The first thing I ask Joel McHale is whether this will be his first visit to New Zealand.

"No," he says before dropping a bombshell: "I was born there."

Wait, I splutter, what?

"No, I'm kidding," he jokes. "It is my first visit, despite the fact that I love Crowded House. Oh my gosh. Neil Finn, man. That guy's a genius. Going way back to when he was in Split Enz. I assume he still lives there? He must be president of the country?"


I go to answer but McHale beats me to it.

"No... John Oliver keeps making fun of your prime minister... that's how we keep up with you guys."

This exchange is a good indication of what chatting with McHale is like. He's fast, sharp, surprising and very funny.

Our interview is lashed with flashes of the famed sarcasm that he used to such devastatingly humorous effect firstly as host of E!'s long-running, sorely missed pop culture/ reality TV recap show The Soup and then in his portrayal of the cynical, cooler-than-thou lawyer-turned-student Jeff Winger on the often brilliant, cult fave sitcom Community.

The main difference is that on TV he deployed it on others whereas in conversation he directs it mostly at himself. An example: after he brings up his two boys, I ask him what his parenting style is like.

"I yell for about an hour and then I burst into tears," he replies.

A lot of times comedians are not particularly funny in interview situations, but McHale is dropping zings and wisecracks throughout. It's an excellent indication that his upcoming stand-up show will make for a very funny evening.

Which is great news because I really didn't know what to expect when I heard he was coming. On YouTube, I'd only been able to find dodgy, phone-quality clips of very old sets.

"It used to be very Soup-centric. Now it's much more open," he says. "I talk about all sorts of cra... stuff."

"I guess it is observational, all comedy kind of is, but I'm all over the map," he says, before promising that he'll also be setting his comedy sights on us.

"I'll write a bunch of material to make fun of you guys."

John Oliver's proved we're a bit of a sitting target, I say.

"Isn't every country a sitting target?" he laughs. "They're not moving anywhere."

He says his comedy has naturally evolved to become much more personal over the years.

"I talk a lot about my family. My boys are 9 and 12 now so there's years of material which you guys can hear. I used to do a lot of things about them being little kids but they're like adults now. They talk to you like they're adults. It's terrifying."

He then does a quick run-through of some of his other targets.

"I talk a lot about American culture, whether it's good or bad. I talk about myself... my family. I talk about some of the jobs that I've lost... I talk about puppies and cute animals... Oh! I talk about politics. I should have mentioned that. But I wouldn't go into it thinking, 'here comes a political comedian'. But I'll definitely talk about that because that's what the world is talking about right now."

It feels inescapable.

"In America it's crazy. We can't get any other news than about our own President," he says. "I want to start a news network called 'In Other News' because there's a lot of other stuff going on. We're so focused on ourselves here that's all we think about."

I'm not surprised. Team Trump is such a train wreck combination of disaster, vile and incompetence that I often wonder how Americans keep from losing their damn minds with him as president.

"With Game of Thrones coming back everyone feels a lot better," he answers.

He saw this week's episode then?

"You bet I did. I was very excited," he enthuses. "It was a really good episode."

LAS VEGAS, NV - MAY 26: Comedian/actor Joel McHale performs his stand-up comedy routine at the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino on May 26, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty I
LAS VEGAS, NV - MAY 26: Comedian/actor Joel McHale performs his stand-up comedy routine at the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino on May 26, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty I

Along with television another of his favourite distractions is video games.

"When you have children or a job or a career, it's difficult to play video games. So because of that I resent my job. And my children."

In case you're wondering, his game is the first-person shooter Battlefield ("The problem is I enjoy it so much I'll stay up till 2 in the morning playing it and I've got to be up at 6am"). He recommends Silicon Valley, Veep, a BBC sitcom called Uncle and a kids' show about a blue cat called The Amazing World of Gumball.

"That show is seriously funny," he says.

But enough slacking off, let's talk about the work. An inquiry into his creative drive gets the reply, "a nice shiraz really helps", while he responds to a question about how he finds the funny, what his eye focuses on, with, "My eye always focuses on new cars... I like swords and knives". Eventually, he gets serious.

"I love working, so that's my creative process, getting to work. I am so lucky that I get paid to tell jokes or to act. I still cannot believe my good fortune. One of my brothers is an electrician and the other brother is an Episcopal Priest. They do real work. They are working hard. Actors work hard but come on! My brother's trying to avoid getting electrocuted every day."

McHale's whole comic persona is based on a detached cool that's matched with a sardonic outlook and supreme confidence. Talking with him it's apparent that this isn't too far removed from his actual persona.

"My supreme confidence is shaking right now. I'm terrified," he says, adding exaggerated emphasis to the word. He laughs again and says, "anyone who is overconfident is just hiding deep insecurity and is about to burst into tears and go screaming into the woods.

"Hopefully I'm not, probably not successfully, but hopefully I'm not coming off as an arrogant dick. Obviously, I go into things like I'm confident a joke will work. But maybe it won't."

Has he ever bombed?

"I've bombed a thousand times in front of a lot of people," he says. "If you tell a bad joke or it doesn't go well, that's comedy."

He then slips into a very Jeff Winger-esque, end-of-episode, motivational speech.

"But that's where you learn how to deal with stuff. You don't learn anything when you're standing on top of the mountain. You learn everything in the valley.

"I just made that up!" he exclaims, managing to sound both surprised and stoked with himself. "I am supremely confident no one has ever said that before."

If The Soup was still active what, does he reckon, the show would be taking down?

"The Bachelor came back and it was very highly rated so we'd make fun of that, but it's wall to wall Donald Trump coverage here in America at all times. It's cuckoo. The Soup always prided itself on covering the coverage so we would be doing that."

The catch cry for Community fans was "Six seasons and a movie". Against all odds, the show managed to claw its way to fulfill the first half of that prophecy. It feels somewhat remiss to not ask after the status of the second half, even knowing how unlikely it currently appears.

"We've already shot the movie so it all worked out," he says deadpan, convincing, before shouting, "WAIT A MINUTE!!!"

"No. It's one of those things where someone has to pay for that movie. I think Dan [Harmon, the show's creator] would like to do it on a big huge scale which you need more money than just independent film money. I can't imagine a studio wanting to fund a movie like that."

That's a bummer but then he offers the merest sliver of hope which, for this Community fan at least, is enough to hold on to.

"I think we'd all be game for it. I'm pretty sure we would. Donald [Glover] is a bit busy being Lando Calrissian so who knows? But you know, who knows? It's possible. Maybe the Sultan of Brunei's kid will be like, 'I love that show! Here's a hundred million dollars'. That'd be great"

Who: Joel McHale
What: Stand-up comedy
When: Friday, September 22, at Takapuna's Bruce Mason Centre