You probably recognize Joel McHale, the charismatic and multifaceted television personality that has made appearances on television and movies for many years. With over 50 television shows, including Community, and more than 30 movies, such as Ted under his belt, Joel has entertained audiences worldwide.
What you may not know is that you could share a lot in common with Joel. You might even share a special connection through Mercer Island.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Joel about his early life, growing up on Mercer Island, and his passion for the Northwest. It got off to a fun start.
I asked Joel where he was calling from.
JM: “What? You called me.”
After a long, pregnant pause, he let me off the hook.
JM: “Just Kidding. I’m calling from a little town called Los Angeles.”
Born in Rome, Italy, Joel McHale moved to Mercer Island with his family when he was very young.
JM: “My parents had to decide whether to raise three boys as Italians or move back to the States. This was the 70’s and back then, Rome was the center of the universe. To move back to the northwest corner of the United States in the 70’s, was not cool at all!”
Although he quickly recalled the house’s $85,000 price tag, he struggled to know why they selected Mercer Island as their home. What he vividly remembers is the poor economy.
JM: “I think they knew one family there. That was when Seattle was very depressed. There was even a billboard that said, 'Will the last person to leave Seattle please turn out the lights.'”
Joel still recalls the winter move from Rome to rainy, dark Seattle. One dreary day his dad was driving to work at Weyerhaeuser saying to himself, “The fun part of my life is over."
But Joel was a child, and he could experience the beauty of Mercer Island in the 70’s, with lots to do and many places to explore. He seemed to have plenty of freedom to do so.
JM: “I thought it was the greatest place on the planet and growing up on Mercer Island when there was still lots of waterfront property available. Mm-hmm. And undeveloped! It was just a great place to grow up. Being 13 minutes from downtown Seattle by bus was great. We were so lucky. I went all through school in the Northwest. Grade school at West Mercer and Island Park, St. Monica's from fifth to eighth, Mercer Island High School and then the University of Washington.”
“So, I'm as Frickin’ Northwest, as it can get. And then I moved away.”
Although he moved away 23 years ago, Joel’s taken notice of the changes since then and maintains regular visits. He and his wife still have family in the area.
JM: That's where my entire formative life took place and now, I mean it has transformed into something! Totally! I mean, it! Man, oh man! Not only did Seattle transform, but it also become the center of coolness for quite the moment in the 90’s with all the money from the Amazon’s, the Starbuck’s, the Microsoft’s. That was just gigantic!”
Joel is a true Northwest sports fan. You may have seen him featured in numerous videos at Pro sports games. Unfortunately, not the Sonics.
JM: “I love Seattle sports. I still haven't gone to a Kracken game, but boy, do I! It’s just weird, being a Northwest sports fan to move to a city that has its’ own identity.
After a long sigh, Joel lamented.
JM: “When we lost the Sonics, it was just very heartbreaking. It's still hard for me. I'd like the Lakers, but it's still hard for me to root for them knowing the Sonics don’t exist. But in my heart, they exist, and they will again someday. It’s been a terrible 20-year drought.”
Joel's summer memories include playing basketball and baseball at Island Park, swimming at Luther Burbank and Groveland, swimming lessons at Mary Wayte, and spending hours at the beach club where he fell in love with tennis.
JM: “As we know, summer in the Northwest is one of the most beautiful seasons anywhere! And you pay for it during the winter when the sun goes down at 3:45, right. Suddenly, the sun is out until 10:15 and the temperature is perfect.”
His memories continued to stream.
JM: “We rode bikes everywhere! Around the island often just to see if we could (make it around).”
The Dragon Park came up too.
JM: “We crawled all over the dragon!”
JM: “I’d lean on my friends that owned boats. Got it to go 60 mph to jump off!”
He remembers the excitement of Seafair and enjoying the festivities with friends and family. He is especially fond of the Blue Angels, and you could tell he got amped up just talking about them.
JM: “Seafair was, and to this day is, my favorite weekend of the year! It’s the crowning jewel of everything Northwest!”
JM: “To this day, we go to Mercer Island and watch the Blue Angels. You can see them everywhere, but there’s nothing like the show they put on for Seafair!”
Joel is thrilled to be working on his show, Animal Control, set in Seattle with shooting in Vancouver, WA. The show was originally slated to be set in Chicago, and although he loves the city, it didn’t make sense to him. So, he got together with the Executive Producers, and they decided to reset the show in Seattle. This was a dream come true.
JM: "It was too good it be true to shoot a show two hours away from Seattle. “
How else does Seattle play in the show and what’s it about?
JM: “Thrilled to put in a number of references about Seattle. It's a Workplace comedy about the guys you call when you have a raccoon in your laundry room and need them to take it away."
You can find and stream Animal Control on FOX NOW, Hulu, Spectrum TV, Prime Video, Vudu or Apple TV on your Roku device. The Sitcom has been renewed for its second season on FOX.
JM: "The first season went well and thank God, it got renewed."
Joel was quick to put in a plug for the Writers and is hopeful for a favorable resolution.
Joel couldn't pinpoint his favorite role or scene.
JM: "Hmmmm. Don't have an answer to that."
As our time was up, I let him off the hook. “Joel, that's a great answer!” He laughed.
JM: "Don't be putting me in a corner Mr. Mercer Island reporter dude.”
As we wrapped up our chat, Joel lamented the loss of Roberto's pizza joint as if he was crossing it off his list.
Joel McHale may have moved away from Mercer Island, but his love for the Northwest and its unique beauty remains strong. His fond memories of growing up on Mercer Island and his continued ties to the area serve as a reminder that no matter where life takes you, you can always carry a piece of home with you.
I bet he still has a Sonics jersey!
“Seafair was, and to this day is, my favorite weekend of the year! It’s the crowning jewel of everything Northwest! To this day, we go to Mercer Island and watch the Blue Angels. You can see them everywhere, but there’s nothing like the show they put on for Seafair!”