing?
I do not like traditional boxing anymore. I think that Pacquiao-Mayweather fight was very boring and showed the problem with the sport. I love UFC, but I also love this thing called BKB — Big Knockout Boxing. It’s boxing without ropes. I’ve gone to that a couple of times in Las Vegas, and it is great. I recommend it.
What’s your favorite sports movie?
I’m going to go with Teen Wolf. That basketball game was pretty tense! No, that is a great question, and a very difficult one to answer, so I’m going to go with Slap Shot. I’m not the biggest hockey fan, but Paul Newman is so damn good in that, and that movie is so damn good, I think it’s probably one of the best.