Joel McHale, 41, began his career at the University of Washington, where he received a Master of Fine Arts from the Professional Actors Training Program. His early career included time spent in local theater groups in Seattle, as well as small parts in CSI: Miami and Will & Grace. Best known, today, as the host of The Soup, (a satirical show about television that airs on the E! network) and Jeff Winger on the NBC comedy series, Community, his film roles have included Spider-Man 2, The Informant!, and Spy Kids: All the Time in the World. During a recent interview, he talked to WebMD the Magazine about his best and worst health habits, his son's open heart surgery, how he keeps his marriage alive, and his upcoming movie, Ted.
You star in two hit TV shows – NBC's Community and E!'s satirical The Soup. You've got a new movie, Ted, coming out this summer. How tough is it to balance career and family? Have you learned any strategies over the years?
Here's one strategy: Never sleep. That way you can get everything done. Seriously, though, at all times, I make time for the family, even though I'm not very organized about that. I take them with me on trips when I can. I try to get home to dinner every night, but it's really difficult to get home all the time. But that's how you get out of synch with your kids and find them saying when they finally see you, 'Oh, it's you. I remember you.' I try to keep a rhythm no matter how crazy it gets. I hurl myself at my family whenever I can.
Your first son, Eddie, had open heart surgery as a newborn. How did you and your wife make it through that frightening time?
He was born with two large holes in his heart. It was horrific; we couldn't believe it. But we just started dealing with it. There's nothing else you can do but proceed. One thing that was so hard was seeing this other family whose little boy died, just as Eddie was doing so great. Throughout the ward, there were all these kids who'd just had surgery, who had gone through things that a kid should never have to go through. It was a dark tunnel, but we came out the other end. For other parents, it's a tunnel that never ends.
What advice do you have for parents who find themselves faced with serious health issues with their children?
You have to dump your life into your child. You have to live for them. That's when you really have to be a parent and shower them with love, even if they are tiny and don't understand what's going on.
Did your son's illness encourage you to pay more attention to your own health?
No. I drink just as much as I used to. Kidding. I am not a smoker, but I didn't ever think about my health at all. I didn't think about eating more whole grains or drinking more wheat grass juice.
Is there anything you wish you had known about health when you were younger?
I used to run so much. I wish I had known how rough that could be on your knees. Now I do pushups.
What is your best health habit? Your worst?
I eat a lot of vegetables, and I do a lot of pushups. At random times, I will just drop on the floor and do some pushups. I've usually done a couple hundred by the end of the day. Mostly I do them in the trailer on the Community set or on the floor at home. My worst [health habit] is too much wine and going crazy for sweets.
Have you passed on the funny gene to your sons?
Both are hams in their own way. They definitely can tell jokes. When I make a bad joke, Eddie says, "Daddy, no more jokes for a year."
You have been married for more than 15 years. How do you and your wife keep your relationship fresh?
You have to choose your spouse every day. Tell yourself that this is the person that I love and want to be with. It has to be something that you do consciously, then it becomes subconscious.
How do you blow off steam after your 12-14 hour days? Paint ball? What do you do to relax? Do you sleep as much as you should?
Actually playing paint ball requires time, so no. I blow off steam by hanging out with friends and catching up on TV shows like Game of Thrones, Magic City and Walking Dead. Sleep -- I never get enough and I really should. I get about 5 to 6 hours a night. Sometimes it's my own fault, because there's something I want to watch and it costs me an extra hour of sleep.
You've often said that 90% of what's on TV sucks. Does that make it hard for you to stay positive about your profession? How does it feel to be part of the other 10%?
I'm always very positive because someone is paying me. Seriously, just like all art and architecture, 90% of TV is crap but the other 10% is spectacular. Even with the advent of 1,000 cable channels, the ratio stays the same. But I think the jury's out on whether I'm in the 10%. At least some people wouldn't agree. I think I am, but then I'm pretty arrogant. Plus, it would be weird for me to say "my shows suck."' I'm very fortunate to be with the shows that I'm on.
Do you make a point to eat?
I eat a fairly low-carb diet and I don't eat a lot. If I'm hungry, I'll eat a salad. I like the salads. Grown adults don't need to eat as much as when you were a growing kid. For an animal at full size, eating is just maintenance. I eat fish and chicken. Beef only once every other week or so. But I did just eat a sopressata salami right before I got on the phone, so...
What are a few of your guilty pleasure foods?
Ice cream. Mint chocolate chip, chocolate, and good quality vanilla.
Is it easy to switch off after work? Do you ever bring your TV personality home with you?
It's part of the person that you are, so you can't really switch it off completely, unless you are in the CIA and sworn to secrecy or something. At home, I can become very distracted by work sometimes. I do need to get off the phone and put it down. But if something doesn't go well at work, I'll express it to the wife and the kids will notice.
Would Jeff Winger, the character you play on Community, make a good father?
Probably not. He's pretty dang selfish. He'd make a pretty distant father. He doesn't even want to talk about his own father. Having a child is the last thing on his mind. I could not relate to that. I had a great childhood, and while I was never the type of guy who couldn't wait to get married and have kids, I found out that was what I really wanted. When that kid comes out, that is the moment you know what love is.
Did your sense of humor help you get through the period when your son was ill?
I always make jokes, but sometimes you can turn into a pretty big asshole if you do it at the wrong time and place. Doing The Soup was a welcome break from what was happening, but I did it as little as possible at that time.
As a comedian, are there any subjects that you won't joke about?
Nothing is off limits. Sometimes, in some situations, a part of my brain says to me "don't joke about that," but it's not like I tell myself something like, "'I won't make jokes about Buffalo, the city or the animal." Everything is up for grabs. As long as it is funny, I will tell the joke.
Is your own health a priority? Has that changed since you turned 40?
Me turning 40 has changed nothing. When it happened, I was too busy to think about things like, "now I'm 40, I should do this?" But I've been very lucky. No major medical problems.
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