Back in the golden days of Community—loosely and accurately defined as anything but season four—Joel McHale’s disgraced ex-lawyer Jeff Winger had a recurring fear that he would turn into Chevy Chase. Or, more specifically, that his egotistical but charming womanizer Winger would turn into the aging, egotistical but less charming and desperately alone Pierce Hawthorne, played to assholish perfection by Chevy Chase. (At least until Chase’s lifelong Method acting as an egotistical asshole saw him exiled from the one decent role he’d had in decades.) Well, on Thursday’s Late Show, McHale spoke with Stephen Colbert about his recent, pretty much inevitable turn as the 1970s-era Chase in David Wain’s Netflix biopic A Futile And Stupid Gesture. The film, about National Lampoon co-founder Doug Kenney (played by Will Forte), cheekily documents the short life and influential career of the perpetually unheralded Kenney who, in addition to being what McHale called “the Hamilton of American comedy,” was also the younger Chase’s best friend.
In the interview, McHale joked about his return to the endearingly snarky host role he honed during his 12-year run on The Soup with his new, reality TV-mocking Netflix series The Joel McHale Show Starring Joel McHale (debuting February 18). Referring also to his short-lived post-Community CBS series The Great Indoors, McHale regaled Colbert with anecdotes about the two phone calls he made to Chase, both before and after taking the A Futile And Stupid Gesture role. According to McHale, the notoriously grumpy Chase was uncharacteristically enthusiastic about the prospect of seeing his old friend Kenney palling around on screen with old coworker McHale. (He, naturally, couldn’t help but launch into some very Chevy-like bits on the phone, according to McHale, however.) The clip from the film, with McHale’s copiously chin-dimpled, shaggy Chase pestering the busy Kenney with some amusingly self-impressed shtick, showed how apt McHale’s casting was. Sure, he might not be trying to ape Chase’s voice so much as the early Chase’s always-on deadpan cadence, but McHale sure captured his erstwhile costar’s style. Plus, as the very “I’m Chevy Chase and you’re not”-sounding title of McHale’s new show reveals, perhaps the distance between the two actors—like that between their two Community characters—isn’t as great as either McHale or Winger would like. Still, McHale and Jeff have Chevy and Pierce as cautionary examples, so it’s not too late.