LOS ANGELES –— Joel McHale has landed the ultimate gig for a serious sports fan: hosting the ESPY Awards.
The actor won’t be shy about taking aim at the athletes he idolizes when he presides over the annual show honoring the year’s best sports moments.
And that includes Caitlyn Jenner, who will accept the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. Before coming out as a transgender woman earlier this year, she was known as Bruce Jenner, the 1976 Olympic decathlon champion and reality TV regular on “Keeping up With the Kardashians.”
McHale has perfected skewering pop culture and reality TV as host of “The Soup” on E! for 11 years. So hosting the ESPYs isn’t much of a stretch. The show airs live Wednesday on ABC for the first time after 22 years on sister network ESPN.
“Everybody is open to have jokes about them if I’m there,” he said recently. “The only thing you really can’t make fun of is the in memoriam” section of the show.
While still in the early stages of planning and writing the show, which will be held at the Microsoft Theater, McHale said he had free rein from the network.
“All I care about is if the jokes are funny,” he said. “It could be an edgy joke or it could be a family affair.”
Jenner’s children from three marriages are expected to be on hand, including the Kardashian clan. Her selection to receive the Ashe award named for the late tennis player who died in 1993 after contracting AIDS from a blood transfusion generated strong debate online.
“The reactions have been so extreme to Caitlyn being given this award,” McHale said. “You can’t deny in the ’70s that Bruce Jenner was the biggest, most famous athlete in America next to Muhammad Ali. Sheer athletic accomplishment definitely deserves that award.”
McHale grew up in Seattle and later played football at the University of Washington, where he was a tight end or as he called it “cannon fodder.”
“It showed me at a very young age you need to work your (rear) off if you want to be good at something, and you need to have supernatural athletic ability, which I didn’t,” he said. “I was really good at making the defense feel good about themselves.”
The 43-year-old, who stars on the Yahoo series “Community,” loved the NBA as a kid, but after the SuperSonics left Seattle he latched onto the Seahawks, who lost the Super Bowl to the Patriots 28-24 in a wild finish.
“That’s a heartbreaking wound that has not closed yet,” he said.
McHale is broadening his sports spectrum for the ESPYs, where he will touch on the Women’s World Cup, the Super Bowl, the Triple Crown and the much-mined Deflategate involving the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady.
“There are a billion scandals,” he said. “Some of those will be hit and others won’t because they’re way too depressing.”
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