How Joel McHale Brought His ‘God-Given Talent’ for Playing Assholes to ‘The Bear’ Season 3

It’s a level of hazing that you see in sports and all sorts of different industries that is totally unnecessary, but I think some people believe that is a way to weed out people who can’t handle the job, as opposed to nurturing people and letting them decide whether this is something for them. Personally, I always responded to coaches that were loving and helped to craft you, as opposed to the screamers, which—I guess that works for some people, but not for me.

What do you think motivates chef David? Do you think that he likes or cares about his cooks? Does he like his guests? Does he like food? When you’re playing the character, what is his goal other than to destroy Carmy?

I think if it’s not perfect quickly, I think he thinks his cooks are idiots. If you can’t hack it, then he has no time for you. So it’s like building a wrist watch or a pocket watch, where if you get one fucking thing wrong, the whole thing doesn’t work. David is a genius chef. He’s very talented and very successful. And if you can’t hack it in his kitchen, then it’s like, go do something else. And I would say that he enjoys it, there’s a bit of sadism to him. Because there’s people like that. And they’re making really good stuff, but it might not be so pleasant for everybody else. That’s how I looked at it. Demanding perfection.

You have this confrontation at the end of Season 3 with Jeremy that reminded me a lot of the question posed by Whiplash. What do you think of the conclusion Chef David comes to in that exchange?

The fact that David’s like, “Hey, man, what are you so worried about? Unclutch your pearls. You shouldn’t be so upset about all this stuff. You did it. You got there” is deeply unfair on David’s part. He approves of him because it worked out. But there are probably so many chefs that didn’t achieve the same thing. Obviously, Jeremy’s character is extremely skilled, and has worked his ass off, but he’s just like everybody in every profession—he had to have some luck. So the piles of other sous chefs and line cooks that worked for David who didn’t make it? You forget about those people. So I think it’s unfair, because he didn’t have to be a dick, but he was, and that’s how he is, and that’s what worked for him.

And obviously, I’m more than happy to show that up and exploit it as an actor playing that part, because people keep telling me, “You’re such a dick in it.” And I’m like, “You mean I’m the protagonist? Because I really spurred him on.” For David, it all comes down to what Jeremy’s character pulled off and ended up doing with his life. And David thinks, “I’m in his brain.” He takes credit for the success. I mean, I played it that way. But I think the psychology fucked up. I think the conclusion is a little rough, if we’re just talking about David’s psychology.

So you don’t think the end result justifies the bad process?

That’s a real big human question there.

This is at the heart of what I wanted to talk to you about.

You’re asking a question that priests and people of the cloth and counselors and psychologists and psychiatrists have been asking forever. I think David’s methods are deeply flawed. I think that’s also why the culinary world is so hard. Do the ends justify the means? No, they don’t. I think there’s a false thing, when people have great success, I think a lot of people assume that you shouldn’t complain about anything after that. “What are you talking about? You made it. Why should you be upset?” But I think with that great success, it doesn’t mean that people aren’t hurting and struggling, and it wasn’t horrifically traumatic. And I don’t know that it was necessary. And so, yeah, I think David was probably just cut from a cloth, and he will probably break down and at some point and wind up running down the street without any pants.

Have you had any feedback from the general professional restaurant community of how the show is received in those circles?

Well, I’ve heard from people that I triggered them, but—from the chefs that were in that room for the season 3 finale, and then anecdotally, going to restaurants and stuff—The Bear is beloved. So many people have said to me, they really got it right. And, fuck, that’s so great. I’ve done a bunch of stuff like this that doesn’t have nearly the visibility that this does, and I think it’s because all the performances are so spot on that it’s a little disturbing and crazy and wonderful.

As you alluded to earlier, you find yourself pretty regularly playing assholes and/or dickheads. Where do you think that comes from, and how do you portray a compelling dickhead?

You can read it in my book, Portraying a Compelling Dickhead. I think I probably look like one in general. So there’s that. And for me, there’s a joy in it. I enjoy all performances, but I think it’s like, well, I get this gift of playing an asshole. I think I can be pretty unrelenting. But I think I enjoy horror movies because it simulates emotions and reactions that I haven’t really experienced in real life. So I think there’s a wish fulfillment in getting to play this horrible person with no consequences. I just get to be on camera doing it, and that exploration as an actor is really fun. And so I hopefully gave it a nuance. You need villains in these stories, so I’m happy to play one.

My final question is annoying, and I apologize in advance, but it would be an abdication of my duties not to ask for an update on the Community movie.

Oh, well, it hasn’t been shot yet. It will be. And I don’t have a definitive update because we thought for a moment it was going to all happen this year, and then it didn’t. But we have the money, and that is a huge step. And hopefully, people still want to see it. And Peacock’s paying for it. And so I can’t wait to do it. I’ll say vaguely next year. How about that?

All right. I’m just writing down, “All…Donald….Glover’s….fault.”

No! If it’s anybody’s fault, it’s my schedule on this one. It’s not his at all. He was available. No, no, no, no.

I know, I’m kidding. I did some requisite Googling before this interview, and I just found that story, and I found it very funny.

Ok. I will say, and please print this. That was definitely not true. It was not Donald’s schedule. We love Donald. You can fully blame my schedule.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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