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A Shot Of Wry

With Community, his new NBC sitcom, funnyman Joel McHale of E!'s The Soup finally makes the grade

Author Willa Paskin Photography Marla Rutherford

Joel McHale fans, it’s your lucky day. This fall, the longtime host of E!’s The Soup, the smart and scathing weekly dissection of reality TV, is taking on a new gig: leading man in NBC’s big-hearted single-camera comedy Community, about Jeff Winger, a fast-talking lawyer forced to return to community college. (“I thought you had a bachelor’s degree from Columbia,” an old client says. “And now I need to get one from America,” Jeff replies.) Needless to say, McHale’s days of being mistaken for Ryan Seacrest are over.

“I figure that at any moment I’m going to be struck by lightning while choking on a chicken bone, and it’ll all stop,” McHale says of the good fortune that now has him starring in two television shows simultaneously (he is also appearing in October’s Steven Soderbergh farce The Informant!). Certainly, the schedule will be punishing: The comedian works on jokes for The Soup while on set for Community and tapes his E! show late on Thursday night. The worst part of that hectic schedule may be the way it’s cut into his TV-watching time. “That’s sad,” he says. “But then again, some people don’t consider missing The Bachelor tragic. They see it as liberating and cause for celebration.”

Community, an ensemble show about a diverse group of back-to-schoolers who meet, bicker and bond in an adult-ed Spanish class, has NBC’s plum Thursday night comedy spot, right after The Office. The show costars Chevy Chase as a politically incorrect student (sample line: “Sexually harassing you? That makes no sense to me. Why would I harass someone who turns me on?”).

“If you had told me ten years ago that I would be doing a television show with Chevy Chase I would have been like, alright, what kind of drug are you on?” McHale says, “because that seems very unlikely.” To cope with the strangeness, McHale likes to pepper his costar with lines from Fletch, to which Chase happily replies in character.

Asked what he would study if he wound up going back to college, McHale, a husband and father of two, ponders for second before suggesting gymnastics. “I should probably have skipped college,” confesses the actor, who holds an MFA in acting from the University of Washington. “I kind of dillydallied around when I was there.” Somehow, we don’t doubt it. But he seems to have made something of himself after all.

Willa Paskin is the features editor for BlackBook magazine.

ALSO THIS MONTH

What else to watch on the go in September

The National Parks: America’s Best Idea
Ken Burns partners with PBS for an epic six-parter exploring National Parks from Death Valley to the Grand Canyon. With tales of tree-huggers and wily opportunists, Burns pulls off a 
coup—he makes 
parks exciting.
Debuts September 27.

Valentino: The Last Emperor
Decadent and incisive, this documentary showcases the orange-tinted fashion god’s lavish lifestyle—
jet-setting around with his posse of pugs—
and the attention to detail that’s made 
him a legend.

On DVD this month. 
valentinomovie.com

Melrose Place
The best primetime soap in the history of drama (sorry, Aeschylus) is back, with some spawn of the old cast mingling with Hollywood vixens and twentysomethings. We’d really like to resist it, but then we said that about 
the original, too.

Premieres September 8.

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