Joel McHale knows who pays his bills.
Since 2004, the towering, eminently likable comedian has served as the host, executive producer, and writer of E!’s sarcastic skewering of all things television, The Soup, and late last year, re-upped his contract through 2016. Details of the contract were undisclosed, but it’s in the seven figures—a cushy gig that’s allowed the star not only to branch out into roles in films, like his dickish boss in Ted, and of course the lead on the TV sitcom Community (which returns March 17 on Yahoo!), but also spring for a house in the Hollywood Hills and a fleet of flashy sports cars.
And it’s all thanks to Kim Kardashian and Co.
“Once it is fused to your spine and to your brain, it cannot be undone,” McHale says of the Kardashians, whose reality shows are on E! “They are a part of my DNA.”
Over the years, the 43-year-old comic has probably uttered the name “Kardashian” more than anyone not named Giuliana Rancic or Kanye West. And since McHale began hosting The Soup more than a decade ago, Kardashian Inc. has grown from a fledgling operation to a pop culture behemoth, spawning spin-off shows, brand endorsements, numerous high-profile marriages, and whatever is happening to Bruce Jenner. McHale can’t quite explain the Kardashian phenomenon but can’t deny it, either.
“Their celebrity has reached a level that E! never dreamt of, and for The Soup, they are in the news every day—even if they do nothing,” he says. “Yesterday it was ‘Kim Kardashian Is Taking Piano Lessons!’ This is not news! No one really cares about it, but everyone talks about it, and it’s happening! I guess I have to thank them for the cars that I own and the house that I live in and for the education for my children, because they have, in a very weird way, paid for it.”
One of the things that makes The Soup so effective is that the show has no qualms about mercilessly mocking E!, the network that airs it, in a daily—and hilarious—bit called “Let’s Take Some E!” McHale was even given the green light to tee off on Rancic after she made some racially insensitive comments about the musician/actress Zendaya, saying she probably smelled like “weed” and “patchouli oil” because she was rocking dreads.
“If we couldn’t make fun of E!, I don’t think the show could exist because it would be such a glaring hole,” McHale says. “Even with what happened with Giuliana the other week, E!, even though they were incredibly nervous about it, they still let us tell jokes about it. I have great respect for that because it was a touchy situation. Obviously, Giuliana will be fine and the network will be fine, but they let us go for it, and Giuliana let us go for it.”
McHale’s over-the-top show has attracted its fair share of admirers over the years, but its most famous fan is living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Yes, FLOTUS is a huge fan of The Soup—a fun fact that emerged after McHale emceed last year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner in Washington, D.C.
“I know that Michelle [Obama] watches The Soup, and I’m pretty sure her daughters are familiar with Community,” McHale says. “I got to sit next to her and talk to her, and I was absolutely enamored by her. She is the real deal.”
Yes, last year McHale hosted the self-described “Nerd Prom,” roasting the POTUS—along with a roomful of random celebs, media attendees, and congressmen. He even managed to get a shout-out from President Obama, who asked McHale when his oft-beleaguered Community was returning, addressing his character by name.
“I’m probably the only person whose character on television was said out loud and commented on by the president of the United States, and on the next week canceled,” jokes McHale. “But to hear the president talk about Jeff Winger? What the hell is happening in my life?”
He adds, “Here’s the thing: The president always wins that. He’s the winner, and he killed it—especially Barack Obama. It’s almost unfair that he is who he is, and he’s the leader of the free world and such a smart man, and on top of that, he can nail a joke. It’s like getting in a guitar fight with Eddie Van Halen if Eddie Van Halen also happened to be a star NFL player and hosted Meet the Press. Obama is just one of those special people. He didn’t get me back after, but if he wanted to, I’m sure he could.”
Yes, McHale didn’t hold back that night in D.C. He joked about whether you give Chelsea Clinton’s family a cigar when their baby is born; that the celebrities in attendance are “the ones that don’t look like ghouls”; that every year the White House doctor must check Obama’s ass “for polyps and George Clooney’s head”; and that the Kardashians are actually Republicans “because they are always trying to screw black people.”According to McHale, he was given free rein to tee off on whomever and whatever he wanted, which as a comedian made him very proud to be an American.
“I was not censored at all. C-SPAN said, ‘We want to see your jokes,’ and I said, ‘You’re not seeing a single one,’” says McHale. “I was speaking to reporters in Europe after and I said to them, ‘I live in the greatest country in the world,’ and they said, ‘Wait a minute, Mr. American…’ And I said, ‘Because I can tell jokes like that about the leader of the country that I’m a citizen of, and I wasn’t put in jail for it.’ There are so many other countries where if I said 5 percent of what I said to the president, I’d be in jail for the rest of my life cracking rocks.”