Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day, Kaitlin Olson, and Glenn Howerton warn us about their upcoming adventures
Returning for its fourth season on September 18th, FX's It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is the kind of show that has slowly amassed a huge cult following since its 2005 debut. The series revolves around a group of shifty, unsuccessful young adults that now own and operate a shady dive bar in Downtown Philly. Storylines are quick to dive into taboo subjects such as abortion and gun control, and this year promises to be bigger than ever before with the Paddy's Pub gang gearing for an all-new slate of hilarious misadventures that you won't want to miss. They have yet to run out of big topics to explore and desecrate, and they will soon be dealing with the raising price of gasoline, the American mortgage problem, the Health Care crisis, pedophilia, and the mystery of the Liberty Bell Crack with the same sort of hilarity that has become their trademark. Throughout their thirteen episode run, they will also become addicted to human meat and put on a stage presentation of The Nightman: A Musical.
We recently caught up with the cast behind this amazing phenomenon to discuss their highly anticipated fourth season on FX. Show creators Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day, and Glenn Howerton, along with series' star Kaitlin Olson, joined in for an old-time fireside chat, where they egregiously dished on all of the upcoming madness that is about to be unleashed on a partially suspecting public. Here is our conversation in full:
You guys are currently shooting an Episode entitled The Gang Cracks the Liberty Bell. Where did the idea for this episode come from?
Rob McElhenney: We'd been wanting to do a flashback episode for a really long time. We just weren't sure how to get into it. We weren't sure what would be the most organic way. The story actually stemmed from us all going to Philly and taking a historical tour. We thought it would be interesting to try and make our bar a historical landmark, to try and get more people to come. If we were part of the walking tour, people would have to come into the bar, and they would have to get drunk. We thought that might be a good way to do a flashback. This is the story of how Paddy's played a part in the American Revolution.
How did you guys go about recreating the bar for The Gang Cracks the Liberty Bell?
Rob McElhenney: It was all about making it look like the bar circa 1776. We had to make sure that it still looked like Paddy's. The ceiling is the same, the bricks are the same, the colors are all the same. Obviously, we took down the neon signs. The trick was figuring out how to light it. So we just lit everyone with candles. That worked pretty good.
Sweet Dee is a slave in this particular episode. How was that decided?
Kaitlin Olson: Why not? Isn't that what you would guess? I'm actually a straight up broom witch.
Rob McElhenney: We sort of mix up our history a little bit. We are telling our story to a woman that is the head of the historical society in Philly. We kind of mix our histories together. It has sort of a Salem flavor to it. Dee was almost burned at the stake.
Kaitlin Olson: Dee was accused of being a witch by Dennis. And then I was saved by Dennis, so now I'm his slave.
But he is still your brother?
Kaitlin Olson: Yeah. He sure is.
We watched you guys doing quite a few takes. On average, does the first take make the show, or do the more ad-libbed takes make the show?
Rob McElhenney: It varies.
Kaitlin Olson: It goes up really fast, and then it takes a shit dive. Usually around number seven is where the take is golden.
Rob McElhenney: It depends. Sometimes we use the take that is scripted. Sometime its take ten, which had nothing to do with the script as it was intended.
Kaitlin Olson: Sometimes we play around and go way too far. Then we have to go back. And it all lands somewhere in the middle.
Are you guys actually rewriting a lot of Philly's history in this episode?
Rob McElhenney: We do rewrite a fair amount. We have a sort of Ichabod Crane thing going. We crack the Liberty Bell in this particular episode. That's where Paddy's bit of history comes from.
Kaitlin Olson: That's how we are important.
The next logical step would be to do the future episode, right?
Rob McElhenney: We though about that. But then we realized it would limit how we wanted to actually end the show.
Kaitlin Olson: We'd have to end it in the year 8 million.
Can you talk a little bit about the writers' room? What is it like when you guys are in there?
Rob McElhenney: I don't know how to compare it to another writers' room. Because I've never been in one. Well, I have been in the writers' room over at Lost. But I was only there for a couple of hours. That seemed a lot more structured then what we do. That being said, we do come to work everyday at nine or ten, and we stay until six or seven. It is structured in that we are working hard all the way through. We try to create an open environment, where everybody's ideas are heard. Yet, we try to keep it moving forward. We do have a basic direction for the days that we are in there. But it is a pretty open environment.
Do you work on one script at a time? Or are you working on a bunch of ideas all at once?
Rob McElhenney: I It all depends. There are different days. In the beginning we usually come in and brainstorm a bunch of different ideas that we want to do. Then we will whittle that down. Generally, the whole room is working on one script at a time. Then we will assign different episodes to certain people. Sometimes Charlie and Glenn will write one, or I will write one. Or Charlie will write one by himself. It doesn't really have a pattern as to how it will break down.
Do you generally have all of your episodes written before the season starts filming?
Rob McElhenney: We try to. It didn't happen this year. Or last year. We try to get as much done as we can to meet the schedule. A scene that we shot yesterday, we'd only written it three days before. We are not done writing until we are done with production. And we are done with production next week.
It seems like you guys shoot in chunks. And you only have Danny DeVito for a limited amount of time. Then you go to Philly. Is it ever hard to keep your mind around what you are shooting when you are doing it in that manner?
Rob McElhenney: Once the scripts are written, it's not that difficult. Most movies are shot out of sequence. I'd love to hear Kaitlin's take on this.
Kaitlin Olson: It is very confusing. You have to know the script backwards and forwards, otherwise you will find yourself shooting something, and it's a continuation of something you shot two weeks ago. And you realize that you should have come into that last scene really angry. You should have been really pissed off. I have to constantly ask where I am at in the script, because months will go by between scenes. It is a little confusing. But every department feels that way. So I can ask wardrobe what just happened in the script. Or I can ask make-up. They are also constantly trying to keep up with where we're at.
Glenn Howerton: We have the advantage of not only writing it, but acting it. When we are going through the rewrite phase, we are acting it all out. Not just our roles, but everyone else's too. We have that advantage when we come to the set. We don't just know the script, but we know how we want to play it out.
Kaitlin Olson: We talked about this the other night. When we start out the season, I am in bed at night, working on my scenes for the next day. I am all ready in the morning. I know my lines. But then a couple of weeks into it I will show up on set and look at my sides. "What am I saying right now? What is this episode about? What is my character doing? What is dragging her through the scene?"
Do you find it stressful wearing so many hats as far as the production goes?
Kaitlin Olson: Me? I find it very stressful. I have so much to keep track of. These guys are always coming to me. Asking questions. Wanting to know how to keep the show funny. Agggh! I am working!
Rob McElhenney: It is definitely taxing. It is also part of the fun. We like the pace. Each year presents its own challenges. This year, because of the writers' strike, we had a lot less time to write the show. We also had a couple of issues with actors and their availability. It is stressful, but we get through it.
Charlie Day: It's stressful to me, because the buck stops here. Anytime something is not going well, you can't stop and say, "The director didn't get this right! Or the writer didn't get this right!" You can't really point a finger at anybody else. Though, we do. We are pointing fingers constantly. The stress is something we set up for ourselves. We always have certain expectations for the episodes.
Glenn Howerton: But its like Rob says, it's not so much the stress. It's just really taxing. Having to act for twelve hours a day is taxing enough. Then in-between takes we are on our cell phones, we are doing re-writes. Sometimes we are popping up to the editing room to see if there are any problems up there. We have to check and see if there are any sound problems. It's less about stress, and more about being exhausted.
You guys push the boundaries pretty far. What can fans look forward to in this upcoming season?
Glenn Howerton: What we discovered when we finally ran out of these large themed, worldwide taboos like abortion, was that you can pretty much take it to the limit with any smaller subject. We are doing some very simply ideas. One storyline is simply about Charlie finding out that The Waitress is dating someone else. And the entire episode revolves around: Who is going to help him? Who is his best friend? The whole episode becomes about who is best friends with who. And who is best friends with Charlie. I know that doesn't totally address your question.
Charlie Day: I want to put an asterisk on this topic of conversation. One of the things I've always heard is, "What are these guys going to do when they run out of big topics?" I don't want to say that we have run out of them. Life is always making new ones up. And we are shinning a mirror on these things as they happen. This year we went after what is going on with the gas crisis in America. And what is going on with the mortgage crisis. Though, that episode had to get pushed because of Danny's availability. I don't think we are every going to run out of taboo subjects. Something is always popping up in real life.
Glenn Howerton: I didn't mean to say that we had run out of those types of things.
Kaitlin Olson: You can find this type of humor in almost any subject. It doesn't have to be abortion. You can take anything, and if you explore it right, you can make it funny.
Glenn Howerton: And what Charlie said is true. We are dealing with the gas situation this year. Water boarding. Torture. Its true.
Rob McElhenney: Me and Dee get addicted to human meat. We become cannibals.
Kaitlin Olson: We try to figure out who pooped the bed. That is universal and topical.
Is there a subject that you wont touch?
Glenn Howerton: I don't think so. Not that we have found. We are doing an entire episode this year that is dealing with rape and pedophilia. Or rather, we are not dealing with it.
Kaitlin Olson: "Not" is exactly right. We are "not dealing" with pedophilia.
Do you work that into the cannibalism episode?
Glenn Howerton: No. Why would you ask that? That is strange. How would we tie those two things together?
Kaitlin Olson: That would be a completely different episode. That's how we deal with a pedophile. We eat him. That is how we don't deal with it.
Is FX supportive? Or has there been a time when they told you it's gone too far?
Rob McElhenney: FX is always encouraging us to make the show we want to make. They always want us to do what is not being done on television. At the same time, they don't want us pushing buttons. That isn't what we are trying to do. We are just trying to do something that you don't see on NBC or CBS. Or HBO for that matter. And they want us to make it funny.
Glenn Howerton: We just want to make something that will genuinely make people laugh. We do want to surprise you, and shock you a little bit. But not for the sake of offending people. We are not trying to offend people or push boundaries. Nothing like that. We are only doing that in so far as that you don't see it anywhere else. People that find this stuff funny actually find it funny. Because these things are surprising them and shocking them. The jokes are a little bit off balanced.
Kaitlin Olson: I get asked about this a lot. I always get asked if I am handed a script, and I have to go, "Oooh, this is too dark." I think the scripts are genuinely funny. I don't think they are based on shock value. These are funny people that are writing funny, unique stuff. And its funny to me. When it turns into being mean just for the sake of being mean, then it's not funny.
Glenn Howerton: We wouldn't ever put that in a script.
Kaitlin Olson: Being mean just for being mean's sake isn't funny.
Can you talk about working with Danny DeVito this season? Does he make a lot of changes to your scripts? Does he ever come in and tweak lines?
Charlie Day: I don't think Danny's tweaks are intentional. He was great this year. Audiences will be really pleased to see some of the acting he has done. As writers, more than any other year, we just had a lot of fun with his character. I personally feel that it is some of Danny's best acting ever. Some of the stuff he has done on the show this year is outrageously funny. I was a big Taxi fan. And I love a lot of his movies. But I think we passed a lot of those things. Maybe that's just my own sense of humor. I think the fans will get a real kick out of Danny this year. I think we've really figured out a way to his strengths.
What are some of the things we're going to get to see him do this year?
Charlie Day: Speaking of things we wrote last minute, one of my favorite scenes is where he and Dennis go to a swingers' party. And Danny is saying how these guys are an elite swingers' society. The audience will be expecting something out of Eyes Wide Shut. It turns out to be a bunch of sad old people around a buffet. Danny is just great in that scene. What are some of his better scenes?
Glenn Howerton: In the gas crisis episode, the three of us come up with a scheme about buying gas now, and then waiting and selling it later. Because gas prices keep going up, and up, and up. In the meantime, Dee and Frank are involved in this Bruce storyline. He is our real dad. Our mom gave all our money to him. I don't know if you remember that from last season. Bruce has given all of this money to a Muslim community center. So Frank and Dee are convinced that he is working with terrorists. So, a lot of the stuff that Danny does in that episode is great. He goes around trying to gather Intel. All of his Intel is bad. He is using it anyway. He becomes more paranoid, and he starts to think that Dee is in on the whole thing. He ends up water boarding her, to get information from her.
Kaitlin Olson: That sucked.
Charlie Day: Speaking of big topics, there is also an episode we did about Health Care. We come to find that Dennis, and Dee, and Charlie, and Mac have no Health Care coverage. However, Frank, with his wealth, does have access to Health Care and medications. This is all sparked by Dee having a heart attack. Mac and I are fearful of not having coverage. But Danny, because of his ability to get medicine, over medicates. And the storyline deals with people taking all sorts of different drugs and prescription medications to solve their problems. Danny ends up taking as much medication as he can, and it sends him on a spell. He winds up in a One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest scenario in a mental hospital somewhere.
His character has always been like that though, right? Didn't he drop acid?
Charlie Day: He has always had an affinity for drugs. Now, he's hooked on Cialis.
Rickety Cricket gets his head blown off in this episode you are shooting. Has he become your Wile E. Coyote at this point?
Rob McElhenney: Yeah. I think he is only in two episodes this season. Maybe three.
Glenn Howerton: Who pooped the bed?
Rob McElhenney: Right, he makes a cameo appearance in that one. He is still a reoccurring character that is a lot of fun. I like that he was a young priest. In the second season, he was an upstanding member of society. Over the course of the last three seasons, he has gotten more and more destroyed by these people. Just coming in contact with them has ruined his life. But there has to be a masochistic nature in him, too. That he keeps seeking out these people. Well...I guess we do sort of pull him in. He does end up being the butt of a lot of our jokes.
You talk about pooping the bed. How much of that is based on your own lives outside of the show?
Glenn Howerton: In that particular episode?
In all of the episodes.
Charlie Day: Just the poop part.
Glenn Howerton: No, none of it.
Kaitlin Olson: Good lord, that would be pretty terrible.
Glenn Howerton: Our lives would be pretty horrible. We don't have time for these kinds of hi-jinks.
Charlie Day: I have a dog. He poops a lot.
You guys go to Philadelphia every season to shoot exterior scenes. How has that experience changed since the show has gotten more and more popular?
Glenn Howerton: This year was insane. It was great. I took a cab to my hotel. I got out of the cab, and it was ten o' clock at night. I called these guys, "Where are you at?" Of course they were at a bar. The traffic was so bad, I decided to get out of the cab and walk to the bar. I literally could not walk down the street. It was insane. I have never experienced that in my life. I probably will never experience it again in my whole life. It was probably just that one street in Philadelphia.
Rob McElhenney: There has been a big difference this year. There has been a big jump from the third season to the fourth season. A lot of it has to do with the DVDs. And the downloading. It is a pleasant surprise. Regardless of our numbers on air, our audience is watching us on-line. If you look, we are the number two most downloaded show on Hulu. Of all time. I think that says a lot about our audiences. And who they are. They read sites like you guys.
Charlie Day: I don't think Nielsen boxes do that adequate of a job. And I'm sure that every TV show is great. But I really don't think they cover our audience. I haven't ever met a twenty-year-old with a Nielsen box. And even if they had it, they probably wouldn't use it. "Huh? I have to punch something in? Ugh. Forget it."
You guys had a pretty crazy turn out at Comic Con, didn't you?
Charlie Day: It was above what we were expecting.
Rob McElhenney: We were nervous. You don't want to throw a party and have no one show up. We weren't really sure. We saw the size of that room, and there were like four thousand chairs in there. We thought, "If we only fill up half of it, that's still two thousand people." But with half, it would still look empty. We walked in there that morning, and I could not believe it. It was standing room only. It was packed.
Glenn Howerton: What a great affirmation to know the fans were out there. And they were all in that one room.
Speaking of affirmations, you guys have been picked up for seventeen more seasons.
Charlie Day: That's right.
What was it like to get that kind of pick-up? And are you guys already thinking about what you will have to come up with?
Charlie Day: It is going to be a lot of writing. We are going to hire Tyler Perry. He has banged out about four seasons already.
Glenn Howerton: And Madea is going to be appearing on the show for free now. We are very happy to have her.
Kaitlin Olson: She is so wonderful.
Charlie Day: We have jotted a few things down. And there are certain ideas that we are really happy about.
Glenn Howerton: I will think of things. Little ideas. I have to scribble them down, and keep them in a folder. Otherwise, I will show up on the first day of the writing sessions, and I will go, "I got nothing, guys!"
Charlie Day: That's pretty much what you do every time we start the writing process.
Glenn Howerton: Its because I go back over my ideas, and I realize they were all shit.
Kaitlin Olson: "Nothing was good. I'm so bad at this. Why do they want me to keep doing this?"
With you guys having so many audience members On-line, are you thinking about creating any original content for them during your hiatus?
Rob McElhenney: We are doing that. We do have some. We have two of the writers that are on staff doing that. Just this week they launched the Paddy's site. Which contains Paddy's blog.
Glenn Howerton: That is all done through the FX site. That is how you get in there. It is pretty cool. They did a really great job.
Rob McElhenney: There is a lot of video stuff. And a lot of text stuff.
Do you guys enjoy having this stable of reoccurring characters like Cricket and Stephen Collins, that you can call up and pull back in when you need them?
Charlie Day: I think that is the charm of any television series. When you know and love this world, and it exists within this little twenty-minute world. Seinfeld was like that. So is The Simpsons. Even Cheaters, with all of their little lovable characters. How could you not do that?
Will we see the McPoyles this year?
Charlie Day: You will be seeing Margaret McPoyle. The McPoyle Brothers are two of the biggest actors we know, so we couldn't peg them down this year.
What about Stephen Collins?
Kaitlin Olson: He is also working.
Glenn Howerton: He has a show on Broadway. We wrote a show for him, but he couldn't do it.
You said there was a show that had to be pushed because of Danny. Is that something you will hold until next season?
Charlie Day: Yeah. It is really good. The reason we pushed it was because Danny's Frank was just so funny in it. We didn't want to have to write him out. So we decided that we would just save it.
At Comic Con, you mentioned that there would be an episode where Nightman: The Musical happens. Is that still on?
Charlie Day: Oh, yeah.
You must have known that was funny, but were you surprised that it was such a big hit with your audience?
Rob McElhenney: We are going to beat that into the ground.
Kaitlin Olson: We are going to take that way too far. Until people stop honoring us with doing that song. So many bands.
Rob McElhenney: Yes. We have a whole musical devoted to that this year. The Nightman Cometh.
Did Danny push to get any of his musician friends on that show? I know he's been pushing to have Mike Patton on the show.
Glenn Howerton: Danny was. I know that Patton was willing to do it at one point. I don't know if that is still the case. We haven't got anything for him at this point. But I do want to have him on the show. I am a big fan of his.
Kaitlin Olson: We do have Rob Thomas on the show this season, speaking of musician friends.
Charlie Day: He teams up with Sinbad the comedian. They make quite the team.
Rob McElhenney: I run into them in a rehab facility. They have ruined their lives with drugs and alcohol. And Sinbad has made Rob Thomas his bitch in the rehab center. And he has now set out to make me his bitch.
When you guys do The Nightman Cometh, will Mac and Dee be getting involved this time?
Rob McElhenney: Oh, yeah. Every character. I play The Nightman, bro.
Kaitlin Olson: I play a beautiful princess that works in a coffee shop.
Is there any show that you'd want to do a cross-over with?
Glenn Howerton: The British Office. Are they still doing that?
Kaitlin Olson: Could it be animated? I would like that.
Rob McElhenney: I Love Lucy? That would be interesting.
What about Trailer Park Boys?
Glenn Howerton: We saw that a long time ago. Years ago. We saw some of their original stuff. It is a Canadian show. But I haven't seen too much of it. I hear only great things about it, I just haven't been able to watch a lot of it. Which is a shame.
Charlie Day: Do shows really do that? I guess they do, huh?
Glenn Howerton: They used to, back in the 80s.
They still do it. CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and Two and a Half Men just did one recently.
Last question, with The Nightman Musical, and the Song that Danny dances to in one of the older episodes, is there going to be a soundtrack?
Glenn Howerton: Yes. We are working towards a soundtrack. Surely.
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia season four premiere airs September 18th, 2008, only on FX.