WHCA host Joel McHale will let it fly

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Joel McHale says he will let it fly at Saturday’s White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.

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The host of E!’s “The Soup” and star of NBC’s “Community” says everything is fair game when he takes the stage as the headliner of the annual black tie gala. Well, make that almost everything.

“Things that aren’t funny are off limits,” he told The Hill in a phone interview. “My goal is to write funny jokes and to make funny jokes. That’s my goal.”

The 42-year-old comedian is approaching what he calls the “strangest and most exhilarating gig” he’ll ever do with an eye toward a humor-filled touchdown.

Right before he takes the stage at the Washington Hilton Hotel, McHale, who played tight end at the University of Washington, says he’ll likely have the same sort of feeling an athlete has before a big game: “It’s like, all right, you have a task to perform in front of you. Time to go do it. But there’s definitely a sense of fun with it, so I’m excited for that.”

In the meantime, he is practicing kicking some joke-telling field goals. Along with “The Soup” team, a pair of writers is helping McHale craft one-liners at a ferocious pace.

“We end up writing tons and tons of jokes and then you end up shaving it down to what you think is going to have the best pop and get everybody out of there in a timely fashion,” he says.

“We might be writing jokes at the very last minute because you never know what stories are going to break and things like that. So you have to be ready to change things on the fly,” McHale points out.

There’s also the concern that President Obama, who traditionally delivers quip-infused remarks during the dinner, may unknowingly swipe some of McHale’s best wisecracks. “There’s a chance of crossover,” says McHale, “So if we have a similar joke I’m not going to tell that same joke again. That happens with comedians all the time.”

So should Democrats or Republicans expect to get skewered more?

McHale is tight-lipped about what he has in store, offering, “Hopefully it’ll be an equal opportunity for people to be made fun of.”

For a comic, the entire gig is a “completely different situation” than your typical standup shtick. “It is a weird thing when you look out at the tables and everyone looking back at you, you recognize,” notes McHale.

Past emcees of the glitziest night in the nation’s capital include Jimmy Kimmel, Conan O’Brien, Seth Meyers, and Jay Leno. McHale says he’s gotten advice from some past performers, who told him to use a “lot of mouthwash because I’m sitting next to the first lady the whole evening.” And of course, “Don’t ask for seconds on the garlic fettuccine.”

McHale’s role as the featured comedian at the dinner is a far cry from just a few years ago, when he attended the 2008 soiree as a guest the same year that “Late Late Show” host Craig Ferguson performed.

“I was literally in the very last table against the wall so I could barely see Craig,” McHale recalls. “If Craig didn’t have the big monitors next to him, he would’ve been the size of an ant.”

But his pre-dinner mix of excitement and jitters sounds bigger than ant-sized. “I’m nervous in the same way I think I would be before I go base jumping.”

When asked what’s likely to be going on in his head as he takes the stage, McHale deadpans, “Thank God there’s a podium here because I’m not going to check my fly.”

McHale once said in an interview that some of his most frequent targets on “The Soup” — where he zings everyone from members of the Kardashian clan, to supermodel Tyra Banks, to Z-list reality TV stars — have actually thanked him for the exposure. We inquire whether he suspects D.C.-types will do the same after the dinner.

“Yes, I definitely expect an enormous birthday card to say, ‘Thank you for making fun of me,’ ” he cracks. He quickly reconsiders and says, “No, I would say Washington is in a different position. These are people who have all worked hard to be in the position they’re in. It’s a lot different from Tanisha from ‘The Bad Girls Club.’ ”