Joel McHale on ‘Community’ Movie Chances, ‘The Darkest Timeline’ Podcast & Reunion Table Read
The bell’s ringing at Greendale once again as the cast of Community reconvenes for a charitable table read this Monday, May 18.
But this isn’t the only Community buzz going on as stars Joel McHale and Ken Jeong are talking all things coronavirus and the show in their podcast, aptly titled The Darkest Timeline. Featuring a slew of guests including former costars Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Yvette Nicole Brown, Alison Brie, Donald Glover and Jim Rash as well as series creator Dan Harmon, the podcast addresses fan questions, recalls behind-the-scenes memories and tackles the science surrounding COVID-19 — Ken’s a doctor after all.
We caught up with McHale ahead of the table read, which is going live via Sony Pictures Television’s Community YouTube page at 5/4c on Monday and benefits José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen and Frontline Foods. He’s opening up about what inspired him and Jeong to start The Darkest Timeline podcast, the chances for a Community movie, the show’s re-surging popularity and what Jeff Winger would likely be up to in a COVID-19 afflicted world among much more.
The Darkest Timelinepodcast is covering a lot of ground between coronavirus and Community. What inspired you to begin the project?
Joel McHale: For months I was kind of like, “Hey, Ken, we should do a podcast cause you’re a doctor and I’m not. I can yell at you and tell you you’re silly, and you can yell at me and tell me that I’m not a doctor.” We have very long phone conversations as it is, and my wife, whenever I’ll be on the phone with Ken, she would just go, “You talking to your boyfriend?” And I’d be like, “Yes.” She always knew when I was talking to him and then when everything flipped and the COVID-19 hit, I said, “What if we do that now? And you’re a doctor, now we can really talk about this thing.”
So we talk about that for the first half and then we bring on someone from Community or [other guests like] Andrew Yang, and we talk to them about what’s going on. We’ve had most of the Community cast members on just because it’s called The Darkest Timeline and they agreed, so that really helped. But we did not want to do a watch back of episodes because while those podcasts work very well, I wanted to talk a lot about the virus. I’m deeply concerned about it and with the 24-hour news cycle, it’s hard to keep up with [everything]. I want a place where I can just hear it all in an hour or 45 minutes.
Yes, and you guys really are breaking down facts in each episode.
Ken, he worships at the altar of real science and I do too, so that’s why he’s so good at it. [In a sarcastic voice:] He’s a terrible comedian but he’s very good [when it comes to science].
You’ve had quite the lineup of guests in the podcast, from your Community costars and former executive producer, Avengers: Endgame director Joe Russo to former presidential candidate Andrew Yang. Is there anyone else you have on your guest wish list?
I would like to have people like actors Paget Brewster and Keith David and Jonathan Banks and Lauren Stamile, and some of the people who were on Community for a bit. We’ll start having friends on, Ken and I have an ongoing discussion. We definitely want to have Anthony Russo on, I’d like to have Tristam Shapeero who directed like 50 Community episodes. But I’d also like to get Steven Soderbergh on to talk about Contagion and people like Conan [O’Brien] would be great or Jimmy Kimmel. I’d love to have Donald [Glover] on again, it was great to have him on the podcast. I don’t know if you know this but Donald Glover’s career has gone okay.
Yes, you all made a good point of calling that out in your mini-reunion on the podcast which was a total love-fest, which is why I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask — should fans take stock in Abed’s (Danny Pudi) “six seasons and a movie”prophecy?
We talk about it on the [the table read] at length … we hit on it and as you’ll see, everyone came. Believe me, it’s probably going to depend on Donald’s schedule, Danny’s very busy and then Dan Harmon has like 2,000 Rick and Morty episodes that he has to do. I know everyone wants to do it, so I think it’s more possible than it’s ever been. Getting a movie made is like building a ship, where it takes time and it takes a lot of effort and it has to be done well or the ship doesn’t get out of the dock. And so now with the pandemic, I know that Dan is still one of the busiest people, but maybe that could happen. I don’t know if that’s good news or bad news, obviously [the pandemic is] hurting every production but maybe it frees up some time to focus on it?
Community‘s had a resurgence in popularity as well, streaming on platforms like Netflix and Hulu. Is it crazy to think that this series that came out over 10 years ago is finding new fans?
It’s truly strange. I’ve never been a part of anything like this and we’ve always had this cagey attitude of “no one’s really watching our show” or “not a huge audience is watching our show” but the fans that are watching it are religious and will fight to the death. So, when it got put on streaming services, and with the table read and Donald participating … believe me, we’re thrilled that it worked. I mean, I always felt like we were making a good show and when I read reviews that are like “it’s just reference humor” — they all said that in the beginning — then they all came back and changed their reviews. When I hear people say, “The show got better,” I go, “No, no, no, no, no, you just finally caught up with it.” So I’m thrilled and it’s really cool.
Communityis known for its unique episodes which ranged from animation and claymation to stylistic homages and more. Is there one you’re particularly fond of?
One of my favorites as an actor would have to be the paintball episodes and that was a fantasy come true, where I was like “Oh, I get to play Bruce Willis.” It felt like being in an action film, we all did, and I think that’s also kind of when some people were like, “What is this crazy show that’s on before Parks and Rec?” They’re wrecking their school every week in some wonderful fantastical way.
And then I think “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” which was claymation. That’s just the best combination. It showed you Dan’s incredible script-writing skills and the depth that the characters go to and will go to, dealing with very heavy subjects which was Abed’s family rejecting him. It really did the trick ’cause you can laugh while getting stabbed in the heart.
How do you think Community and your character Jeff Winger would be dealing with a COVID-19 afflicted world?
Boy, that’s a Dan Harmon question but I think he would be… [Laughs] I don’t know, probably involved in having Abed help him with dating apps to see how he could date during the pandemic. Whenever anyone asks me [a question like that] I have no idea, because I could never guess with Dan. [The episodes] were always so incredibly unique, so I don’t know. I’ll just say, Jeff was on a singles cruise ship maybe, that’s adrift [Laughs].
Pedro Pascal is joining you and the cast for the table read — how does his inclusion impact the dynamic of the episode “Cooperative Polygraphy”?
Well, I told him to wear the Mandalorian costume, which he refused [Laughs]. You know, Walton Goggins played it so straight, and without telling Pedro — I didn’t direct him, I don’t think anybody did — he did a very serious and thoughtful performance which is why that role’s so funny is because it’s so earnest. He was hilarious and you’ll see a couple times where he says lines that are so funny, and I was thrilled. I’ve met him numerous times and he’s always been the very nicest. So he just knocked it out of the park.
Apart from Community, you were also part of another streaming hit this spring as the host of The Tiger King and I. Where do you stand on the “free Joe Exotic” campaign?
Everybody I interviewed without exception said that he should be in jail, and Twitter exploded because I asked that question. I was like, “It doesn’t seem like a very hard-hitting question, it’s a pretty obvious one.” A lot of people didn’t really get along with Joe, he was a very unique person, but even (animal keeper) Saff who got along well with Joe, [when I asked] “Should he be in jail?” he was like, “Oh yeah.” So, I think that speaks volumes of the people who were with him everyday. And 19 felonies is not a fluke.
You mentioned in one of your podcast episodes that appearing in The X-Files was a personal career highlight, but you’re appearing in another twisty classic with a role in CBS All Access’ The Twilight Zone. What can you tease about your episode, if anything?
Watch out for octopuses is what I’ll say. It was very fun to make and I made it with two of my favorite — I call them young directors. Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson are tremendous people and directors. Go watch their movies, they’re incredible!
On a sillier note, on a scale from zero to infinity, how many times do you think the Dean (Jim Rash) manages to touch Jeff in Community? It has to be one of the funniest gimmicks throughout the series apart from his various costume changes.
[Laughs] That’s all Jim, I think Jim made that up and he just put it in and I think he’d find a way to touch my character every time he enters a room. And I’m just gonna go with infinity, I think they lost count at around somewhere in the hundreds of trillions of times in the show. it’s impossible to keep track of them all.
CommunityTable Read, Monday, May 18, 5/4c, YouTube