From Local Kid to National Treasure; Joel McHale is Just Warming Up
THE GREATEST OF ALL TIME?
If you are not impressed with the resume Joel McHale has put together, then you are not paying attention. McHale, a Mercer Island native, is
on track to become one of Seattle’s most accomplished actors. Appearing in over 20 motion pictures, and assuming leading-man roles in several successful television series; McHale is proving himself to be a hot commodity in Hollywood.
Originally introduced to Seattle audiences in 1993, through the local comedy sketch show, “Almost Live!”, McHale has eclipsed his former
co-stars with a genre-busting career that has established him as not only a top-tier comedian but a bankable action star as well. And with his steamy shower scenes in the 2021 erotic thriller, “Happily”, McHale has joined an elite group of big-screen heart-throbs such as Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson, who are not defined by any single theatrical medium; but able to deliver a laugh-out-loud hysterical performance in one film, then turn around and play a gritty action hero in the next. We’ve seen McHale do exactly that, delivering comedy gold on Community, then offering a completely flipped character with a dramatic role on Sons of Anarchy and the X-Files.
Joel will reach the half-century mark on November 20th, and he’s only getting better with age. Physically, he looks better than ever, and his
career is performing like it’s on steroids, with over a dozen television and movie appearances last year alone. Life is good and only getting better
for our local celebrity. But how did it all happen and what is next for Seattle’s genre-defying thespian?
Like most of you, I was first introduced to Joel McHale via his appearances on Almost Live!, an award-winning comedy sketch-show which also launched the career of Bill Nye the Science Guy. I remember nearly jumping out of my seat when I saw him on the big screen in 2004’s Spiderman 2; frantically trying to explain who he was to my girlfriend as she tried to watch the movie.
“… physically shaking – in one trembling hand he holds the payphone receiver to his ear, and in the other hand, a faded and worn photo of his friend John Keister…”
Although the Spiderman appearance was a watershed moment for this fan, it wasn’t the first time that McHale had broken out of the sketch-show
boundaries; he had already begun working outside of the Northwest with roles on Diagnosis: Murder, CSI: Miami, and Will & Grace; and had just taken
over hosting responsibilities on the widely popular The Soup.
Like most Generation-X Seattleites, I spent the early-to-mid 90s listening to local grunge music and watching Almost Live!, originally hosted by Ross
Shafer, and then John Keister. Shafer, many will recall, had moderate success with a campaign to replace the Washington State Song (“Washington, My Home” by Helen Davis and Stuart Churchill), with Louie Louie by the Kingsmen. Using this notoriety as a springboard, Schafer landed a temporary gig hosting The Late Show, which was aired nationwide in direct competition with The Johnny Carson Show. Shafer attempted to replicate his Seattle success by launching a campaign to replace our National Anthem with a more contemporary song (for the life of me, I can’t remember what it was, nor can I find any references). What was the song? Surfin’ U.S.A. by the Beach Boys? Born in the U.S.A. by Springsteen? Freebird by Lynyrd Skynyrd? If it wasn’t one of those songs, it was very close; a slice-of-pie Americana-type song. Unfortunately, this time the audience was less
than receptive, maybe even down-right frosty; essentially ending the career of Seattle’s once beloved host.
I share this story as an example of a NW artist who flew too close to the sun and crashed to earth. It’s so much easier to be a big fish in a little pond. However, despite warnings from his Almost Live! contemporaries, that it was dangerous to leave the safe zone, McHale made the decision to move to California in hopes of making it big. Unafraid, McHale strapped on his backpack and headed for Hollywood, armed with a Master’s Degree in Acting, 4-years of Almost Live! television experience, and a solid improv resume from Unexpected Productions and Theatersports.
I often wonder how McHale survived his first year in California. I imagine a young and vulnerable McHale, tears running down his face, physically shaking, as in one trembling hand he holds the payphone receiver to his ear, and in the other hand, a faded and worn photo of his old friend John Keister; edges bent from years of wallet wear. On the phone, Keister’s voice is strong, yet soothing to young McHale. “Hang in there Joel! I believe in you!”
Then again, McHale might have just hit the ground running and never looked back. Actually, when we look at how quickly he began working once he arrived, the whole John Keister call probably never happened. I suppose only McHale and Keister know for sure.
What we do know, is that in 2000 McHale appeared in multiple television shows including the Huntress, the Fugitive, and Diagnosis Murder. It was apparent fairly early that the move was the right decision, as McHale was cast in some very established tv series. These roles helped to hone his acting skills, build his resume, and pay his bills, until he made the jump to the big screen in 2004 with Spiderman 2 and then Lords of Dogtown in 2005.
Two shows helped make Joel McHale a household name – his hosting gig on The Soup from 2004-2015, and his role as Jeff Winger on the NBC sitcom Community from 2009-2015. Leaving both shows in 2015, McHale expanded his repertoire to include cartoon animation voiceover work with a stint on Bojack Horseman. Since then, McHale has lent his voice to other cartoon series, including Rick and Morty, Milo Murphy’s Law, and Star Wars: Detours.
Still, McHale is not bound to any one medium; as in 2020-21 McHale has appeared in suspense/thrillers such as Becky, Happily, and The Twilight Zone, action adventures such as Black Box and Stargirl, comedies such as American Housewife, cartoon animations such as Star Wars: Detours, as well as appearing as a panelist on the Masked Singer, hosting Card Sharks, and making numerous talk show appearances. Amazingly,
in addition to all of the projects mentioned above, McHale also finds time to co-host The Timeline Podcast with former Community and Masked Singer
co-star Ken Jeong.
Is Joel McHale the hardest working man in show business? If so, he seems to be having the time of his life while doing it!