It’s an overcast Wednesday afternoon at the L.A. offices of E! Entertainment, and the rumpled staff of the network’s satirical TV-recap show, The Soup, file into a dimly lit meeting room with a giant flat-screen TV. Joel McHale, the show’s host, arrives a few moments later, hair pushed up in a mousse-enhanced wave, slim frame dressed in a black T-shirt, dark jeans, andone can glimpsetomato-red boxers, and ambles to the back of the room. “There’s a journalist here,” he says, plopping into his seat. “So . . . broad statement: Minorities should be quarantined.”
Chuckles ensue and the meeting starts. Staffers present the week’s oddest moments in reality TV, celebrity news, and the occasional scripted series, and McHale decides what will make it into the next episode. A guy named Darren begins. “On Monday Tyra had two hookers. On Tuesday she had two whores,” he says, running a clip of The Hills star Spencer Pratt, with costar Heidi Montag at his side, informing Tyra Banks that he’d like to adopt an African orphan because he’ll be good at basketball. “He wants to name one Dunk,” Montag interjects. McHale raises a Sharpie. “Wait, I want to adopt a stereotype,” he says, jotting down notes. Next comes a snippet of Paula Abdul critiquing an American Idol performance before it happens. “The problem is,” McHale says, rejecting the bit, “it’s everywhere.”
The meeting progresses like thisfootage of Flavor Flav ramming his tongue down a young thing’s throat and of Jessica Alba’s rack spilling forth from a halter top on Sesame Street is presented and considereduntil it achieves a Platonic ideal of absurdity. “Bizarre Foods had its finale last night,” one staffer says, as a clip plays of the show’s host pointing to something that looks like bocconcini. “How cute is that?” the host asks. “Little goat testicles.”
“He’s talking about its cock,” McHale says. “Go cock! It shouldn’t be called Bizarre Foods, it should be Cock and Balls.” A lightbulb goes on. “Hey,” he asks, “how many times do we have him eating balls?” Someone in the back speaks up: “Four weeks ago I had him in Argentina eating cow’s balls.” A montage is born.
McHale has been the host of The Soupthe latest incarnation of Talk Soup, a show created in 1991 and originally fronted by Greg Kinnearsince 2004. In that time, he’s helped reinvent the show around crass reality TV, lower-tier cable ephemera, and most of all, himself. Since he signed on, the show’s viewership has increased tenfold (to more than 6.6 million per week, tops among cable programs in its time slot), and its core audience has grown to include not only college guys but also young adult females, making McHale something of a thinking woman’s heartthrob (and at least one gay man’s: Perez Hilton captioned a picture of McHale simply “Yum.”).