This Is What It's Like To Have A Drink With Joel McHale

07/14/2014 09:17 am ET | Updated Jul 14, 2014
Joel McHale

Joel McHale -- known best as the star of “Community” and host of “The Soup” on E! -- is sitting next to me at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills with vodka in his hand. It's a Thursday morning.

“It’s 10:30 a.m. We have drinks in front of us. I’m not going to drink it yet. I’m going to wait till after 11. I’m not an alcoholic,” he said calmly.

McHale recently partnered with Purity Vodka and wrote and starred in a surprisingly amusing video promoting the brand. Clarifying that he doesn’t like to feel like a “complete whore, just partial” when he works with a brand, McHale appeared relaxed at 6-foot-4 in his head-to-toe denim outfit, one ankle resting cooly on the opposite knee. Even his hair was casual. Noting his energized but Zen mood, I asked if he meditates. “Yes. It’s called Battlefield 4 on PlayStation 4. That’s my meditation.”

Perhaps his groovy energy that morning was due to something much more specific: Emmy nominations were just announced and “The Soup” was nominated for its perfect spoof of the rambling philosophies in “True Detective.” “Make sure to mention Dominic Deleo, Hathaway Loftus, Daniel Riesser and Jim Rash,” he said smiling. “This is a fucking great thing.”

joel mchale

Born in 1971, in Rome of all places, McHale spent his actual childhood in Seattle, and is a hardcore Seahawks fan. So hardcore, in fact, that he and his wife Sarah went to this year’s Super Bowl (where the Seahawks won) and left their two boys at home. “Like I would buy a 9- and a 6-year-old a ticket to that! They don’t care," he said. "But it was one of the finer sporting events that has ever taken place.”

McHale’s ties to Seattle go deeper even than football. He discovered a preference for acting in middle and high school but didn’t necessarily take it seriously. “Once I decided I was going to be an actor, I did everything else except acting for a number of years. I just did sports. I focused on football. And drinking," he said. "Then I did an internship at a sketch-comedy television show in Seattle and that’s kind of where it began. I kept thinking, ‘Until somebody tells me to get a real job, I’m just going to do this.’”

Did McHale's parents ever tell him to get a real job?

“No, cause they knew I was only good at a few things," he said, smiling, shaking his head. "Basketball, football, tennis. But that’s the sad part. I wasn’t good enough to become a professional athlete. I was good at those sports, but I wasn’t good.”

joel mchale

McHale possesses a dangerous combination of intelligence, wit and charm -- the Hollywood trifecta -- and it has carried him from the studios of E!, where he has hosted “The Soup” for a decade, to the leading role in what is about to be a sixth season of “Community” (formerly on NBC, newly picked up by Yahoo) and delivered him even to the gates of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

In May, McHale nabbed the crème de la crème of stand-up gigs: he hosted the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. He said it was like base-jumping for the first time. "You go, ‘I’m jumping off of a cliff, this does not seem logical.’ But it was very exhilarating," McHale said. "When ‘The Soup’ started, no one watched it and we were just entertaining ourselves. I have kind of kept that mantra with me. Obviously I was feeling a tremendous amount of pressure and was deeply concerned about whether the jokes were quality.”

joel mchale community

According to McHale, First Lady Michelle Obama watches "The Soup," and it's likely President Barack Obama has seen some of McHale's work on "Community." The president referenced the former NBC series in his speech at the Correspondents' Dinner. "We were promptly canceled after that," McHale joked.

The good news, though, and a possible second explanation for McHale’s wry smile at the Four Seasons, sans vodka, is that after NBC dropped the cult comedy series, other networks and online platforms soon scooped up McHale’s baby and started to rock it.

Yahoo announced at the end of June that they will launch 13 new episodes in the fall. “Dan Harmon unencumbered by commercial breaks or network sensors is going to be like nothing you’ve ever seen before," McHale said. "It will be the ‘Avatar’ of half-hour comedies that are on online platforms.”

joel mchale community

With "Community" back on track, taping "The Soup" once a week, hobnobbing with the president and running around shouting at people to buy Purity Vodka -- it would seem that his other job (husband, father) would suffer. “As I’ve always said, you can fuck kids up anywhere. In the best towns and in the worst towns. And you can have great kids in the best town and the worst towns. It comes down to parenting and whether you love your children,” he said.

I notice, at this point, that McHale has been holding some kind of an iPhone cord in his hand the entire time we’ve spoken, while his other hand is resting seductively on his hip, like a 1950s pin-up girl. A pose that he seems to altogether be unaware of. I take a sip and tell him that the vodka is good. “Well of course it is. What do you think, I would support something shitty?” he asked disarmingly. “It’s not in my contract that I can’t drink other things, but there’s a lot of guilt if I do. My drink of choice used to be Peach Schnapps. Lots and lots of liqueur.”

He can make the room laugh with just a look -- a glance of his eye -- and I wonder if this is success. “I think actors have a secret, desperate nerve at all times to go, ‘Am I going to work again? Will I get another job?’ And I have that feeling a lot. That’s probably when I try too hard," he said. "Thank God I have my wife around to roll her eyes at me. I’ve dated women -- not since I was married! -- who would laugh at everything I said. I could say, ‘garden hose,’ and there’d be a laugh. That was like being in a very weird ‘Twilight Zone’ episode. But she’s a very good critic and she is not an easy laugher. So if I get her to laugh, that’s a big win."

joel mchale

As a former athlete and no-bullshit sports fan, McHale is not unaware of his own intensity. “Obviously I’m ambitious and competitive and those things have served me -- to some detriment. But it’s a marathon," McHale said. "As Harrison Ford always said, the only reason he’s successful is because he hung in there longer than everybody else. To which I’m like, ehhh. That’s probably 20 percent true. The other part is that you’re a really good actor, wildly good looking and part of the biggest movie franchise in the history of the world. So that helps. A lot.”

As the ice cubes melt in our mainly untouched glasses on the table, McHale summarizes his success: “And then you realize, people are still paying me to do things and I get to have fun. I’m blessed that I have a career that I love. I love acting. I love hosting. And I skip to work. Take your vodka back to the office with you. I dare you. You can just walk in and be like, ‘this was part of my job this morning. It’s literally my job.’”

Check out Joel McHale's Purity Vodka film:

  • Edie Falco - Lead Actress Comedy Series - "Nurse Jackie"
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    "What an exciting way to start the summer! Beyond my wildest dreams -- the response we've had to our dysfunctional ER and it's inhabitants. So thrilled to be recognized by this industry."
  • Matthew McConaughey - Lead Actor Drama Series - "True Detective"
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    "I am Honored to be nominated with such a talented field of actors. This is a tremendous category filled with some riveting performances. Thank you for this recognition."
  • Michelle Dockery - Lead Actress Drama Series - "Downton Abbey"
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    "I am absolutely thrilled to have been nominated again. I am on set today filming series 5 so, Lady Mary has a big grin on her face!"
  • Kate Mara - Guest Actress Drama Series - "House of Cards"
    Netflix
    "I watched the announcements in my trailer with Michael B. Jordan, waiting to go back to set of 'Fantastic Four.' I then emailed [Kevin] Spacey to congratulate him and he replied telling me I was nominated. I thanked him for throwing me in front of the train and getting me those pity votes. Gonna celebrate tonight with Reg E. Cathey who was also nominated and is ironically here playing my father in this film."
  • Maggie Smith - Supporting Actress Drama Series - "Downton Abbey"
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    "I am so glad you love Violet so much, these nominations keep Violet from kicking the bucket."
  • Jimmy Fallon - Outstanding Variety Series & Guest Actor Comedy Series For "The Tonight Show" & "Saturday Night Live"
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    "So happy to be nominated for an Emmy this morning. And even happier to have an excuse for the champagne I was already drinking at 9am."
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    “I'm so honored to be nominated. And so thrilled for Joe Morton and Kate Burton! I'm crazy grateful that the TV Academy has acknowledged our show in these ways.”
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    "What a beautiful way to wake up this morning. Thank you everyone for the incredibly kind words. I feel so blessed."
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    "I'm very grateful to the Academy for so generously acknowledging me in a year of such powerful performances by women."
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    "I am very proud of the nominations across the board especially our craft nominations. This shows the incredible hard work behind the scenes that goes into making the show. And for myself, it's great news we have equal nominations between above and below stairs, I am so delighted."
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    "I'm still a little numb to be honest. But I just drank a mimosa on a Thursday, so that's nice. [laughs] But so exciting. I'm so thrilled for the show and for my castmates as well. We're going to have a really fun night."
  • Jon Voight - Supporting Actor Drama Series - "Ray Donovan"
    Showtime
    "It's a very prestigious nomination and I'm very grateful for it. Last night, I watched the first episode of the new season and I'm reminded of the good work from everyone -- the writing, the cast. I'm so happy the show will be represented at the Emmys this year. All those people who have been waiting for the new season will see it on Sunday at 9 pm, and I think they will have a great ride this year. I'm proud to be a part of this group."
  • Joanne Froggatt - Supporting Actress Drama Series - "Downton Abbey"
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    “I am totally thrilled! To be nominated in the same category as these brilliant actresses is such an honor. I couldn't be happier. Amazing news! Thank you so much!”
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    HBO
    "I am so happy and thankful for this moment. It's incredibly surreal, and very exciting. I am also happy for everyone involved in this project. I watched them pour their hearts and souls into their work every day, and it's great to see that work recognized. We were all incredibly passionate about telling this story. For all of those affected by this disease, I hope it gives them some peace to know that this chapter of our history has been acknowledged. I've loved this play for 20 years -- it changed my life, and that's why I wanted to be a part of the film. It's a dream come true."
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    Showtime
    “I can safely say that this is one of the few phone calls a person WANTS to get at an ungodly hour. I am shocked and thrilled and SHOCKED and really, really excited. Did I mention I'm shocked? Because I am SHOCKED. Champagne before 6 am is ok, right?”
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    Showtime
    “I’m thrilled and a bit shocked to be nominated. And when I look at the other nominations I'm humbled. But I've always felt that liver failure brought on by acute alcoholism could be really really funny.”
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    HBO
    “I love my job and I love this show. It's the sweetest icing to be recognized for having so much fun. I'm proud as can be of the entire crew and ensemble. I'm all smiles today.”
  • Jim Parsons - Lead Actor Comedy Series & Supporting Actor Miniseries/Movie for "The Big Bang Theory" & "The Normal Heart"
    CBS
    “I am, of course, beyond flattered about the nominations this morning - it is both gratifying and actually touching to feel that your work was considered worthy of mention by your peers. That said, I am especially moved to be a part of two projects that were both singled out in their respective categories -- 'The Big Bang Theory' for Outstanding Comedy Series and 'The Normal Heart' for Outstanding TV Movie. It is hard to believe my good fortune in having been a part of two such projects in the same year. I am especially excited for the new viewers that I hope these nominations will attract for 'The Normal Heart,' which was truly a passion project for so many of us involved.”
  • Kate Mulgrew - Supporting Actress Comedy Series - "Orange is the New Black"
    Netflix
    "One doesn't get a nomination for an Emmy every day. This is my first Emmy nomination. Can you believe it, after 40 years in this business? I think it comes down to the writing. Jenji Kohan is a genius, and what she's managed to do, which is singular and splendid, unique, bold and has captured the imagination of the American viewing public."
  • Laverne Cox - Outstanding Guest Actress Comedy Series - "Orange is the New Black"
    Netflix
    "Today is truly a dream come true for me. Working on such an incredible show with such talented professionals has truly been the reward for me since we started shooting 'OITNB' 2 years ago. But this Emmy Nomination today is very welcomed and delicious icing on an already sumptuous cake. Thanks to the cast and crew of 'Orange' for all the love and support, for your professionalism. Special shout out to Jodi Foster who directed the episode where we leaned Sophia's back story and Sian Heder who wrote it and to all our writers, especially to Jenji Kohan. This recognition of 12 #EmmyNoms for your genius today is beyond well deserved. You are everything Jenji ... "
  • Natasha Lyonne - Outstanding Guest Actress Comedy Series - "Orange is the New Black"
    Netflix
    “I am over the moon right now, and genuinely overwhelmed with the news of my nomination! I can’t express how proud I am of the show, and thrilled to be recognized for my work. What makes it even more gratifying is being selected alongside Uzo and Laverne! What an incredible honor. It’s so rare to be able to work with such a high level of integrity that you can wholeheartedly stand behind. The show is a testament to Jenji’s brilliance, that allows us the rare gift of being able to pour our souls on the pavement each time we punch in. I’m so happy for Jenji, and overjoyed for the entire cast and crew, and our sick & brilliant writers who put in so much time and effort into making it what it is.”
  • Angela Basset - Supporting Actress Miniseries/Movie - "American Horror Story: Coven"
    FX
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    FX
    "My heartfelt thanks go out to our hard working crew who made this amazing season of 'American Horror Story' possible.”
  • Frances Conroy - Outstanding Supporting Actress In Miniseries/Movie - "American Horror Story: Coven"
    FX
    “I think I am just very happy to be amongst such wonderful company.”
  • Martin Freeman - Lead Actor In Miniseries or Movie - "Fargo"
    FX
    "Thank you, people of Emmyland. To be nominated in such company is an honor, especially for two shows that I'm immensely proud of. I'm delighted."

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