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A Chat With Joel McHale & Ken Jeong Of NBC's 'Community'

Danielle Turchiano Danielle Turchiano
November 19th, 2009 9:46am EST
Joel McHaleJoel McHale may be one of the funniest men on television today, but he's eager to pass the title to everyone else in his ensemble of Community before taking credit himself for the success of the show.

"I think the scripts for the show are the sort of the strongest scripts on television…if we just get the scripts, and they're amazing, but on top of that, the Russo Brothers love improvisation, so it's like the best of both worlds, and that's why you do get dynamite performances out of Ken. Because he can do the page or he can improvise; he can do it all." A very un-Jeff Winger thing to say, McHale!

Sitting down with McHale and scene stealer Ken Jeong (Senor Chang) for a conference call this past week, the actors were cracking jokes left and right, and often at each other's expense, but they did have a few serious things to say about the show, it's intent, and their upcoming episode, "Environmental Science."

"It's about the characters and not in any way making fun of an actual community college other than just the general education," McHale explained, after admitting that prior to the show airing, some were skeptical. "They said 'those bastards are going to make fun of us!'" McHale noted, putting on a typical "tough guy" voice. So how is it for the two men who play, on paper, characters who are completely unlikable, and at times, unredeemable?

"Well, I think Senor Chang is the only likable character!" Jeong joked. "I'm really shocked…I really thought I'm the good guy and everyone around me is the bad guy but whatever!"

"Your character berates people," McHale got in on the fun.

"Really? But if you saw the context-"

"The context!? …You're inappropriately touching most of the women in your scenes, and then with the guys, you just insult their weaknesses!"

"But first of all, if I can address the female complaint: that was affectionate. And second of all, to address the male complaint: I don't care-because I only care what the women think. So…I hope that clears it up!" Jeong announced, clearly expecting such a question.

In all seriousness, though, McHale believes that if Jeff Winger were a real, live person walking around the streets of Los Angeles (or wherever), he would in fact be pretty likable because he'd just "turn on his charm."

"He came in pretty selfish, but you see in this study group, he's slowly unraveling-or they're slowly unraveling it out of him, which is a hard thing for him. But slowly he's turning."

McHale admitted that his character's growth was "glacially slow," in part due to the kind of character Jeff Winger the lawyer had to be for so many years. It just wouldn't be believable for him to have an overnight epiphany-though his fellow students (or namely Britta (Gillian Jacobs)) are trying to get him to.

Joel McHale and Ken Jeong

Joel McHale and Ken Jeong of NBC's Community © NBC

"Starting over again, how would anyone not have some sort of baggage?" Jeong pontificated. "To me, it's very real, and I would think of these characters not as unlikable but they're all meeting at certain points in their lives-or maybe certain events have happened to them-that causes them to behave in bad ways."

In fact, both men feel that Chang's behavior will be justified and understood once the audience finally gets to see his back-story explained in the upcoming episode. If there is one complaint about the show so far, it is that the comedy comes out of the situations the characters are thrown in, instead of through who the people are. But that is mostly because we still don't yet know a whole lot about the characters. Come this Thursday, that is promised to be rectified, though!

The next episode of Community ("Environmental Science") will have Jeff and Senor Chang finally embarking upon the friendship that has been gradually seeded in past episodes. Neither actor finds such a relationship (blurring the line between student and teacher) all that unlikely or inappropriate (though, what on this show is one hundred percent, completely appropriate!?) either.

"Due to my own back-story, you really get to see layers behind it [the friendship]. Joel's character is really the only guy who really unravels it and gets me, and it's like "Wow." Throughout the episode we develop a nice little report," Jeong teased.

"The only problem was the cigar smoke!" McHale couldn't help speaking up and taking the nice moment down a peg, ala his alter ego. "I stopped at one point because there was no sort of performance happening. I had entered some sort of spirit world!"

Preview: Environmental Science



If you're a fan of Community and have been paying attention thus far this season, though, you have to wonder just what Jeff's real motivation behind becoming so buddy-buddy with his hapless Spanish professor is! Find out what it is (and learn what exactly the problem with the cigar smoke was) by watching this week's episode airing Thursday, November 19 at 8 p.m. on NBC.

Danielle Turchiano
Story by Danielle Turchiano

Starpulse contributing writer