If you’ve puked with laughter after watching Community — and shame on you if you haven’t yet discovered this under-appreciated gem now that you all the time you need to binge-watch TV — you most likely assume you know Joel McHale. He flawlessly plays a perpetually caustic, unapologetically manipulative disbarred lawyer with a roaring libido. “You know me, I don’t have a heart. I don’t have a human heart,” says McHale, whose Instagram feed is nevertheless filled with un-McHale-like doting tributes to his wife Sarah and his own dad, Jack.
Back in May, the cast reunited for a virtual table read to raise funds for COVID-19 relief efforts. And yes, when you’re bantering with McHale, the dude elevates sarcasm and cynicism into a fine art form. Get him talking about being back with his cast mates on screens, and he gets — yes, mushy. “We went our separate ways and just wept,” he says.
He’s hoping everyone reunites IRL for a movie, or a special of some sort. Until then, he’s hosting Card Sharks, which airs on ABC on Oct. 18. It’s the simplest of concepts: You play cards and win prizes. And it’s precisely the kind of instant gratification the world needs right now, the TV version of easy listening music to distract from the endless onslaught of bad news. McHale talks Fatherly why farting is the key to comedy, and why it’s a bonus when his sons Isaac, 12, and Edward, 15, mock the shit out of him.
I know this is probably a simplistic question, but what is it like having something to promote right now and talk about something other than COVID?
Card Sharks — we were supposed to shoot it in February. And then we were literally a day from shooting and then it all shut down. We shot it in July. And we were very careful. I have a tiny little heart. And it barely works. But I’m watching people win an enormous amount of money. It literally makes me cry. I’m so happy for you. And it all it’s such a simple game, just turning cards over and it’s really fun.
You’ve filled in for Kimmel. You know tons of famous people. Do your sons think you’re cool, do they bow down when you walk in the room?
They will watch Community and my 12 year old, he’s like, ‘Dad, we just watched that episode. It was so great. Other than your acting.’ And then he’ll be like, ‘Dad, what’s it like being like a famous actor who used to be relevant?’ And then my and then my 15 year old will laugh at it. And I’ll be like, ‘I hope you’re enjoying yourself. Now, enjoy the Xbox that I bought you.’ So yeah, I’m a relevant cash machine.
I remember when Eddie was born. My dad was like, ‘Hey, you’re in for it now.’ And I realized my dad used to call me and my brothers jerk. The three of us were just jerk, not jerks. Jerk. All we did was be sarcastic and tell jokes at my dad’s expense. My dad’s a very funny guy and he put up with a lot of crap.
What’s been the most rewarding part of fatherhood for you, although it’s probably not the right time to ask this after you’ve been home with them for five months.
Oh, no, I swear to you, when they tell jokes like that, it warms my heart. I’m just like, ‘My boys. Look at them being sarcastic and cutting and insulting me. This is great.’ It’s the little things that you’d never even plan on. I’ll be talking about something and then the 12 year old be will like, ‘It’s okay.’ He’s patronizing me, just like I did my dad. It’s just those little moments, sitting next to them, watching a movie. I’m not a type of dad that is like, ‘And then he won a blue ribbon.’ I don’t care about any of that shit.
So what matters to you with your kids — do you have specific values you want to instill in them?
What is that Chris Rock said, that his entire goal in life is keeping his daughters off the pole. I think Americans get sidetracked by trying to provide happiness for their kids. And that is impossible to control. Literally, you cannot control it. What I’m trying to do is raise people who are not morally bankrupt and selfish. So hopefully I’m doing some of that.
But I don’t have a thing where I’m like, ‘You’ve got to learn how to fly a plane and play a violin at the same time.’ You’ve got to push them a little bit, obviously. But at the same time, I grew up playing a lot of sports. And I watched so many dads screaming at their kids. What kind of fun is that? It’s just terrible.
When did you first realize you could be funny?
I think when you fart. I think that’s was God’s way of testing you to see if you have a sense of humor or not. And if you can laugh at that, then you might be able to understand a joke. There wasn’t like a moment where I’m like, ‘Oh my lord. This is it. I’ve told the perfect joke.’ I think in fifth grade, my friend and I would reenact Monty Python sketches. I don’t know how entertaining we were, but I was like, ‘Oh, I think we can do this. I think I’m gonna do this.’ And so I don’t know if it was funny, but we had a good time doing it. I still don’t know. My insecurity is just as high as my confidence.
Your Community reunion — was it like getting together with your happy drunk relatives at a wedding?
Yes. It was like a family reunion with family members that you like. Every every one of us cried afterwards. Because you forget. And when you’re in the moment doing it — we knew we were making a good show and all that stuff. But you take for granted the amount of time the friendships grow into each other. And we were very lucky, because a lot of us really got along great. We have a group text that we text every day on practically.
I got so lucky and blessed that I got to be on something like that. It was hard for me to watch it because it I missed those people so much.
Do you think there’s any chance they’ll bring it back?
Well, Dan Harmon said he would do the movie. I don’t know when he’s gonna have time. Dan would have to write the scripts. I never thought there would be a chance. But then after that table read, I just would like to do it. I would do it in a New York minute. And everyone else in the cast is up for it. So it’s just a question of timing and availability.