McHale’s ‘Soup’ Line
April 21, 2008 5:00 AM
With an impish grin and laid-back aplomb, “The Soup’s” Joel McHale slices and dices through the world of reality TV week after week on E! Entertainment Television.
During a recent on-set visit, Blink talked with Mr. McHale, who said that of all the reality shows on television currently, the one that ruffles his faux-hawk is CBS mainstay “Big Brother.”
“I have a problem with ‘Big Brother,’ but I’ve always had a problem with ‘Big Brother’ since the moment it went on the air,” Mr. McHale said. “It is the epitome of conspiratorial whispering. It’s just people lying on beds or couches quietly plotting against each other. And it drives me up the wall. I’m like, ‘People are watching this.’ They are just watching people sit around, hating each other.”
While Mr. McHale is self-deprecating about the lack of a budget or a following for his 4-year-old show, it does have its fans, including Cameron Diaz, who approached Mr. McHale about the show after last year’s Golden Globes.
“That was like, ‘Oh, people actually watch this show. Or at least someone really successful and beautiful does,” he said.
“Maybe she’ll come on the show now,” he added, leaning in close to the Daily Blink’s digital recorder. “Please come on the show, Cameron Diaz.”
Writers and employees for “The Soup” use the weekend to scan the airwaves for interesting clips to lampoon; then on Monday and Tuesday they present the clips they uncovered.
Mr. McHale said the staff tries to hit the big shows first, like “American Idol,” then moves to cable, like VH1’s “Rock of Love,” and then samples “deep cable,” like public television’s “Cee Dub’s Dutch Oven and Camp Cooking.”
Part of the charm of “The Soup” is the show’s unearthing of shows like “Dutch Oven,” where host Cee Dub tends to prattle on about his favorite cooking device. In this week’s episode, he tells an anecdote about a student confused by the abbreviation of “dutch oven.”
Mr. McHale said certain staff members are specifically assigned to meticulously combing through the back alleys of “deep cable,” such as the Home Shopping Network.
On Thursday before taping, the writing staff, executive producer K.P. Anderson and Mr. McHale run through the script, tightening and cleaning up the pacing and wording of the script.
Once satisfied with the copy, the team breaks. Mr. McHale is whisked to makeup and wardrobe, and we are sent over to the studio to take our seats in the audience of 40-plus.
“The Soup” appears to be E!’s personal comedy club, as almost everyone there scored tickets by being an E! employee (interns) or directly through an E! source.
Three women attending the taping talked up an E! employee who stopped by their work and got access that way.
“The Soup” set, if you can call it that, is a green curtain against the studio's wall. The audience sits in the staging area for several other E! shows, including “The Daily 10” and “E! News.”
During the taping, the script is constantly in flux. Stops in filming had Mr. McHale huddling with his writers to punch up a weak joke or slim down a punchline. A clip about a dancing naked cockatoo gets saddled with a punchline about Chris Crocker and, after a mixed audience reaction, the joke is changed on the fly to Mr. McHale eating a piece of chicken and complaining about the bird’s dancing ability.
Breaks also allow Mr. McHale to mingle. He chatted up the audience, going through each row to find out how people had arrived at the taping. He even shook hands, signed autographs and took pictures with everyone on their way out.
Fans leaving wanted to take a picture with Mr. McHale brandishing a prop gun, which has become a running joke on the show.
Some of the more popular running gags include Oprah Winfrey’s delicate term for the female anatomy: “va-jay-jay” (which earned the show coverage in the New York Times), knocks on E!’s Ryan Seacrest (Mr. McHale said the first day Mr. Seacrest actually looks him in the eye is going to be one of the best he’s ever had) and a piece of dessert called the Hamwinkie, which is a piece of ham jammed into a Twinkie.
“A Hamwinkie tastes way better than you think,” Mr. McHale said. “With the salty ham pushed into the Twinkie, it’s like a wonderful…it’s almost like a Bavarian pastry.”
“The Soup” airs new episodes Fridays at 10 p.m. on E!.
— Andrew Krukowski