Not a lot of shows make it to ten seasons. Even fewer deliver a tenth season that is arguably one of its best. But It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has done just that. A decade after we first me the gang, they’re still as repulsive, lovable, clever, and idiotic as ever. With each episode, co-writers and co-producers Charlie Day, Glenn Howerton, and Rob McElhenney continue to deliver hilarious scripts and excellent performances, Kaitlin Olson continues to claim the title of “most fearless comedic actress on TV” – and best of all they’re already confirmed for an eleventh and twelfth season.
During the FXX portion of the TCA 2015 winter press tour I had the opportunity to sit down with Charlie Day and Glenn Howerton for an exclusive interview. We talked about the show’s impressive longevity, their writing process, how it’s changed over the last decade, their favorite characters to write for, how True Detective inspired tonight’s instant classic episode, “Charlie Work”, and more.
I just want to start by saying that I think this season is so good and so funny.
CHARLIE DAY: Well, thank you!
HOWERTON: Have you seen a lot of them?
I watched the whole thing over the holidays.
HOWERTON: You watched them all?
Oh yeah, I tore through them all in two days.
DAY: Oh wow. Good for you.
HOWERTON: Wow, cool. That’s awesome, thank you.
What do you think it is about the show and the way you guys write it that allows for the kind of longevity where it’s still this funny ten seasons in?
HOWERTON: Here’s what I really think more than anything, it’s that we enjoy making each other laugh – or speaking for me, I really like – I have so much respect for Charlie and Rob and so many of our other writers David Hornsby, Rob Rosell, Scott Marder, John Chernin, guys that we’ve worked with for a long time – I get such pleasure out of making those guys laugh when I can. That makes it fun for me. Because these guys are my friends, you know what I mean? I like spending time with them, I like hanging out with them and I feel so lucky to be a part of something where I can sort of ride on the coat tails of very smart, funny people as well that elevate me and elevate my work. I just can’t imagine a better situation to be in than the situation I’m in. I think remaining grateful and recognizing a good situation you have when you have a good one like this is a big part of it. I do. Not taking it for granted.
DAY: I think there’s a technical answer to that question. I think there’s the fact that the episodes wrap up within themselves, so that you’re not tracking – there’s no premise to this show. It’s hard to even explain what the show is, so you don’t run out on the premise. That’s a very technical reason why it lasts this long.
HOWERTON: There’s a lot of places you could go.
DAY: You could start watching this show five seasons in and get caught up into it, because it’s not a linear sort of thing. The personal answer, I would say, is that I think the show is good. I think it’s something that is good, it’s built well and it lasts a long time.
HOWERTON: We have created a world where we can go to a lot of very different places.
DAY: I think because we also rely on humor, a lot of times, that is social the world keeps providing us content, which is nice. We constantly have something to talk about or say in the episodes, even though we’re not heavy handed with that, it’s in there. I think that helps.
HOWERTON: I think also the fact that we only do ten-episode seasons now.
HOWERTON: We don’t burn ourselves out. It’s a lot of different things.
DAY: A lot of things come together. I think also, the voice of the show, because we weren’t television writers when we started, we hadn’t been writing years and years of television, the voice is original and unique and we’re still finding it. Glenn and I have only been writers for ten years, and that sounds like a long time-
DAY: But really, in many ways it’s not, so we’re still discovering how to write, what to write.
HOWERTON: Yeah, you’re right. There’s always an element of discovery to it and how far we can push the form, how far we can push the characters, how far we can push the format of our show specifically.
DAY: Even Rob was only a writer just enough months before we started to…get the “created by” credit [laughs].
HOWERTON: [Laughs] Yeah.
DAY: Because we didn’t understand what that meant.
HOWERTON: Well, also he had the drive in the beginning to push us to places that I don’t think-
DAY: No, we would have never got off our couches [laughs].
HOWERTON: Yeah, exactly.
DAY: Thank god for Rob.
Since you’re still always discovering and finding the voice of the show, how has your writing and creative process evolved over the last ten years? Has it changed a lot?
DAY: It’s become a little more efficient. We’re a little less meandering – like, you know enough now to take extensive notes, whereas we didn’t even take notes for the first couple years. We would just talk about stuff.
HOWERTON: [Laughs] Yeah, right.
DAY: Now we have such detailed notes that when we go to write we go, “Oh, we were talking about that fun thing in the room.” Simply, it’s sped up.
HOWERTON: Yeah, we’re more efficient. We know what works, we know the page count.
DAY: Yeah, we know the amount of pages to write.
HOWERTON: We generally know when we break a story if there are too many scenes, we know it’s going to be too long. You just have a feel for it.
DAY: We don’t accidentally write a 38 minute show that we have to cut 10 minutes out of.
HOWERTON: And also, the trust. We trust each other now to the point where we’ve got this good democracy thing going, where if it’s two against one, I’ll let it go.
DAY: We let things go, yeah.
HOWERTON: If I feel strongly about something and these two guys disagree, they’re smart they’re funny, I let it go. Or I fight for it, and either lose or win.
Do you tend to write for your own characters?
DAY: No, I feel like I’ve neglected writing for my character for the last four seasons. I keep forgetting to pitch for him. I’ve just fallen so in love with [Glenn’s] character that I come in with Dennis pitches.
HOWERTON: You do love pitching for my character, it’s true.
DAY: I love writing for Dennis. My favorite character to write for.
Why is that?
DAY: Well – it’s Glenn. First of all, I think any human being just gets sick of themselves, but I like Glenn’s performance of it and to me, in many ways, he’s the most complicated character. They all are, but I love the ways in which he’s at odds with himself. Matching extreme ego with the complications of life in the world is a really fertile ground for comedy and I always think it’s great when I can put him in a situation that he cannot control, and that is constantly threatening that ego, it just makes for a funny, funny scene.
HOWERTON: Yeah, I think we’re all pretty good usually about, for lack of a better phrase, distributing the wealth. But also because everyone’s so fucking funny. Everyone’s so good.
HOWERTON: Yeah, unless it makes sense for the episode. It’s like, you know what? This is an episode in which Dee is a little light, or Charlie’s a little light, or whoever is.
DAY: But the season as a whole we make sure not to make every episode about Mac’s problems or Charlie’s problems. We try to really spread it around, because it’s more interesting that way. You don’t know what each week is going to be.
HOWERTON: It’s a group show. It’s a show about a group of people and it’s never going to be a show where you focus too much on one person, that’s just not what the show is.
Well, while we’re on the subject of focusing on one person, I have to ask about “Charlie Work” because that’s a wild episode.
DAY: That’s a cool episode, right?
Yeah. It’s great.
DAY: Well, certainly everyone was talking about – this was pre-Birdman – but everyone was talking about the one-shot that True Detective had done and we talked about how fun it would be to do a single shot, because we’ve never actually seen the characters go in and out of the bar. The thing is that when I watch the episode I forget that the bar – big spoiler – is a set, so to go in and out of it we usually have to cut.
DAY: It’s a ticking clock.
HOWERTON: It’s a ticking clock, from the time the episode starts until it ends, there’s a ticking clock and everyone is just frantically – so putting in a one-er actually services that type of story in that way.
DAY: And could we write a story that way? Could we write a story that has to unfold in real time, that’s interesting?
HOWERTON: Yes. We’re always looking for new ways to challenge ourselves. That’s a lot where that came from. And we were kind of leaning into the fact, because I do think that episode’s funny, but we were also kind of leaning into the idea that it didn’t really have to be that funny, it just had to be interesting to watch. It’s not the funniest thing when that one-er starts and everyone’s just scrambling around. It is funny, but it’s a little more-
HOWERTON: Yeah, compelling.
DAY: Can they pull it off? And I have to give credit to Adam Sklena, our camera operator who’s been with us since the very first season – look, we didn’t have special dolly tracks or a pre-programmed rig. This is a man holding a camera who had to walk backwards, most of the time while I’m walking forwards, and we actually got it without screwing up on take-one.
DAY: On take-one.
HOWERTON: We sure did.
DAY: I think maybe it’s take-five that we use in the episode.
HOWERTON: And there’s a couple things that are pasted in there, much like Birdman, but I think there’s about a seven-minute one-er in there that really, genuinely the camera does not cut. That’s all really happening in real time, and it was like a little choreographed dance. It was fun.
DAY: [At the same time] It was fun.
HOWERTON: It was a lot of fun.
DAY: It was cool, Adam and I have been working together for a decade, to just sort of feel in sync.
HOWERTON: It felt like doing a play didn’t it?
DAY: It did feel like doing a play.
HOWERTON: I had the feeling I used to have from doing plays where you’re waiting in the wings for your cue.
DAY: [Laughs] Yeah.
DAY: That was a fun one to get to do.
When it comes to ideas like “let’s do a one shot episode” or “let’s set this whole episode on a plane”, do you have a period where you just throw a bunch of concepts out? How does that work?
DAY: Yeah, the first week we spend just talking about potential areas, and then you hit a little burnout of doing that for a week all day, every day where you’re just spinning your wheels. And we don’t land all ten in that first week.
HOWERTON: No, no, no.
DAY: We land on, maybe, the first two or three.
HOWERTON: Usually everybody’s got their eye on one.
DAY: Yeah, for season eleven I have one on my mind – or two, that I’m pretty excited about, and then we’ll break the episodes and write them and then after we’ve written a few we’ll go back and look at that board of ideas and won’t feel stuck. Someone will have a new one, it’s sort of a fluid process.
Is there a particular episode or joke that fans really get excited to talk to you guys about?
HOWERTON: People always talk to me about the D.E.N.N.I.S. system episode. Hands down, for my character, that’s the one that gets brought up all the time, which is fun for me too because that’s my wife with me in that episode, that I D.E.N.N.I.S., so I like that. Most people think that I met her on that, but we were already engaged.
DAY: People always talk about the “The Nightman Cometh”.
HOWERTON: Yeah, oh yeah, for sure.
DAY: Always talk about that one.
HOWERTON: Yeah, that will forever…
DAY: It caught on. We also toured with it, which helped [laughs].
For me, the sort of iconic episode from last season was “The Gang Broke Dee”. What has been the reaction you guys have received on that episode?
HOWERTON: Yeah, they are.
DAY: And I like to think – we’re partial that our audience is even smarter than most, and they know us at this point, probably they know what to predict.
HOWERTON: I knew they weren’t going to – that was really fun, because I was pretty sure. I was like, “I don’t think people are going to have any fucking idea where this is headed.”
DAY: Yeah, and you forget, you really feel like this is an episode about how Dee is going to get her big break and blow it.
HOWERTON: And blow it, yeah!
DAY: Because that’s sort of the structure of the show, usually.
HOWERTON: That’s right.
DAY: They get these opportunities, or they create these opportunities for themselves, and their egos or id get in the way, or both, and…then the episode is far darker and crueler.
HOWERTON: I seem to recall getting a pretty positive response from that one. I think the one people talk about from last season the most though is “The Gang Tries Desperately to Win an Award”. And I was really glad that most people got what we were going for there. That was walking a tightrope. I remember some of us, I know me – I was a little on the fence of whether we should even do that, because I never wanted it to -if you do that wrong..
DAY: You can’t do that and seem like you’re whining.
DAY: You point a finger at yourself.
HOWERTON: Yeah, we really wanted it to be clear that what we were saying is, maybe it’s our fault.
DAY: But also outside of the clear metaphor of that, it’s really funny, just in the world of the characters that this struggle exists, and to see what they do with it is pretty great.
I’m out of time with you guys, but Charlie I have to ask, Guillermo has said you’re going to be a part of the Pacific Rim sequel-
DAY: You know as much as I know. I’ve got an email from Guillermo saying “Get ready, bro”, but I’ve read nothing and I know nothing.
Well, I can’t wait to see what you guys do, I’m such a fan of that movie.