Q&A: Joel McHale on the New Season of ‘Community’

“Community” returned for a sixth season on Yahoo this week, but star Joel McHale insists the show hasn’t become an R-rated free-for-all just because it’s streaming online. “We’re not walking around naked and swearing,” he tells Variety. McHale also talked about the show’s rabid following, which he claims are the best-looking fans in the world. Read the full interview below:

How are things different at Yahoo?
There is a different culture, definitely. But when you’re on a show that is not “The Big Bang Theory” or the darling of the administration, you have a sense of, “Well, like see what the ratings are, and maybe you’ll get picked up.” We were always the last thought over at the Peacock. They were always like, “You’re lucky to be on the air.” That attitude is completely different at Yahoo. Yahoo is like a bunch of freshmen at their first drinking party. They’re cheering us on. They’re so happy about the show. They’re excited about it. We’re having a premiere party. That never happened, ever. There will be actual promotion. That never happened, ever. We would always fight for any promotion. These Internet portal things are going places. If you would have said that shopping service and the DVD mailing service were going to dominate the Emmys, I would be like, I don’t know…

How is the show different creatively?
(Showrunner) Dan (Harmon) is so creative. You can’t stop him. His scripts are f—king great. It’s unapologetic for the places it goes. Creatively, it’s the same show, thank God. He’s not changing the show because it’s on the Internet. We’re not walking around naked and swearing.

One big difference, though, is that they’re longer at Yahoo.
They’re the same size as when they would first come in. When they would first come in at NBC, they would say chop out 12 pages. That’s not there anymore. These will be 25-29 minutes long, which is the length of the traditional sitcom. Dick van Dyke’s were 29 minutes long. 29 minutes! Glorious! You’ve gotta pay for that now. If you want 29 minutes, you’ve gotta go to HBO. Our episodes are free.

You’ve been so loyal to Dan throughout all the drama.
When you’re on something that’s working and working in such a unique way, it’s not something you want to jettison. It’s not something you want to walk away from. It’s so hard to get a show working at all. So many things have to go right. So many accidents have to go your way. I love the show. That’s clear, I hope. Plus, not many shows have cult followings. This one has the most powerful, best-looking, strongest, most virile followers in the world. They love the show.

Why do you think the show resonates with fans?
We tell jokes that seem like we’re telling them just to you. You might not get every joke. But don’t worry, the next one you’re going to get and it will blow your mind. And if you look at some of the scenes, they operate on so many different levels. Name another show that has had a character fall in love with a burnt mannequin’s leg. None. I think this show also has a soul to it. The jokes aren’t there just to be funny things that you can enjoy. The jokes are telling usually what is a deep, dark story. All the stuff about Abed’s parents and Jeff’s wild insecurities. Every character is broken. Those flaws are exposed — not made fun of but made funny. It makes the truth of their brokenness that much clearer. Jeff’s journey has gone from “I don’t care about any of you” to “I care about you a lot.” That character arc, being able to bounce around that journey — I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to find that again. That would mean lightning would strike twice.

Do you have any input into your character?
None. Zero. And I wouldn’t ever pretend to or want to. If I ever said I think my character would do this, I think it would be a huge mistake. Because Dan knows in his brain where these things are going. And I trust him implicitly. He’s got one of those very unique brains where he holds entire worlds in there, like a Tolkien or a J.K. Rowling. I’m just thrilled to be able to be a part of it.

What’s it like when you see a script for the first time?
I’ve been in table reads of other shows where I’m like, holy s–t, they’re in trouble. This is not funny. These are at the other end of the spectrum completely. Every script is a gift. A Christmas morning. To a couple of close friends, I will photograph little lines of dialogue. Can you believe how good this is? There’s an exchange in one episode this season between Elroy (Keith David) and Britta (Gillian Jacobs). I laughed so hard at the table read that I couldn’t contain myself. It was so f–ing funny.

You’ve had some cast changes through the six seasons.
We seem to be losing one a year. It’s become a tradition in a weird way. With the additions of Paget (Brewster) and Keith (David) this year, they’re f–ing rock stars. It has elevated the show. I don’t know why Paget hasn’t been on more comedies. She can do it upside down and in spades. And Keith — he has dramatic chops all the way from here to Toledo. When you put that power and experience into comedy, it’s electrifying to me.

Do you think the show was always meant to be online?
If you look at NBC’s comedies’ ratings now, we were doing pretty damn good. There is some vindication definitely. Not vindictiveness, but vindication. Because I’m very happy with this situation as it is. Very happy. It’s nice to be wanted and supported.
And that’s a different feeling.

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