Even from its pilot episode, “The Gang Gets Racist”, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has been one of the most mean-spirited and offensive shows on television. It’s also been one of the funniest, and it’s only gotten funnier, as well as more mean-spirited and offensive, over the last four seasons. Now in its fifth season, the show has become one of FX’s biggest hits and they’ve even released a special Christmas episode, A Very Sunny Christmas, which is available now on DVD, Blu-ray, and digital download.
Stars and co-creators Glenn Howerton (who plays Dennis Reynolds) and Rob McElhenney (who plays Mac) recently sat down for a conference call where they talk about the show’s success, the controversy surrounding the episode “The Great Recession” which prominently featured Dave & Busters and Coors Light, how they came to create A Very Sunny Christmas, and more. Fans of the show should definitely check it out after the jump.
GLENN HOWERTON: There are a lot of guys on the show. It’s a very “guy heavy” cast. And men just continue to get more and more handsome as the years progress. And I think that it might have something to do with that. Certainly, I know I’ve gotten more handsome and I’m looking at Rob right now and I feel like he’s definitely gotten more handsome.
ROB McELHENNEY: So you think people are tuning in to see that?
HOWERTON: I think it might have something to do with it. In all seriousness, I think it’s a show that has a real word-of-mouth quality and I think like anything that grows by word-of-mouth, it’s grown exponentially. And I think there’s just been a real explosion of that growth and it just continues to grow.
I think people really champion this show because they almost feel like the mass media has not done that, and they feel like it’s their job to do it themselves. Because you don’t see us on the covers of magazines all over the place, and people have really taken it upon themselves to spread the word themselves. That’s the only thing I can think of. So people don’t feel like it’s being shoved down their throats; they really take ownership of it.
The show has really gone from cult status to this bit hit. I was just reading your Entertainment Weekly article and it was great. Is it really a dream come true for you guys? Did you ever see this happening?
McELHENNEY: Yes. Personally, I definitely saw this happening at some point. I think it was just a matter of time. The show is definitely an acquired taste, and that is certainly by design. We wanted to do something that was completely different; something that you’re not seeing everywhere else, and often times, upon first viewing, and I hear this a lot from people, they don’t know quite what to make of it. They think that it’s a little bit strange, it’s a little bit out there, and the characters are like nothing they’ve ever seen before. And as I said, that was by design. So we knew that it would take a little bit of time to catch on and I think because of what Glenn had just touched upon, things have grown at an expediential rate, but I certainly definitely expected it at some point.
HOWERTON: I guess I didn’t really have any expectations, per se. I just wanted to make sure that I was making something that I personally was proud of and that we as a team were proud of. And then I just really, really hoped that people would eventually catch on. It is an acquired taste, and in today’s world where things are sort of laid out very clearly for you most of the time, it is, I would say, very gratifying that people have taken the time to sort of invest in this and really figure out what our show is all about.
HOWERTON: It’s hard to say. We just wrapped up Season 5, the editing and the live tour that we went on, so we’ll figure that out in January. But there’s always interesting things to deal with as long as American culture continues, we’re going to find something to work on.
Have you gotten any slack ever the last few years over any of the subjects you tackled from anyone?
HOWERTON: Not really, no. That might be more of a question for the guys over at FX in terms of like what the advertisers have done. But no, I think people get it. I think people understand that we’re not doing anything different than any other good comedy has done through the history of time or good comedian. We’re in hot topic issues. That’s what good comedies do.
What’s your favorite Danny DeVito scene that you both have shared with him and can you talk about it?
HOWERTON: For me, the Christmas DVD, which is actually coming out today, we did a scene that I think a lot of people already know about which is him popping out of a couch nude. I have to say that was a pretty extraordinary experience, especially considering that on the very first take, he was actually wearing a pink merkin with a purple … piece on top of it. That was pretty memorable.
Rob, what about you? A favorite Danny DeVito moment?
McELHENNEY: I shot a scene with him in Philadelphia where it was probably 7:30 in the morning, and he was drinking all this fake beer. You know, we have this fake beer that we drink. And in this scene, he’s supposed to be walking down the street. And the scene sort of just kept evolving and evolving and evolving and at one point, it was a two and a half page dean of dialogue. And then as we continued to run it and try different things, which we usually do on the show, it eventually evolved into him pouring beer all over himself and kind of just regurgitating it onto his shirt and into the air. And it seems to be one of the fan favorites as well. And I just remember having a really interesting time shooting that.
So earlier this season, you had an episode called “The Great Recession” and it started a little bit of controversy. Because people weren’t sure if the prominent product placement of Dave & Buster’s and Coors Light if that was overt and done for over-the-top comedy or if the show was actually trying to weather the great recession by increasing revenue through the prominent product placement.
McELHENNEY: That’s a great question. Everything was done by design. We did everything on purpose and thought that, look, there’s definitely an economic reality to television these days and the truth is that everybody’s looking for different ways to sell ad time, right?
So the long story and the short of it is that every show is being asked to figure out a way to integrate. We figured instead of just trying to do it on the sly and instead of sort of winking at the camera like a lot of shows do, that we would do it a little bit tongue-and-cheek. And that it could be really interesting to really infuse the episode and the arcs of all the characters with some of these ideas.
We thought Dave & Buster’s was perfect because we had been reading about at the time all of these communities that were starting these self-sustaining economies and figured out that Dave & Buster’s has that exact model. So we figured, well, let’s just try and fuse this into the episode and then that way, the fans can be in on it with us.
HOWERTON: That being said, the only thing we did not account for and did not know was going to happen was that they were going to run a bunch of Dave & Buster’s and Coors Light commercials during the break. That was not by our design and that was not our intention and I personally think that on some level that might have been the major cause of the controversy.
McELHENNEY: It was unfortunate, but it was something that we’ve spoken to. FX feels the same way, and we figured it out so that won’t happen again.
As a fan of your show for the past few seasons, this season has become significantly gorier between … Mac in the wrestling episode and Charlie and Santa on the Christmas special. Can you talk a little bit about who’s idea that was and why you chose now to go down that road?
McELHENNEY: I don’t think it was ever discussed. I mean, nobody ever said, “Hey, let’s go for gorier this season.” I think it’s just a coincidence, honestly.
HOWERTON: I don’t have a juicer answer. It was just the episode sort of led us to those places in a very natural way. It was never by design that we intentionally made the show gory or anything like that.
Okay, so could you also talk a little bit about the inspiration for the Christmas special? Because it’s not your typical show … holiday cheer. So we know to expect fun stuff out of the special.
HOWERTON: We were definitely influenced by those great old Christmas specials that we all grew up watching on television as kids. That was one major aspect of it and I think we like the idea of doing our own version of that. But I think with the Mac and Charlie storyline, we also liked the idea of creating our own brand-new, never done before sort of Christmas special. So in a way, we like the idea of doing both. One storyline is basically a callback to one of the most famous Christmas tales of all time, A Christmas Carol, and then the Mac and Charlie storyline, which is really original to us.
From last season to this season, Kaitlin has really grown as a comedic actress and I’m wondering, how easy is it for you guys to find new material for her to work with that really supports what she’s doing on the show right now?
McELHENNEY: She is brilliant. To me, it is an absolute travesty that she doesn’t get more recognition. If you are as big of a fan of her’s as you’re saying, I’d put it on you to put the word out because we’ve been trying to spread that word for five seasons. To me, and I’m not saying this just because she’s my wife, in fact, I asked her to be my wife partly because I thought she was the funniest person I’d ever seen, I firmly believe that she is the funniest comedic actress on television right now. And if not, she’s in the top five.
We feel as though she doesn’t get enough recognition and we try everything we can to make sure that she, week to week, really shines. And everything that we write for her, she brings so much to it, so much more than we had originally anticipated.
Do you guys have a favorite Philly word in your lexicon that you like to use? Because my girlfriend cracks up every time you guys use the word “pop” and I’m wondering if there’s another word out there that you guys just love to put into the script.
McELHENNEY: That’s a great question. I’ve never been asked that before; that’s really great. We seem to have an affinity; something that seems to make us laugh is any action that makes it more violent than it needs to be, like to blast into something or to fire into something.
HOWERTON: Or, the characters are very aggressive and there’s something cool about using words to describe any kind of action as being much more aggressive than it needs to be. I’m not going to walk into a restaurant; I’m going to fire into that restaurant and blast my words into the faces of everybody there.
I was just kind of wondering what your inspiration was for the Christmas special and if you had any plans to release the Christmas CD with it.
McELHENNEY: That’s a very good question, in terms of the CD. In fact, we’ve been talking a lot about releasing all the Sunny music. And it’s something we’re going to be talking about this year. Just in terms of all the Nightman stuff, the Dayman stuff and the Birds of War from this year. There’s been a lot of demand from the fans to release those CDs, so we’ll see.
In terms of the Christmas episode-every year we come up with a lot of different things that we know we’re never going to get past the FCC, just in terms of the censorship of being on at 10:00 on cable television. So we usually just bank those and say, “Well, maybe one day we’ll be able to get away with it.”
And then we saw an opportunity. In fact, it was brought to us by the people at FX, and they said, “Hey, would you ever want to do a direct to DVD episode where you put all that stuff on it?” And we felt that was a great idea and we’ve been knocking around the idea of putting these characters into a holiday situation into a holiday special for a few years now. So as we knock that around and thought, “Well, it could be really interesting as a stocking stuffer to put all that stuff that we’ve been talking about for years into an episode, and so we can get away with whatever we want.”
You mentioned that the fans have been pushing for a CD. Are they pushing for any other merchandise? Flipadelphia t-shirts, perhaps?
HOWERTON: Yes, the Flipadelphia, that episode I believe is going to be our final episode this year. But we’ve put the … out there and they seem to be selling pretty well.
Season 3 came about and Season 4 you guys really started to bring in more writers besides the three main guys. What does it take to find a writer for you guys that is in your mindset? Is that a tough challenge to find or do you find a lot of people out there that are writing within your mind frame?
McELHENNEY: We had the luxury of being on the air for a few years now. It was very difficult in the beginning because we felt like there wasn’t a large enough body of work there for people to really understand what we were trying to do. So that helps. But we find that often times people, including writers out here and even different fans or just talking to different people, who don’t necessarily 100% understand what we’re trying to do. So it does take a little bit of research, a little bit of searching around to find the right fit.
You guys were talking a little bit about the live show you did this year. Are you guys planning on taking anything else out on the road like the wrestling match or anything like that?
McELHENNEY: A lot of that has to do with time. We just don’t have a lot of time to do stuff like that. It’s a year-round job, writing and acting in and producing this show for all of us. So we just don’t have a lot of time. I think if we did have more time, we might consider something like that. I also like the idea of keeping something like that kind of small and a little more special.
This last episode last week, I haven’t seen the one coming up this week, but we really dove into Mac’s background and personality, which we hadn’t really seen in five seasons. Are you guys planning on doing more of that, where you bring more of the characters’ nuances, sort of behind the scenes, out in the open?
HOWERTON: Yes, absolutely. We love doing that. It’s funny, sometimes we plan and we say, “I’d really love to this season do this, or explore a little bit more of this or explore a little bit more of that.” And then we get in the writers’ room and we start breaking stories and we either end up doing that or we don’t. We just sort of go with our gut and whatever’s making us laugh at the time.
Certainly we all like to strike that balance between taking on some bigger hot topic issues and maybe going to some of those wilder places and then also doing episodes that are a little bit more small and contained and a little bit more character-based like the Dennis and Mac breakup episode that just aired. It’s always fun for us to explore those different things within the character’s personality, so in a way that’s always in the back of our minds when we’re breaking stories.
You guys were just talking about merchandise. I’ve been on your merchandising page and it seems like with each episode, you either have a new shirt out or a new shot glass or something. Is there any cool stuff you guys are working on, or do you guys even have a hand in what kind of merchandise comes on the FX page? Anything that fans might be interested in knowing about?
HOWERTON: Dicktowel.com, bro. Check it out. Have you seen that episode?
McELHENNEY: Well, we did start a website called dicktowel.com and those seem to be something that people are very interested in. Something we found is that our fans really like to dress as our characters for Halloween and stuff like that. It was never our intention in creating these episodes to essentially create a whole arsenal of costumes for people to wear to Halloween parties. But it really seems to be happening this year and we’re finding out a lot about it because we’re on Twitter and people are sending us a lot of pictures.
But we do have hand and we do have a say in all of that stuff and it’s a great way for the fans of the show to show their love and appreciation for something that they genuinely care about and enjoy and to spread the word to other people about the show. And it’s fun for us to create things that obviously allow for that sort of advertisement. There’s no better advertisement than guys and girls going out with the actual gear on and telling people about it.
One particular product also that came out after the “Kitten Mittens” episode is the Dennis Heat-Sensitive mug, which I find to be kind of hysterical and also terrifying that there is a coffee mug out there that when you put hot coffee in it, my shirt comes off.
I watched the fourth season that came out on DVD I think in September, and you have the behind the scenes footage and we see Mac walking up to the audience outside I think the troubadour it is. Some of the guys sitting out there are dressed like you guys. Is that ever disturbing to run into people that are sort of taking on your television persona in real life aside from Halloween time?
HOWERTON: I don’t know if disturbing is the word. Especially at events like that, I think it’s actually really encouraging and flattering. It just shows that people are really into it and it has that sort of Rocky Horror feel to it. And it just shows how much people enjoy and love the show. If I saw people going to work every day in Omaha, Nebraska dressed as Nightman, that would give me pause, but at special events like that, I think it’s alright.
McELHENNEY: It certainly wouldn’t give us any pause about ourselves and what we’re doing. Just pause about that particular person. What’s that guy up to? He shouldn’t be showing up to the office dressed like the Nightman.
Do you only have two more episodes coming up this season? Can you talk about what’s going to happen in the season finale and is it going to be a cliffhanger this year?
McELHENNEY: A cliffhanger? Yes. We’re not at liberty to say.
Does it have to deal with getting Danny out of those tight, skinny jeans?
McELHENNEY: It has a little something to do with it.
And that’s all you can tell us about it?
HOWERTON: You’ll have to tune in to see.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia airs on Thursday nights at 10/9c on FX.