What's Joel McHale doing in between seasons of Community, when he's not on The Soup set? Pounding Purity Vodka. Okay, so he's not throwing ragers every night. Rather, he's travelling across the country meeting creative craftsmen of all kinds for the premium vodka company's new digital short series—his first stop being car-enthusiast Jonathan Ward at ICON.
Complex had a drink with McHale, who was joined by Purity Vodka's master distiller/founder Thomas Kuutanen and President/CEO Andrew Glaser, to discuss his new venture, the return of Community, and, just because we can't get his jacked image out of our heads, his days as a University of Washington football player.
So do you actually like drinking?
Oh, my lord! Drinking’s great! I never knew about it until I started drinking Purity Vodka. And, as you can see, it’s quite clear. It’s not that impure vodka that a lot of people make. It’s not cloudy. Purity made me an offer and, often, if I’m offered some sort of brand to hawk, they’ll be like, “Well, this is what the creative is!” And it’s not funny or it’s not provocative to me and I pass, usually. But they were incredibly open and incredibly collaborative, and they let us, the writers—Brad Stevens and Boyd Vico—tell some really good jokes while selling this vodka, and we were thrilled.
What would your ideal night out be?
I like to, at about 5 o’clock, pour a bath of Purity Vodka. Draw a bath. Room temperature vodka—I take a bath in that. I get out, I remove all my body hair. Then I go to my wardrobe, which is a converted garage, and I usually put on some costume from one of my favorite musicals. Then I usually go to the horse track, and I’m a jockey as you probably are well aware from my size and weight. I do a couple of races, and then at about 11 p.m. I break into a dentist’s office. Then I’m usually exhausted by then, and I get arrested because I fall asleep there. That’s the ideal night.
In the Purity Vodka promo video you made, you make a reference to Community ending, but it’s coming back.
Right, technically, it was canceled. So I was correct. We talked about cutting the joke, and then I said, “Well, technically, yes, it was canceled by a network.” The studio was still making it, but we didn’t know at that time. But then we would’ve had to lose the “filling all my holes” joke, and we weren’t gonna lose that joke! So, we kept it. They were very cool about it. I’m just glad I got to give the finger to my family, and say, “I love Purity Vodka because it doesn’t choke in the biggest game of the year!” to my six-year-old.
Does Community coming back on Yahoo! give you guys more freedom to push the jokes?
Yeah, I think being on Yahoo! will be great because it's such a huge company and has the power to really push the show. They really believe in the show and Dan Harmon. Dan unencumbered from network restraints or from commercial breaks is gonna be, I think, pretty unique. Now Dan can do whatever he wants and I am deeply excited about that.
When do you start filming?
What are you going to do during all of this time before then? Go across the country and meet all these craftsmen?
Yeah! I’m very excited. I’m meeting Jonathan Ward, the guy that makes the ICON Jeeps and Broncos, and electric bikes and restores cars. I truly am buying one of his cars, that’s how much I fucking believe in his product. You could throw a rocket-propelled grenade at one of those Jeeps and it’ll just go like, “What was that, a mosquito?” It was great to put the vodka with the Jeep as kind of a fine craftsman. The parallel is like, highly crafted, well-made vodka and other things that are insanely well-made.
What's your specialty?
My specialty? Well, I think it’s pretty clear: I’m an ice dancer. I medaled in the last three Olympic Games, I don’t know if you knew that. Well, I’m very good at talking out loud about stuff, and that’s why I’m doing this. My specialty—I’m gonna go with perfectly cooked bone-in rib-eye.
But you used to play football.
I did used to play football. Not drunk on vodka. Yes, I played football in college. Not well.
You played in the Rose Bowl, didn’t you?
I was at the Rose Bowl, I didn’t play in it. I pointed to a lot of my friends, like “Run! Grab the ball! Throw it!” No, I wasn’t good enough to play. I was behind a couple of guys that were really good. They went to the NFL and proceeded to win Super Bowls, so I made them look very good in practice. I was very encouraging!
Do you still keep in touch?
I do. Once in a while I see this guy named Mark Bruener, who was the captain of the Steelers, and he then was on the Texans. We usually see each other at this charity event every year called the Ben Towne Foundation, which is a pediatric cancer foundation in Seattle, where I’m from.
Was being a professional player a dream at all?
Being a pro player? No and yes, in that I think every boy dreams of being a racecar driver or something like that. I had a hell of a lot of fun playing, but I really wanted to be an actor. If I had been 10 times the athlete, I probably could’ve gotten a shot to get in, but acting was what I really wanted to do, and that’s why I ultimately quit football. I suppose if I had been better it would have been, obviously, a whole different story, but it was really fun while I was playing. But rugby’s a dumb sport. [Laughs.] I do love rugby actually, but I think the craziest sport in the world right now is Australian Rules Football.
What’s Australian Rules Football?
What’s Australian Rules Football?! Well, there’s always this debate between, you know, “American football’s not as rough as rugby because they don’t wear helmets!” And then there’s like, “Yeah, but there’s no open-field tackles in rugby, there’s not the huge collisions that you see in American football, there’s not the same amount of concussions." But if you watch Australian Rules, man, they will fucking do anything to each other. It’s open-field tackles with no pads, no helmets, and go onto YouTube and type in “hardest hits Australian Rules Football” and you will see guys getting their heads ripped off practically. It’s a crazy sport!
Have you tried playing?
A pick-up game?
This is why there’s no pick-up football games with a bunch of 60-year-olds. That’s why golf is so prominent among older people, because there are less collisions. I had a great football coach in high school. He pointed at the tennis courts with all these guys playing tennis and goes, “Look up there guys! Those guys are training for old age! We’re doing something else." And he was absolutely right because it’s an insane sport. I mean, I love it, and my Seahawks won this year. Thrilling.
So how did comedy become your thing?
Comedy? How dare you, didn’t you see Deliver Us From Evil?! It was mostly through fear and defense. Growing up, to defend myself, I would use comedy, and fists at the same time. I was kind of a hybrid kid that way. No, I don't know. It wasn’t a moment where I went, “And now, I understand. I can joke.”
I had a lot of really good friends that were also actors and comics that I always looked up to. One of them being Dominic DeLeo, who was just nominated for an Emmy for The Soup. Screwing around is what I did a lot as a kid, and a lot of that involved trying to make other people laugh, and people trying to make me laugh, and so I feel very blessed that I can somehow sit here in a hotel room selling vodka through a humorous video that we made. Believe me, it’s a very surreal thing.
You mentioned the Emmys. Is that something that you think about, especially for Community?
I know the television category has always been very good to me, so I’ve always enjoyed those people. And Community has been nominated once for the “Darkest Timeline” episode. It would be great to have nominations, but having any show on the air out of its first season, hell, I’m happy. I’ve always been very proud of the show.
If you could describe each of your Community cast members with a word, what words would you use?
Danny Pudi, scrumptious. Gillian Jacobs, also scrumptious. You know, everyone’s scrumptious. There’s too many words; I would need more than one word, maybe two. Nutty scrumptious. You know, like chocolatey nougat? Or I could say each of them are such good actors, it’s like they’ve been distilled 34 times. They are the ultra-premium vodka of comedy that will be broadcast over the Internet.
Tara Aquino is the Pop Culture editor. She tweets here.
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