Joel McHale, from ‘The Great Indoors’ to the Summit of Rainier

 Courtesy CBS

“Did I call up Jon Krakauer and ask him for advice?” asks Joel McHale, laughing. “No, but I’m also pretty sure Ted Danson never work-shadowed bartenders before filming Cheers.” McHale is talking about his new CBS comedy The Great Indoors, which premiered earlier this year. The series follows adventure journalist Jack Gordon as he is pulled from the field, and unwillingly thrown into an in-office position at fictional magazine Outdoor Limits. Despite lacking Krakauer’s cell number, McHale is an outdoorsman, one who is in fact now training for a trip up Mount Rainier this summer. We caught up with him over the phone to discuss the show, his current training, and the ties between comedy and adventure. 

How is the training going?

I am sitting outside the Gold’s Gym in Hollywood right now. Next I’m going to jump on the Stairmaster and keep it on a setting where I almost fall off. Today is leg day, so I’ll be doing a lot of squats. I kind of just go in there and do my own thing. Occasionally my Ali Grit will send me videos on occasion where she will school me on some moves.

Were you an adventure guy before you got The Great Indoors?

It is not like I’m Bear Grylls or anything like that. But my brother is a pretty serious mountain climber, so with him I climbed my first 14,000-foot mountain. Then we tried to summit Mount Rainier. We had gotten about 9,000 feet up and found out that our guide had walking pneumonia. He had a panic attack right there in front of us and believed that he was getting acute altitude sickness. The man lost his mind. So we were not able to proceed. You really need guides to help you through if you haven’t done it before. I wasn’t looking to die, but turning around was incredibly disappointing. So that is why we are going for it again this year, with a guide who really knows what he is doing.

Do you have a date for the trip?

We are going this summer, with some guides that really know what they are doing. The plan is around the 4th of July weekend, because that is within the window that you can really do it right.

How’d you get on board with The Great Indoors?

This was the first time in a while that I was strangely free and was able to really look for what job I wanted next. People were actually offering me scripts, which is only something I had dreamt about in the past. If I had to boil the whole show down, it is a generational workplace comedy. The fact is when I read scripts, most of them feel like they would be better movies. Most of them are not something that you are going to want to sink your teeth into for seven years. But when I read this, I knew it was a world I could live in for a while.

What’s it like working with Stephen Fry (who plays the boss on The Great Indoors)?

I keep telling him there is no reason for him to be doing this show. He is superfamous and likely to become a knight at some point. It is not for the money. He literally said he thought it would be fun. The great thing about Stephen is he remains curious about everything. He knows seven languages. He has written seven books. He is a chef. There is nothing that he can’t do.

If you had the opportunity to meet one of your idols, whom would you choose?

That is really hard for me because I kind of already have. I got to be in a scene with Steve Martin, so that was a ridiculously amazing time in my life. Close second to that, I met Samuel L. Jackson in a Goorin hat shop, who I consider one of the greatest living actors of all time. How ridiculous is that?

Do you feel like you have become more like your character Jack since doing the show?

I have absolutely become that guy. I tool around town in my Toyota FJ Land Cruiser. I wear a lot of insulated jackets. I wear hiking boots everywhere, especially places that I have no business wearing them. I have this pretty incredible beard right now. I mean, is there any other way to live?