Joel McHale said that Chris Christie “was very cool” about being the biggest target of his performance at the White House Correspondents Assn. dinner, and the New Jersey governor even told the comedian afterward that his material was “really funny.”
Yet while the post-WHCA focus has been on the extended bit on Christie, his weight and the bridge scandal and whether it was too harsh, McHale says he was surprised that his jokes about former President Bill Clinton didn’t cause more of a stir.
“I was very surprised by that,” McHale told Variety in an interview on Monday. “I thought that of any jokes, the Bill Clinton jokes would be kind of the roughest, but no one is talking about them.”
A sample: “Hillary Clinton’s daughter Chelsea is pregnant, which means in nine months we will officially have a sequel to ‘Bad Grandpa.'” Then this: “It also raises the question: When the baby is born, do you give Bill Clinton a cigar?”
Instead, the one quip about the Clintons that did get a reaction afterward, McHale said, had to do with the prospect of Hillary Clinton becoming President, yet suffering the same wage discrimination as many other women.
The joke: “No one said anything [about the Bill Clinton jokes] but people loved the Hillary Clinton joke, which made a good point that if she becomes President, we can pay her 30% less. That went over very well.”
His focus on Christie, he said, started with the fact that when he and his two writers first began to outline topics, the bridge scandal was “huge,” the first thing mentioned. He said that they hatched the idea of doing an extended set up to a riff on Christie’s lengthy apology after the scandal broke, this time with McHale promising an “investigation” of one of his quips about the governor’s girth: “Governor, do you want bridge jokes or size jokes? Because I’ve got a bunch of both. I could go half and half. I know you like a combo platter.”
“We had a lot of side jokes, and that was all a set up for the long explanation for me apologizing for the jokes,” McHale said.
For three weeks, McHale and two writer friends hashed out the material, a process that he says was “as much work as about anything I have done.”
McHale said that he expected that some jokes would generate laughs, and others would elicit “ooohs” for their edginess.
“We cut a ton of jokes, and we knew that some were going to be brutal. But my concern was that if it sounds like I am making some grand political points, then that is going to he lame and not funny.”
“The writers were so good that I was working with, and if I believed in the jokes and thought they were funny enough, then yes I would make the joke. Yes, they would be harsh, but hopefully it would be funny before it would be harsh,” he added.
McHale also was in the unenviable position of following President Obama, and had to excise material if Obama told similar quips. As the President was delivering his material, McHale crossed out jokes written on the cards with a red pen. That happened in at least two cases, as McHale excised a joke about CNN and the Malaysian Airliner and another that was a play on the Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black.”
The Washington Post actually did a chart of McHale’s targets, with Christie far and away at the top, followed by the Affordable Care Act and the botched website.
Before the event, McHale said that he knew that some of his jokes “were pretty rough.” But he said that he talked to Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers and Conan O’Brien beforehand, and they warned him that it was a “big cavernous room where the sound gets f—ed up and people still have dishes in front of them so there is a lot of noise. And Seth said, ‘Just plow forward because it is hard to tell what the reaction is.'”
McHale said, “It is kind of a weird thing because a lot of things will draw laughs, but people in the audience don’t want to laugh if they are sitting next to the person being made fun of. I have to give Gov. Christie a huge amount of credit, because I went after him harder than anybody, but he was very cool about it. He could tried to tackle me, but he was cool about it.” In fact the two posed for pictures at the Vanity Fair party.
One person who did hesitate — very briefly — was Jessica Simpson. McHale had quipped, “I am a big fan of President Obama. I think he’s one of the all-time great presidents — definitely in the top 50. … Please explain that to Jessica Simpson.”
Afterward, he ran into Simpson. He said that “for a moment she started tearing up. Then I said ‘really?’ Then she said she really thought it was cool that you mentioned me. I said, ‘Believe me, thank you for being cool about it, and we took pictures together, and she is hotter in person.”
The joke was one of the few that McHale told that was not written down on index cards beforehand, came up with it “more an aside.”
Nancy Pelosi, the target of a quip about her often frozen stare, “could not have been cooler.” “She was really awesome, and her husband didn’t take a swing at me.”
Afterward, McHale said, Obama told him “good job,” and “it was really funny.”
In what is believed to be a first for the WHCA, McHale did use the word “penis,” when he mentioned that Twitter’s Biz Stone was among the attendees. The punchline: “So if any of you congressmen want to cut out the middleman, just show him your penis.”
“It is so funny to me that if you use the world ‘penis,’ people go crazy,” McHale said on Monday. “That is an interesting, odd thing in our country, that as liberal as we are in some ways, then we are like teetotalers in other ways. It wasn’t name calling when I said the word ‘penis,’ there wasn’t any of that. It was like being in the 7th grade and people say, ‘You said the word ‘penis,’ and it is funny to me.”
But no one from the WHCA told him what he could and could not say, he said.
McHale said that he would do the show again if asked. “When I stood up, I was thinking, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.’ But once I got into it, I really began to enjoy it. I began to have a lot of fun. It is that weird thing about being performer where we crave being in front of an audience, and we kind of torture ourselves up until the moment we get out there, and then once we are out there, we don’t want to get off.”