The family comedy A Merry Friggin Christmas follows Boyd (Joel McHale) who, along with his family, is forced to spend a dreaded Christmas at his parents’ house with his eccentric father (Robin Williams) that he has been avoiding for years. But when he realizes that he left his son’s gifts at home, Boyd and his father must hit the road in a blizzard to retrieve the gifts before sunrise and save Christmas. The film also stars Lauren Graham, Candice Bergen, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Tim Heidecker, Clark Duke and Oliver Platt.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Joel McHale talked about being a part of telling this father-son story, why the holidays seem to bring out the worst in families, and his fondest memories of working with Robin Williams. He also talked about how it feels to be doing Season 6 of Community for Yahoo, returning to work on November 17th with a bigger budget, and that they didn’t get picked up until the last day of their contract, along with why he decided to renew his contract hosting The Soup through 2016. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
JOEL McHALE: I think it’s a father-son story. All of these holidays movies become about something else. Just the script, alone, before anybody started acting, was a really mature approach to a family Christmas comedy movie, in that it wasn’t like Bad Santa and it wasn’t a broad family movie trying to include everybody and make it a Hallmark things. It deals with real family politics while telling a lot of good jokes.
Why do you think it is that the holidays, specifically, seem to bring out the worst in families? People seem to be able to bury it the rest of the year, and then they bring it out at the holidays.
McHALE: Right! I think it’s because it’s an unnatural thing that we do, where you force yourself together with people you haven’t lived with in years, and then you factor in children. It’s a concentrated amount of time, and it is not necessarily that natural, so all of the old family politics and issues are going to come up, but you love your family and you want to do this for them. You really do, even though it can be wildly exhausting. With this movie, the father and son obviously do not get along, and that is the source of so much of his stress and wanting to preserve the real meaning of Christmas. He’s got terrible anxiety because of it all.
Your character has two kids who fall on opposite sides of the, “Is Santa real?” debate. Have you ever had to juggle kids who have opposing views, in that way, and had to keep one from changing the other one’s mind before they were ready?
McHALE: It’s funny you bring that up because I have a 9-year-old and 6-year-old. The 9-year-old likes the idea of believing, but he’s already said, “What’s going on here?” And my 6-year-old fully believes. I haven’t had to deal with that yet, but it’s coming. Kids learn everything, so it’s almost an impossible thing to maintain when one believes and one doesn’t. There will probably be some tears.
When you made this, you had no way to know that it would be one of Robin Williams’ last films. What are your fondest memories that you’ll take from the experience of having worked with him?
McHALE: So much has been said about him and his life. To be with him, day-to-day, working on something like this, was like I had won this weird lottery where I got to be in a movie with Robin Williams. In my wildest dreams, I never thought that. And all of the stories about how cool he was were true. He might have been the sweetest actor I’ve ever worked with. He was so gracious and so kind, on top of the fact that, when you have the kind of power that he had, as the A-list, white-hot sun that he was, he was just so humble. That whole thing of, don’t ever meet your heroes, he was the hero you wanted to meet because he was everything that one should be. I miss him dearly and I was looking forward to promoting the movie with him, very much.
The fact that he’s gone, when I watch the movie back, I have to remember, “Oh, right, he’s not here anymore.” It’s bizarre. It’s just strange and sad. I went to his funeral, which was horrifically sad, but at the same time, really funny because so many funny people got up and talked about him and what he did. The world became a less funny place when he died. I’ve never seen anyone use the word “fuck” so often, and as a term of endearment. He used it, all the time. There would be some story in the news, like a school shooting, and it would be something like, “Fuck, man! Oh, fuck! Fuck me!” We’d be on set, and you’d be like, “Robin, do you want a couple of chocolate bars?” And he’d say, “Fuck no! Fuck, I can’t have that!” He was great. One of my favorite things being on movies is that when you’re working, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened, and then in the downtime, you socialize and go to dinner. With him, I was like, “I won a dinner with Robin Williams. I just happen to have won this dinner 20 days in a row.” It was just great, and I miss him and love him.
Could you ever have imagined a scenario in your life where Robin Williams and Candice Bergen would be playing your parents?
McHALE: No. I liken it to Requiem for a Dream, where it cuts to some idyllic moment – you’re in a movie with Robin Williams and Candice Bergen – and then, you wake up and your arm is off, and you realize that it was your drug fantasy. She was great. She was so nice. That woman lived through the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s with such massive successive, and she’s got some great stories. Talk about someone who’s so down-to-earth. They were just so cool, and I don’t think I’ve ever been that cool. It would be great if I was someday, but I don’t think I am.
After being canceled by NBC, and then picked up by Yahoo, how does it feel to actually be doing Season 6 of Community?
McHALE: Great! We haven’t started, but I’m thrilled to be coming back. I am very happy we’re coming back, and I think our fan base are rabid, wonderful people. Thank god for Yahoo seeing the value of the show. Yahoo wouldn’t have picked it up, if they didn’t think it was gonna be profitable or make a big splash when it happened, for us to be their first show, out of the gate, with their internet portal. If you look at the ratings of the comedies now, we were doing as well or better. I just don’t think the network, with all of the regime changes, ever really got behind the show. They never really loved it. Now, Yahoo does love it. They’re very enthusiastic. At the same time, there are no commercials and there’s really no censorship. Dan [Harmon] has said that he’s not changing the show, but that we can do a little more. I can’t wait to get back to work.
People have been talking about six seasons and a movie for so long now, but what’s it like to be that much closer? Did you think that day would never come, or were you always confident that you would get to this place?
McHALE: No. I don’t know. When you do a pilot, the chances of any show going for this long are one in one thousand, or even more. So, I had trained myself never to get my hopes up for anything like that. I knew the fan base was there, so I felt confident some years. But other years, I felt like this must be it, and I didn’t think we were gonna get any more. And then, it would keep going. So, I just take it one episode at a time. Now, obviously, Yahoo has made it very clear that they love the show and they’re putting real money into it. They’re gonna really launch it. So, I know this season is happening, obviously, and having a movie would be amazing.
When do you get back to work?
McHALE: November 17th. It’s gonna be great! They’ve increased the budget, which means we can go outside. We haven’t done that in three years. [Yahoo] didn’t pick us up until the last day of our contract. It was like we had buried our favorite relative, and then, all of a sudden, we heard a knockin’. We were like, “Oh, my gosh, Uncle Jed is alive!” It was crazy!
Is it bittersweet to lost one of your cast members, with Yvette Nicole Brown leaving the show?
McHALE: Yvette needed to spend more time with her ailing father. You’ve gotta do that. It’s your father. I think it was hard for her to make that decision, and thankfully, she got on a multi-cam show, so her hours are way better. Community has gone through so many changes and cast member changes that it would be weird, if we didn’t change cast members. There’s no doubt the chemistry will change a bit, and that’s happened with shows. It happened when Rebecca Howe came to Cheers, or Woody came to Cheers. It changes the dynamic. What Dan always did, which I thought was so smart, was that with show taboos, like never getting married on a show and never having a baby, we did both of those. In real life, people do that and their life continues. In Season 2, it was Britta and Jeff – will they or won’t they? When Dan hears shit like that, he goes, “Oh, they will. And they’ve been fucking on the desk for a year.” That’s why Dan is one of the best writers around.
McHALE: People always ask me if I’m going to leave The Soup, and I’m always like, “Why would I leave a thing that’s working well?” I have a ball doing it. E! pays me well for it, and it allows me to be picky about what I do next. It’s really a good situation for me. I love performing, so to do that every week is a ball. People ask me, “Are you tired of it?” And I’m like, “No, there is no end to the fun of telling jokes and making fun of reality shows.” These last two weeks, we had Will Arnett and Jack Black. I get to play around with these huge talents, which has been great. It really does give me a peace of mind. I love performing, and it allows me to be very discerning about what I choose next, thank god. It’s great. E! has been very good to me.
When people get known for comedy, it seems to be hard for them to cross-over into drama, but you’ve walked the line of both, playing some diverse characters. Was it a struggle to get people to see you in different ways, or do you feel like you’ve lucked out and not been put into one box?
McHALE: Well, I think it’s a combination. I’m incredibly blessed and lucky. I also pass on tons of stuff, but when something comes up that I really like, I go very hard at trying to get it. I was on Sons of Anarchy, and that’s when this Jerry Bruckheimer movie (Deliver Us From Evil) was starting to manifest itself. It was hard for me to get in that movie because the Jerry Bruckheimer people didn’t really know who I was, and Scott Derrickson, the director, really championed me. To break through those stereotypes or doing something other than what you’re known for, you sometimes need a champion, and Scott Derrickson was my champion. He had always wanted me for that. I got to act opposite Eric Bana for two months, and Édgar Ramírez, Sean Harris and Chris Coy. It was great.
A Merry Friggin Christmas is now in theaters and on VOD.