At 45, Joel McHale is smack dab in the middle of Generation X and pretty funny, which makes him perfectly qualified to star in the CBS comedy The Great Indoors, premiering Thursday night at 8:30/7:30c.
He plays globe-trekking outdoorsman and magazine journalist Jack Gordon, who finds himself desk-bound, supervising the now digital only mag’s staff of entitled, coddled millennials, who know less about the outdoors than he does about social media. He also has to deal with the Baby Boomer publisher (Stephen Fry) and having to report to his ex, the publisher’s daughter (Susannah Fielding).
For McHale, known best for his six seasons as Jeff Winger on Community, it’s the beginning of a multimedia comeback, with a new memoir available now and a movie—playing Chevy Chase!—due in 2017.
We asked him about all that and more, and this is what he said. Rather candidly, we might add.
“I wanted to do a sitcom, and I’ve always wanted to do a four‑camera sitcom, and CBS is very good at making them. And I bought a new house, and I need to pay it off.”
What drew you to The Great Indoors?
I wanted to do a sitcom, and I’ve always wanted to do a four‑camera sitcom, and CBS is very good at making them. I like workplace comedies and when I saw the script I thought, “This is a big sandbox, this can go anywhere,” and that’s how I felt about Community when I first read it. The cast they’ve assembled is funny and you see that everybody gets it. Getting to act opposite Stephen Fry was another thing. And I bought a new house, and I need to pay it off.
What do you relate to about Jack’s situation?
I count myself in the generation that’s not sure what’s going on with the younger generation. When I look at the top 10 songs on iTunes, if I can name one artist, I feel great about myself. I can relate to the character very well.
Jack isn’t very tech savvy. Are you?
I buy a lot of technology, and I understand about 30 percent of it. But I love having it. I have a Tesla, but I could not open the garage door with it.
You’re playing your former Community co-star Chevy Chase in A Futile & Stupid Gesture, about National Lampoon. Details?
Yeah, it’s for Netflix, directed by David Wain. Will Forte plays the main character, Doug Kenney, who invented National Lampoon, the guy that wrote Animal House and Caddyshack and then died. It’s a real look at his life and the huge comedy that he created. I’m playing Chevy as the white-hot superstar he was in the seventies, the guy who went from doing Lemmings sketches and radio sketches and playing drums to being the biggest star in America. The movie honors that time in his life very well in the script.
“What does it mean to be a gentleman in 2016? It’s no different from any Preston Sturges movie from the forties. Hold the door open, assholes!”
Was it weird playing somebody you know?
It was for a while, but then I went back to the time when I was a kid and was watching all of his old sketches and it stopped being about playing this guy that I know and playing this guy from the seventies.
Did he give you his blessing?
Yeah. I called Chevy to let him know I would be playing him. He was like, “Oh, sounds great!” We talked about Doug. He was really happy about the fact that they were illuminating Doug’s life because he didn’t get enough credit.
You have a new book out—what’s in it?
It’s part memoir, part self-help book, and it teaches you how to become a celebrity and release your own celebrity book. It’s called Thanks for the Money: How to Use My Life Story to Become the Best Joel McHale You Can Be.
What does it mean to be a gentleman in 2016?
It’s no different from any Preston Sturges movie from the forties. Hold the door open, assholes!
Photo: Cliff Lipson/CBS