Joel McHale Tells Us About His First-Ever Stand-Up Special, His Superhero Role, And His Action-Hero Itch

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Joel McHale‘s stepping out with his first-ever stand-up special, Live From Pyongyang, an arrival that’s notable on a few levels. First off, that includes the special’s title, since it was unsurprisingly not taped in North Korea but the much safer territory of San Jose, California. Secondly, it’s significant that McHale’s doing this special after a healthy amount of standup over the years and two decades of roles in movies in beloved TV series like Community, The Soup, and Santa Clarita Diet, among others. Comedy Dynamics Network will launch the special (you can watch the trailer here) on August 6 across the iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, and Xbox platforms and through cable providers.

In this special, McHale bops and weaves through an impressive range of subject matter, and although he’s well-known for satiric turns, McHale’s now taking on a different tone in various other projects. You’ll not only see him play Starman in DC Universe’s upcoming Stargirl series but host a game show, and maybe, just maybe, he’ll someday start to poke at an action-hero itch. McHale was gracious enough to discuss this madcap variety of topics with us.

Hi Joel.

[A deep, booming voice.] Kimberly. Can you hear me?

Whoa. You sound very dramatic today.

Uh, I am very dramatic today. That’s how I like to start my day, and by the middle of the day, it’s a wacky, wacky comedy.

I can’t believe this is your first stand-up special.

Neither can I!

After all these years, why is this happening now?

I was tricked. It was a blackmail thing, where I was forced to choose between the special and my family. And I decided to take the special, much to their chagrin. Well, why did I decide to do it now? Hmm. I think I finally felt like I was a decent comic by now. There was some of that, but I’ve been wanting to do it for awhile, and I didn’t want it to be lousy. Much like I’m obsessive-compulsive and ADHD, so with that combination is much like having a Red Bull and vodka, which is a stimulant and at the same time brings you down, so it was a weird mathematical [figuring], like I think I feel ready to do this special, and I actually recorded for about an hour and a half, almost an hour and forty minutes, and we cut it down to fifty minutes, so I just wanted it to be decent. I didn’t want it to be awful. There are some awful specials out there and some of the best ones of all time, so I wanted to hopefully be somewhere in the middle.

Who are your stand-up idols on the upper end of that spectrum?

Eddie Murphy’s Delirious was a revelation for me and pretty much every kid my age. Steve Martin was just the definition of how you do things. And then I wore out all my Bill Cosby records that were given to me by my Aunt Gloria. I know Bill Cosby has an enormous asterisks by his name for very good reason, but his style is something that — I mean, he’s a horrible criminal — but his style, I couldn’t get enough. Richard Pryor: Live On The Sunset Strip is possibly one of the greatest performances ever put down on video or film. And then someone like Bill Hicks, who in the 1980s was one of the guys who made it look just effortless. I don’t know how he did it. So there’s a little sampling of who I like.

Eddie Murphy’s coming back now, have you heard?

Yeah, with Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee. He’s making a comeback, as he should! He’s a fucking national treasure, and he’s just one of the funniest people ever put on the planet, and Coming To America is getting a sequel so, I mean, what are we talking about? This is a good day.

It’s also a really good time for you to make this special.

Yes, I’m stepping away from Broadway, doing my thing.

One of your bits goes to town over other performers who you’ve been confused for. People have called you Daniel Tosh and Matthew Lillard, but is there anyone that you’d secretly like to be mistaken for?

Well, I’d like to be mistaken for Chris Hemsworth.

Damn, wouldn’t that be something?

Then I could be in those cologne ads they only show in China. But the Daniel Tosh thing was because we did something similar, and I think Matthew Lillard and I have the same build. The Matthew Lillard thing, which I don’t get into in the special but have talked about before, is early on, like in 2005, I would walk onto a red carpet, and no one knew who I was, and people would ask, “Who are you?” And I would say Matthew Lillard every time. Then I’d be showing up on his IMDb and Getty Images as him, and it made me endlessly happy.

I wonder how Lillard felt about that. Did you ever follow up with him?

I told him, and he thought it was awesome, so fuck ’em. It could be interpreted as being a dick, but I just found it funny that the first time I was ever on a red carpet, I was like, “WOW, I’m on a red carpet, and people are taking photos of me.” And of course, the “who are you?” was just wonderful. And literally last week, I was in Le Pain Quotidien in New York. It was 7:00am, and it had just opened, and a guy said, “I know you right?” And I said, “Yes, of course.” He said, “What’s your name?” I said, “Ryan Seacrest.” He said, “That’s right. Have a great show today, say hi to Kelly.” And I literally was on Live With Kelly and Ryan that morning and told that story. I think Ryan and I look similar, but I am just two times larger than him. I’m the double XXL version of Ryan. He’s actually in very good physical shape, so I can’t knock him on that.

So the title of this special is Live from Pyongyang. You’re trolling us?

I’d better be trolling because if somehow it works out that if people think I actually went to Pyongyang and recorded a comedy special, bless them for the fantasy life that they occupy. I think I’d be in jail. I don’t think you’re even allowed to use profanity there, but yeah, I just thought, “Why not?” But I don’t at any point bag on North Korea. We did trick the wife of the producer of Comedy Dynamics, Brian Volk-Weiss. She was like, “When did you go to Pyongyang?” And he was like, “We got her.”