Making The Soup: A Snarky Day in the Life of E!’s Pop Culture Clip Show

The Soup
Naomi Harris
The Soup

Like a gaggle of wannabe brides in poofy dresses tripping through mud on The Bachelor, The Soup offers an unending array of outrageous visuals. E!’s weekly recap of reality clips, talk show fails, and kitty vids is, after more than 10 years and 500 episodes, a sort of national archives of idiocy. The series itself has never been fresher. In fact, The Soup scored its first Emmy nomination last year and recently began airing live, so we spent a Friday inside the snark tank with the show’s writers and longtime host Joel McHale.

Naomi Harris

10:30am: Clip Meeting

With hundreds of TV channels and 300 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, picking just 20-odd snippets for one episode is not easy. The Soup‘s 15 staffers start on Tuesdays and are googly-eyed by week’s end. “People say pop culture’s all junk,” McHale says. “We take the best junk and show it to you.” Today’s final bracket: a stupid drunk guy on Alaska State Troopers versus daffy Kelsey from The Bachelor. “OK, both are winners,” McHale says. “This Kelsey girl has given us two weeks of gold!”

11:30am: Argument Over Lunch

“Being in Los Angeles, we have a ton of dietary needs to consider,” executive producer K.P. Anderson says. “No carbs, gluten, gluten-free, paleo, vegan, raw….” What does McHale like to nosh on? “Drugs that were synthesized in Soviet-era Russia for the soldiers,” he jokes.

4:30pm: TelePrompTer Read-Through

McHale dashes into the writers’ room late after an afternoon shooting Community. Wearing a Sgt. Pepper’s T-shirt, skinny jeans, and new sneakers, he flubs his way through the rough script featuring a joke about a woman with a lot of TV Guide Magazines on Hoarding: Buried Alive.

Naomi Harris

5:15pm: VIP Arrivals

Adam Scott, Gillian Jacobs, Clark Duke, and Rob Corddry are on hand to promote Hot Tub Time Machine 2, so producers shoot a dressing-room segment to post on Twitter. McHale enters and finds the stars sinisterly sharpening knives. Corddry is swinging a samurai sword. “Our guests are usually up for anything,” says writer Lee Farber, citing the time show favorite Lou Diamond Phillips donned a curly blond wig and did something unprintable to a hobby horse.

6:15pm: Rehearsal

Less than an hour to air and the script is in shambles. A joke about chef Duff Goldman from Food Network’s Duff Till Dawn keeps bombing, and Jacobs groans about screaming the word “fatty” after a clip from TLC’s My Big Fat Fabulous Life. (They change it to “lady.”) But thanks to a segment from the never-disappointing Maury in which a woman goes carpet-kickin’ crazy over her boyfriend’s DNA test, the script is finally sewn up. Bonus: Scott and Corddry do savage impressions of the bearded outliers on Discovery’s Alaskan Bush People. “Is there actually a dude named ‘Junk Man Kenny’?” Scott asks, in full Kenny mode.

6:40pm: Final Touch-Ups

McHale gets one last powder and downs a double macchiato, a ritual before each show.

6:50pm: Preshow Jitters

Naomi Harris

“We make fun of other TV shows. That’s what we do,” Anderson says while prepping the audience of around 75–a mix of tourists, college kids, and production pals. Since going live after this year’s Super Bowl, The Soup has new momentum but also more preshow nerves. The sweat circles under Farber’s arms get bigger by the second, and even McHale’s face tightens as he polishes a last-minute Kim Kardashian joke. (“Kim recently revealed her favorite sex position. Not surprisingly, it’s of course: on camera.”) Celebrities occasionally get irked by McHale’s barbs. “Mickey Rourke thought I made fun of his dead dog, but it was a tribute, I swear,” McHale says. “Bruce Jenner hates my guts, but to date, not a single reality star has said, ‘How dare you?'”

7:00pm: Showtime

McHale delivers his opening monologue in front of a green screen. He’s wearing a tailored suit jacket and tie but keeps on his skinny jeans and sneakers. The Hot Tub Time Machine 2 gang gets huge laughs from the crowd, especially when Duke and McHale reenact a viral video of a cat knocking a glass off a table. After the show, fans and crew members shower the host with praise. Says McHale with a smile, “This is the best way to screw around and get paid.”

The Soup, Fridays, 10/9c, E!