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Laughs brew big on ‘The Soup’

Tue., Feb. 17, 2009

Shortly before Joel McHale called from the parking lot of a Best Buy somewhere in L.A., his employer, the E! channel, announced that it was giving Kendra Wilkinson her very own reality show.

For those of you with “lives,” you may not know that Wilkinson is a 23-year-old pinup girl who lives in the Playboy Mansion. And in the parlance of “The Soup,” the brutally funny clip show McHale presides over, Wilkinson is a regular on the E! show “What Channel Is Matlock on With Hugh Hefner.”

The spinoff was news to McHale – unlike his supposed nemesis Ryan Seacrest, he goes into the E! offices only twice a week – so he learned from the press release about “the blond bombshell” who was going to “leave behind the luxuries and amenities of the legendary Playboy Mansion and venture out to live on her own for the very first time.”

McHale thought about it for half a second.

“I think it should be called ‘Kendra: Does She Have a Brain Stem, Or Does She Only Have Just a Brain Stem?’ ” he said. “And as for the ’luxuries of the mansion,’ I think it should be considered torture to be forced to have sex with an 82-year-old man.”

McHale’s stand-up career began only a little more than a year ago with the weekend road show he calls the “Thanks for My Pool Tour.” He said he had “not actually broken ground” on the new backyard pool, but seeing as how he has only two days a week to enjoy it, that’s understandable. Those would be Mondays and Tuesdays, when he works from home.

A small army of producers and interns now helps him survey the ever-expanding video wasteland and extract the steaming chunks best suited for his deadpan reactions on “The Soup.” They pull clips not only from talk shows (as the original “Talk Soup” did in the early 1990s) but local TV and reality TV, which is where they discovered Stains, an Australian shepherd featured on the Animal Planet program “It’s Me or the Dog.”

Speaking of actual news, McHale has become a regular of Keith Olbermann’s show-closing segment on “Countdown.” The show e-mails him questions a couple of hours before airtime, and he turns out punch lines that get a bigger reaction from the MSNBC host than any other comic I’ve seen.

The original “Talk Soup” host was Greg Kinnear, who jumped from E! to NBC, which was quite the leap back then, and on to an acting career in Oscar-nominated films.

“I came here to be an actor, and I couldn’t get an agent,” McHale said. “I finally got a commercial agent and did as many commercials as I could before I got ‘The Soup.’ Because of the pedigree of Kinnear, I thought this would be good. If I could do an eighth of what that guy did, I’d be happy.

“Right now I’m doing what I can to make a living. It’s a freaking great job, to watch TV and make fun of it. And I find doing stand-up to be really fun. But the ultimate goal is acting.”

The birthday bunch

Actor Hal Holbrook is 84. Singer Bobby Lewis is 76. Country singer-songwriter Johnny Bush is 74. Actress Mary Ann Mobley is 70. Actress Brenda Fricker is 64. Actress Rene Russo is 55. Actor Lou Diamond Phillips is 47. Comedian Larry the Cable Guy is 46. Actress Denise Richards is 38. Actor Jerry O’Connell is 35. Country singer Bryan White is 35. Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt is 28.

Tags: television

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