Humor Hyphenate’s View From the Hill

The Joel McHale Show With Joel McHale premiered on Netflix Feb. 18. As the title states, twice, McHale is host, and he is executive producer. On board with him as exec producer is Paul Feig, whose films include Bridesmaids and the Ghostbusters remake.

McHale, formerly in the cast of The Great Indoors, also played a unique role in the Netflix film A Futile and Stupid Gesture, about comedy writer Doug Kenney and National Lampoon. McHale portrayed Chevy Chase, his former castmate in NBC's Community. Multichannel News spoke with McHale about his new projects. Here’s an edited transcript.

MCN:Why was Netflix attractive to you forThe Joel McHale Show?
Joel McHale: Netflix is king of the hill. The fact that Netflix-and-chill is gonna be part of Webster’s Dictionary very soon — it shows the grand vision that [chief content officer] Ted Sarandos had is working. They are in every country except North Korea and China. They are translated into 27-28 languages. As we pitched it around and they made the offer, we were very excited to work with them because they had the vision five, six, seven years ago and it’s working.

Some people have asked me, are you worried about being at a place with so much content? I said no, I want to be on somewhere where we have a chance to be seen.

MCN:Do the Netflix execs help you shape the show, or just leave you alone?
JM: They’ve been remarkably hands-off. They guide us on, like, the length of the show, and they tell us it’s going to drop Sunday nights at 12:05. We don’t know why, but they know. So far, they don’t go, “We would like you to tell more jokes that involve, I don’t know, dogs.” There’s nothing like that. They’ve been only supportive. They do show up to our clip meetings and see which clips we are going to select.

I know you probably hear this all the time, where people are buttering up their executives. But I would be happy to purchase several hundred pounds of butter and then cover each executive in it.

MCN:What did you hear from viewers about the first episode?
JM: I’ve never had a bigger response in social media. I was very encouraged and very happy. It shows you the penetration that Netflix has. It’s instantaneous. Time will tell if people stay around, but thank god most of the feedback was positive.

MCN:Will you ever have sit-down guests?
JM: No, never. I’ve never done that. And I never will on this show. People call us a talk show, but other than celebrities showing up, chiming in, we’ve never sat down with guests. It should be a different format, like this would be called a clip show.

MCN:Had you worked with Paul Feig before?
JM: No. He’s a very powerful producer and has incredibly good taste for comedy. We didn’t know how much he’d be around but he’s around almost every day. He’s a busy man so we are thrilled he’s there. He dresses like s--t but ….

MCN:What kind of humor does he bring?
JM: He sees the whole picture and he sees the minutiae very well.

MCN:You played Chevy Chase inA Futile and Stupid Gesture. What was that like?
JM: The first day of shooting was a bit weird — I am doing an impression of this guy that I know. I didn’t want it to just be a mimicry of him. I wanted to capture the essence of somebody who was the most confident person on the planet right before they become the biggest comedy star of the ’80s. I was very interested in that moment.

The movie is ultimately about [National Lampoon co-founder] Doug Kenney — it’s his story, and Chevy was good friends with Doug. I found my character really needed to help serve the legacy of Doug Kenney.

Chevy was happy that Doug was finally getting some recognition because he died so young. National Lampoon and Caddyshack and Animal House are still talked about today, and yet this guy was ostensibly forgotten. He’s kind of like the [Alexander] Hamilton of comedy. It’s a story that should be told, and Chevy was very happy that it was getting told.

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.