Joel McHale Turned to Comedy After ‘Slow Starter’ Label in School – ‘You Don’t Realize How It Affects You’ [Exclusive]

Actor/comedian Joel McHale, from hit series like Community and Stargirl, flexed his comedy muscles at a young age as a way to compensate for having a pretty rough time in school.

McHale is dyslexic, a learning disorder that impacts how he sees letters and numbers. It has nothing to do with intelligence, but teachers labeled McHale as a “slow starter” when he had trouble reading and writing. His teachers seemed stumped as to why he struggled in school, McHale told Showbiz Cheat Sheet.

“They were like, ‘He seems to be really with it,'” he recalled teachers’ reactions. “‘But then I put a pen in his hand and forget it, he’s the slowest. And he’ll just take forever.’ But yeah, I was very lucky that I had good friends that supported me. And, I played a lot of sports and did a lot of acting and totally avoided school.”

Joel McHale used comedy to make up the for ‘slow starter’ label

“I’m super dyslexic, so I made up for everything with comedy. I remember seeing the words, like, through, thorough, and though,” he recalled. “I was just like, what am I supposed to do with this? And then like, counsel, counselor. To this day, I have to be like, which one is it? And so, yes, I told a lot of jokes and I had a couple of friends that I was thick as thieves with. They were better students than I was. And I just thought I’ve got to do this until the real job police come and take me away.”

Joel McHale gestures to the side while presenting at the GO Campaign
Joel McHale |Tiffany Rose/Getty Images for Vintage Hollywood

He made jokes to cover the pain of being labeled. “You don’t realize how it affects you and then you’re like, oh, right,” he said about how the memories of struggling in school will come flooding back. “Because it just comes back to you subconsciously, it’s like, well, you’re slow, so you’re not going to get this. And I just remember thinking, going into acting, I was like, If I can just trick people into letting me do this, then I’ll be OK.”

McHale didn’t realize he was dyslexic until much later in life. “Both of my sons are [dyslexic],” he said. “When they got evaluated, they were describing everything, how they saw things. And I was like, ‘Oh, that’s me.’ And they’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re wondering whether it is you or your wife.’ Because it gets passed down. ‘Thanks, Dad.’ And so I was told that I was slow as a kid, I was a slow starter. And I remember telling my kids’ doctor like I cannot believe they would tell a second grader that he was slow.”

Joel McHale said Mel Brooks, and Monty Python were his comedy heroes growing up

He had a few comedy favorites when he was growing up. “I think between Richard Pryor and Steve Martin. And Monty Python and Mel Brooks, who I got to meet. I got to work with Steve Martin and Mel Brooks. I was on a show with Mel Brooks just briefly.” McHale was on, To Tell the Truth with Brooks. Plus McHale co-starred in the film The Big Year with Martin. Monty Python star John Cleese narrated the film.

Despite being a big star himself, McHale was pretty starstruck when he met his heroes. “Believe me, when I met them. I was like, ‘Ha ha ha … Hi!'” he joked. Adding, “Monty Python really changed things for me because I was like, ‘Oh, you don’t have to just go to work in a suit every day. You can be silly.’ And everything can be nuts. And so that’s how I approached things too.”

Joel McHale shares how fans can win more than $106,000 in gold

McHale passed down his love of Monty Python to his kids, showing how the humor transcends eras and decades. “I can still show my boys some of that stuff and they’re 18 and 14 and they’re like, ‘This is really funny!’ And I’m like ‘Yes!'” he said.

He also passed down his passion for pop culture and his love of pretzels. “I love pretzels and especially love the Rold Gold pretzels. They’ve been around 106 years. Obviously iconic. They are a legacy. And they decided to celebrate the 106 years with a hunt for gold where people can win more than $106,000 worth of actual gold bars.”

Joel McHale stands with arms folded
Joel McHale Gallery coverage for the CBS series THE GREAT INDOORS |Cliff Lipson/CBS ©2016 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

“From now until September 11, there are clues being dropped all over pop culture from like the ’80s sitcoms to the ’90s movies to music to sports. If people see a Rold Gold bag in something, they can hashtag entry and then hashtag found gold. Also on roldgold.com, there is a bunch of clues being dropped. And I am an actual clue from stuff that I have been in,” he teased.

McHale’s clues could be from a movie, TV, or even a song he was in. “Friends, Housewife, scheme, inspector,” he revealed. Clues will also pop on digital platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Amazon, and IMDB throughout the campaign, and all clues are live on RoldGold.com.

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