Dedicated to reminding viewers that Ryan Seacrest is short and Tyra Banks is self-obsessed, Joel McHale has skewered TV’s most deliciously dreadful clips as smart-alecky host of E!’s The Soup since 2004. But McHale’s acting career got cooking in 2009 with The Informant! and NBC’s hit comedy series Community. Now hungry for a juicy gay role (or roll), the 38-year-old funnyman dishes on The Soup’s homoerotic humor and why he’d love to make it even meatier.
The Advocate: We’re usually among the first to point out a celebrity’s gay following, but yours is so large and widely acknowledged that it’s frequently discussed with you in mainstream media.
Joel McHale: And one day I hope to form a gay army and start a gay country of some sort — even gayer than France. I have been asked about my gay following a lot, and my standard response is “It’s fabulous!” But then I wonder how these people know I have a gay following. Are they taking some sort of gay census?
What do you think gay fans want to know about you the most?
Easily, it’s which game I’m playing on Xbox 360 right now. And that answer is Modern Warfare.
When did you first realize that gay men enjoyed you?
We did some bit for The Soup where I was in the shower, and it ended up on a number of gay websites. I thought, Well, I guess we’re reaching everybody. There’s also a guy on our staff named Matt Carney who plays the intern that we shoot all the time. When we had him half-naked and covered in oil, [Towleroad.com] called him a “greasy treat.” His dad just said, “Hey, at least you have fans.”
Your sexuality has been questioned online, but, your wife and kids notwithstanding, at least one blog determined that you must be straight because you don’t wax your chest. Have you considered waxing?
Well, every other part of my body is waxed. I did have to shave my chest when I played a guy who got stabbed to death on Pushing Daisies, because the fake stab wounds wouldn’t stick to me through the hair. I’d be happy to do it again if someone would pay me.
Do you worry you might lose gay fans if you lost your looks?
Yes, so I’m constantly tweezing, but I don’t really work out anymore. I just run after my two little sons and stop eating. And out of the 10 or 11 houses on the cul-de-sac we live on, about seven of them have gay couples in them — I’m not joking. They’re all in fantastic shape and their houses look terrific, so I have to keep up.
The community college study group in Community is very ethnically diverse, but where are the gay characters?
Yeah, what the hell? This is ridiculous! Maybe someone will come out. But wait till you see our pottery teacher in an upcoming episode. One of his quotes is “I want to kiss you on the mouth,” but, sadly, it is not directed at me.
I’m also waiting for a clips special called The Soup Presents: The Best of the Worst Gayest Moments. Could you get away with that?
I’d be amazed if E! would allow us to make that title card, but I’d love to do it. Just the Miss J clips alone! And I like Tim Gunn a lot. I just love his weird accent; he sounds like the villain in a Mike Myers movie. But the other thing is that we can never say that someone’s gay. At first we couldn’t even say it about those Mariah fans on Oprah because [our producers] were like, “We don’t know if they are, and they could sue us.” I’m like, “Uh, I think it’s a pretty safe bet they are.”
I’d bet that the gayest moment on The Soup so far was when Bruno Tonioli from Dancing With the Stars ripped open your shirt.
Agreed, that was a very gay moment, but Danny Bonaduce and I once made out. Yes, the human ashtray kissed me on the mouth, which my mom saw and said, “That wasn’t our favorite.”
What’s so funny about watching straight guys do gay stuff?
That’s a good question. I think it goes back as far as there were performances. Women weren’t allowed onstage when Shakespeare was writing, so it was all dudes playing women, and look how popular Shakespeare is today! But with the huge spectrum of crap that we cover on The Soup, we try to make fun of everything.
You often make fun of effeminate guys like American Idol contestant Danny Noriega and Onch from Paris Hilton’s My New BFF. The punch line is usually some variation on the assumption that they neither play nor follow sports.
Right, like we’ll go, “Hey, what was the score of the Giants game?” But our 1st AD on Community is gay and yet he’s the king of fantasy football and could tell you every single player in the NFL. We also show the ultra-hetero guys overhauling cars or whatever, so the stereotypes swing both ways.
Are there gay staffers at The Soup to consult on whether or not a gay joke is offensive?
Well, Edward Boyd, our executive producer, is gay, so he’s kind of our litmus test for that. He’s also a writer, so we run gay stuff by him all the time. He’ll usually be like, “That’s it? What’s the big deal?” He’d rather us go further.
Doesn’t he own Lou, the show’s resident Chihuahua?
Yes. When people ask if it’s my Chihuahua, I say, “No, I am not gay, but it is owned by our gay executive producer.” He can probably bench-press 400 pounds, so he walks in with that dog in his hand like he’s carrying a potato.
After leaving Talk Soup, The Soup’s predecessor, hosts Greg Kinnear and Hal Sparks famously played gay in As Good as It Gets and Queer as Folk, respectively. Could there be a juicy gay role in your future?
Yes. As a matter of fact, it’ll be in a movie called Juicy Gay Roll, which is about a gay sushi joint.
What was your earliest exposure to gay people?
I wish I could say it was when Uncle Billy showed up in a dress to Thanksgiving, but I don’t have that slam dunk. Some friends and I used to go over to these two sisters’ house, and their mom would always bring us movies like Aliens or something. But one day she brought home Prick Up Your Ears, which is very gay and also a brutal murder story. It was actually a pretty good movie, but after we were like, “Uh, OK, that was a fun two hours.”
Did your Catholic upbringing influence your views on homosexuality?
I think it just affected the way I dress. Those priests always looked so cool in their all-black suits, so I thought they were one step away from a spy or an awesome secret agent. One reason people have always thought I might be gay is because I dress well, and that’s because at The Soup I have the gayest stylist of all time, José Camilo. I trust him implicitly. At the very beginning he said, “Joel, you will be wearing skinny ties and that is all you will wear.” So I’ve been wearing them for the last five years, and I’d say it’s paid off.
If you had a drag party to attend, as which female celebrity would you dress?
Kathy Bates. But only as her character in Dolores Claiborne.