Monday, May 10, 2010

The Unprofessional Critic Becomes the Analytical Fangirl

He made me laugh.

That's been it all along.

I know what y'all are thinking: oh crap, ANOTHER love letter to Joel McHale.  Another obsessive missive from an almost-thirty-year-old who should know better.  Hell, I'm halfway thinking it myself.  And as a result, in the hours before I finally saw my snarky hero live, I finally asked the question: what is it about the dude I dig so very much?

I know, I know, I've already devoted a blog post to this (two if you count last week's rundown of the awesomeness of Community).  And true, the guy's easy on the eyes, funny as hell, displays a Midwestern-esque work ethic (not surprising, considering his dad's a native Chicagoan), and by all accounts (though of course we can't know everything that goes on behind closed doors) appears to be a devoted husband and dad.  All admirable, sexy even, but not necessarily the source of fandom with a capital F.

Also, I realize how annoying and hipster-ish it is, but I usually make it a point not to follow the crowd, i.e. crush on the very man that gazillions of women are lusting after.  I mean, for years I chose Rainn Wilson over John Krasinski, for chrissake.  (Still a toss-up in my mind.)  So what makes Joel McHale so different and special?

It all boils down to four words:

Dude made me laugh.

In 2004, I was in my second year of law school and Joel was starting on The Soup.  I was hidden away in a rural dorm room and he was on a Friday-night clip show, yet to be appreciated by the masses.  I don't know about Joel's personality, but I do know that I was far from the easiest person to deal with at that time.  In fact, I downright antagonized nearly everyone I met: classmates, family, even friends.  I'm still surprised that ANYONE who knew me in those days chooses to continue speaking to me.

During my three years of law school, I hardly smiled.  I was angry a lot.  It was just the way things were.

I thought it was part of growing up.  Adjusting to a world I only knew as "real."  In reality, I was forcing myself to continue in a hell of my own making, trying to convince myself that it was all for the best and failing miserably.

And then, one night in my dorm room, on my shitty boxy heavy mini-TV, I caught a spiky-haired gentleman in a skinny tie sassing to the camera about The Real World.  I remembered Talk Soup and how much I'd loved John Henson, but at the same time reluctantly appreciated how this dude wasn't trying to be him.  I studied this newcomer, now rolling his eyes at a dumb Fox sitcom and goofing around in front of a bad green screen of Los Angeles.

And I laughed.

During my last two years of law school, I watched only two shows faithfully: Arrested Development (as it bounced from time slot to time slot, damn you Fox) and The Soup.  Joel McHale had no idea who I was, but as I shivered under my cheapo comforter in a cinder-blocked room, law books weighing me down into a life I knew I didn't want but was too afraid to admit, he made me giggle.  Because as much as I hated the person I was becoming, The Soup's aptly narrated reality clips showed I wasn't the biggest dumbass out there.  I could count on a comedian with one camera and a Chihuahua named Lou to prove that to me.

And he never let me down.

After law school, things got better.  I don't mean they got easier: I stumbled quite a bit before I found my footing.  I had bad jobs, low pay, boy trouble, you name it.  But through it all, I had my friends.  I had Bob, my roommate at the time.  I had a family who didn't always understand me but never stopped supporting me. At this point, Joel was better known but not always recognizable.  He wasn't working much outside The Soup.  But to hear his interviews, he had a great family.  He had his wife Sarah, who'd stuck by him since their early twenties.  When you're struggling financially and personally, a strong support system means everything.  I haven't forgotten that.  To hear his stand-up, neither has Joel.

Eventually, I landed a job I liked, and a year later got a promotion.  About the same time, Joel got The Informant!: not only the third lead in a Steven Soderbergh film, but a completely non-comic role.  In the summer of 2008, we both got promoted.  I was really proud of him.  And of me.

These days, I still have that job, which rocks, especially considering the economy.  I also have a blog and several freelance writing gigs.  Joel has a kickass sitcom and a promising film career, and routinely sells out venues doing stand-up comedy.  Yet he still auditions like crazy, as the film industry doesn't really recognize the TV industry.  In the meantime, I polish my latest manuscript, in the hopes an agent somewhere out there will like it.  These days, we've got some good stuff going on, but are still trying to be better.

This is someone I'll most likely never meet--unless Bob gets really famous and they become buddies--yet I feel a kind of kinship with Joel McHale.  We've gotten ahead not on notoriety or stupidity, but hard work and a little bit of luck.  We're both insanely fortunate to have loved ones along for the ride.  And we both are grateful, but don't want to stop now.

These days, people rail against celebrity culture.  In many ways, people are right: I mean, there's a reality show devoted to a girl who robbed actors' houses, which is wrong in ways I can't begin to describe (judging from his genuinely disgusted look when he describes the show, Joel agrees with me).  And when you place someone on a pedestal, as civilians tend to do with celebs, disappointment reigns supreme if and when they display simple human faults or egregious human errors.

However, there's a different side to celeb worship too.  The ones we admire--for whatever reason--can inspire us to work harder, do better, be more than we thought we could be.  By just doing their job, they can comfort us, a gentle and nonjudgmental presence that is at once completely unknown and strangely intimate.

More specifically, the right celeb can take a depressed, angry law student silently screaming, and for half an hour each week, make her laugh and years later when she's happy, make her a little verklempt when she sees him in person while surrounded by the friends who stuck by her, and make her laugh once again.

Joel?  You rock, dude.

Thanks for the giggles,

P.S.  Your Chicago show was the ultimate in pee-your-pants, fall-out-of-your chair hilar, and I will heartily recommend your stand-up tour to anyone who asks, and some people who don't.


  1. I've never really seen the Soup but kind of want to now. Joel sounds really cool!

  2. I have to check this guy out! I have never seen him in anything. (I know that's weird.)

    If I were in law school, I'd be angry, too.

  3. Sadako: you would like The Soup--also, there are clips on YouTube if you don't want to wait till Friday night. It's sort of like watching bad TV with a snarky friend who thinks of all the zingers before you do.

    Bryn: yeah, he kinda rocks. See my description of The Soup above. Community is a really funny TV show, and the whole ensemble's strong. And if you want an interesting true story, rent The Informant! Matt Damon and Scott Bakula are fantastic in it as well.

    Yeah, law school's not a great experience even if it's what you really want to do with your life. I don't regret getting my law degree at all, but those three years were rough.

  4. Wow...there is a lot to your celeb crush. I was trying to come up with reasons for mine, and the best I can do is, "He's cute. I like him."

  5. I think John Krasinski's cute, but I like Rainn Wilson better because I like that his character, Dwight, takes his job seriously. Okay, maybe he takes it a little TOO seriously, but he's cute when he goes overboard. So basically he's cute all the time.

    And you're right about Joel McHale. I hope he keeps hosting The Soup for a long time; it'd be difficult to replace him.

  6. EB: normally, "he's cute and I like him" is about how deep my celeb crushes go, which is why celeb crushes are so fun! It just so happened that Friday night I got all philosophical, like: WHY am I so invested in the career of someone (albeit someone very attractive and talented) that I've never met? Then I remembered where I was in life when I started watching The Soup and BAM, this week's post was born!

    NW: Funny thing about Rainn Wilson--he and McHale are both University of Washington alums, AND both met their wives there. Rainn is a few years older (I think), so I'm not sure if they ever crossed paths. Also, their sons are about the same age. Yes, I'm the Rain Man of celebrity trivia.

  7. I love how introspective you are about your celeb crushes. I'm like, James Marsters is hot as Spike. I love him!

    You have an award at my blog waiting for you!

  8. Aw, go you! I've always tended to want to dig deeper into the nature of following a celeb's life with such admiration ( endless justification of the importance of the Spice Girls, which, coming from an eleven year old must have been really unintentionally hilarious).