FX It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia back Sept. 16, Interview with Rob McElhenney

The gang are back and worse than ever in season six of FX’s off-kilter comedy that celebrates the narcissistic doings of a group of seriously damaged co-dependant individuals. 

We wouldn’t have them any other way.

Topical subjects get the “Philly” treatment: Gay marriage and healthcare reform, living beyond one’s means buying an unaffordable boat (and lifestyle), the sum of Dennis’s bad decisions, close encounters with the returning McPoyles are all examined in episodes such as Mac fights gay marriage, Dennis gets divorced, The gang buys a boat and Who got Dee pregnant?

So far, no word of a reprise of a naked Danny DeVito (Nearly naked, yes).

Monsters and Critics spoke with Rob McElhenney, creator, executive producer and star in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia on a conference call to discuss season six, which returns September 16th at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Pacific on FX. 

Starry Constellation: How do you juggle both writing and acting on the show?

R. McElhenney We break it into a three tier structure, which is why it takes pretty much the majority of the year—or has in years past—where we will write the show first usually for the first four or five months.  That’s the aspect of the show that takes the most amount of time.  Under ideal circumstances, we don’t start shooting until all the scripts are done, but generally there is a little bit of bleed over and we wind up finishing the last four or five episodes while we’re shooting.  Then we wait completely until we finish production before we get into the editing room. 

So we’ve broken it down.  It was much more difficult in the beginning because we hadn’t built the ideal production staff yet.  Also from our end, we hadn’t quite figured out the best protocol.  But I think at this point we’ve gotten into a pretty smooth process.

Starry Constellation: The ideas for every episode seem to get more outlandish than every season before it.  Where do you guys come up with the ideas for the episodes?

R. McElhenney We spend a lot of time in the writer’s room.  Really, we never think, “Well, how can we get more outrageous or more outlandish or how can we outdo ourselves?”  What we try to do is think about what are we not seeing elsewhere on television.  Where are we not seeing scenes about American culture that are simply taboo, things that are talked about in living rooms and barrooms but aren’t talked about on television, and we try to do that.

Life and Style: I know that the baby is a big story line in the upcoming season and I’m wondering, in your real life, what are you enjoying most about new fatherhood?

R. McElhenney I have to say that I had incredibly high expectations for the whole experience leading up to it, and it has exceeded my expectations.  Mostly what I enjoy is spending as much time as I can and just staring at him.  Sometimes, I welcome the times that he’s crying and I get to try to sooth him back to sleep and I love changing diapers.  Really, at this point Kaitlin is breastfeeding.  So I don’t get to enjoy the process of feeding him, so any other possibility or any other time that I get to spend with him I cherish.

Examiner Enterprise: One of the things that I’m actually really stoked about is the news that you guys are going to have Tom Sizemore on the show this season.  Can you talk just a little bit about how you got in contact with him and what role he’s going to play?

R. McElhenney Yes.  We wrote this really funny, interesting trucker character.  In the episode, Charlie and Dennis are on this sort of adventure where they get lost in the woods and are hitchhiking and come across this trucker that is driving to Atlantic City, and they go on this road trip with him.  We knew that we wanted to cast it with somebody a little bit recognizable and certainly somebody that could bring some level of gravitas to the role.  We wanted to bring someone who plays that intense, sort of psychotic character really well, and Sizemore was obviously on the top of that list. 

There was some question as to where he was in his life on a personal level and I made some phone calls and asked around and actually, Dr. Drew Pinksy is a good friend of mine.  I called him and he said, “Tom is in a great place.  He’s really ready and willing to work.  He understands the mistakes he’s made in the past and he would be really willing and ready to jump into this.”

So I called Tom directly and he seemed exactly what Dr. Drew was saying he was.  He showed up every day, on time, was professional and was just absolutely unbelievable.

Examiner Enterprise: What kind of show staples can we kind of expect in the coming season?  Is Green Man going to show up?  Are there going to be any more Night Man style musical numbers?

R. McElhenney We put Green Man on the back burner just because we want to make sure that it doesn’t start to seep into every single episode of our lives.  It certainly seeped in the popular culture and I can’t turn on a sporting event without seeing him somewhere in the background, specifically if the home team has green colors in their uniform. 

So what our goal has always been on the show is to not fall back on necessarily things that work and drive them into the ground and beat them like the dead horse that it could possibly be and often times you see in sitcoms.  So we want to sort of say, “Okay, well that worked and that was great.  Let’s find the next Green Man.  Let’s find the next thing that we can do.”

The same thing goes for Night Man.  That was such a successful episode and such a successful live tour and we felt like we definitely want to do another musical, it’s just that we want to find something a little bit fresh, a little bit different.  I think we’re not going to do that in the sixth season, but in the seventh season we’re going to spend a lot of time and really formulate a great musical episode.

Examiner Enterprise: What was it like working with the Phillies on this season?

R. McElhenney It was amazing.  You never quite know what you’re going to get out of a professional athlete when they show up on set, and this is from a professional standpoint in terms of what their demeanor is going to be like on set because we really try to keep a fun atmosphere.  None of us are divas; none of us are demanding.  You just never know when somebody is crossing over into the world of acting how they’re going to respond.  Then moreover, you have no idea how they’re going to respond from a creative standpoint and actually, are they going to be able to act.  These guys were just amazing.  They jumped right into it.  They were unbelievably funny.  I was surprised at how often times we audition actors, “professional comedic actors,” that weren’t nearly as funny as Ryan and Chase.

Metro Newspapers: I was wondering when you guys are writing, has there ever been a scenario where you just said, “That is too much.  We can’t do this.”

R. McElhenney Yes, although for different reasons.  Mostly it’s because we recognize that something isn’t funny.  It’s not that there is any general topic or scene that we think is taboo or out of bounds.  It’s just simply in the execution and how you handle it.  We deal with a lot of very sensitive issues, and I think that often times in the culture, it’s very easy to get very mean spirited, specifically with this show because of the personalities of the characters, and it’s very important to us that the show itself never comes across as mean spirited.  So often times we will look at an episode and say this isn’t funny.

I’ll give you an example from the third season where the episode was entitled “Sweet Dee Dating a Retarded Person.”  A lot of people, even just hearing the title without having watched the episode, had a knee jerk reaction to that and said, “They’re out there poking fun at mentally challenged people,” which was absolutely not the case. 

What we were making fun of was the characters and how ridiculous they were, and actually white hip hop rappers and the way that they talk.  The characters tried to figure out that, because of the way this guy communicated with us, that maybe possibly he was actually mentally challenged.  So if anything, we were making fun of ourselves.  I think that that’s a really important aspect of the show, that we are going out of our way to make sure that we are not poking fun at anybody but these ridiculous, misogynistic, arrogant, unbelievably self-centered characters.

Metro Newspapers: Philadelphians—and I’m one of them—are never offended.  So thank you so much.

R. McElhenney I’m amazed at how Philadelphia has embraced the show with such passion.  It’s fascinating.  I’ve heard so many people refer to the show as a love letter to Philadelphia, and I’ve always felt that.  Obviously, we are dealing with characters who are magnified versions of human beings, but I do think that you can find some shreds of humanity in them and I think that people respond to that.

Red Eye Show Patrol: I wanted to find out if you’ve seen The Expendables and what you thought of Dolph Lundgren’s performance.

R. McElhenney Yes, we saw The Expendables.  One of the reasons we saw The Expendables is we needed to jar this kid loose.  We were a week overdue by that point, maybe five or six days past the due date, and the kid was growing and because Kaitlin was having a natural home birth, we were getting a little nervous that this kid was going to come out 12 pounds with a giant head and we needed to stop the gestation process immediately. 

So we turned to The Expendables, assuming that, A, the explosions and the sounds would jar him awake and sort of force the process.  But I personally felt like he was going to hear the voice of Dolph and Sly and state them and say, “This is a world I need to be in.”  They were literally going to draw him out of the womb and through my wife’s vagina, potentially in the movie theatre itself.  And that didn’t happen.

But I will say that we had a ton of fun and Dolph never disappoints.  I couldn’t understand half the shit he was saying during the movie, but I think it didn’t matter because his pecks were sweet.

Red Eye Show Patrol: So when will Axel make his debut on the show, do you think?

R. McElhenney Axel will make his debut in show business the day he graduates from college and he can make his own decisions.  Up to that, the boy will not be anywhere near, in front of or behind a camera.  The only time he’ll be behind a camera is when he’s with me.

Red Eye Show Patrol: Does Mac’s absurd ignorance and stupidity ever bleed into your own life?

R. McElhenney  Absolutely.  I think there is certainly a fair amount of absurd behavior.  I think that there are certainly aspects of all of the characters’ ridiculousness.  I think that ultimately they’re pretty optimistic people and firmly believe that everything that they are doing is actually going to garner them a positive result. 

Like I said, I think they’re just magnified versions of actual real people.  So there are things that I see in these characters that I definitely see in my own life, but I feel like I see them in everybody’s lives.

Monsters and Critics:  Mac’s argument that he uses against gay marriage with the demonstration with the male jacks cord ends, do you think that’s going to be high-jacked by the religious right, that little demonstration…  That was very funny.

R. McElhenney   I’ve actually heard and seen someone make that argument and I thought it was hilarious.  I actually said to them, “I cannot wait to put that into my … show.”  I don’t think that’s what he was intending.  I don’t think that’s the response he was hoping for. 

But I have actually heard that.  That comes from a place of people assuming that all physical relationships and emotional relationships, romantic relationships when it comes to marriage has to be about procreation, which I find to be incredibly offensive to people—to heterosexual couples—who decide to get together and get married and decide not to have kids. 

Does that mean that their marriage is void?  I mean, come on.  It’s ridiculous.

Monsters and Critics: It sounds trite to say but you see the world differently when you have a child physically in your arms that you made.  It’s just true; it’s a fact and if you’re a normal human being, your eyes see the world differently.  You hear the news differently.  You process information differently when you have your own child. 

I’m just wondering how Axel’s birth, how it’s going to affect Dee and Mac as far as future episodes and subject matter.  If you could just talk about that.

R. McElhenney I want to try desperately to not allow it to effect the creative input into the show, although I think write it different, as I’m certainly seeing the world in a different way.  I’m definitely seeing children in a different way and most of the time when people show me pictures of their kids I could give two ….  Now not only am I fascinated with my own child, but now I’m fascinated with other people’s children, too, and I ask to see as many pictures as a possibly can.

Monsters and Critics: I also wanted to ask you how is Dennis, his arc, all his situations.  I know he gets married this season.  He always seems to be the odd man out.  I was wondering if you could talk about Dennis’s stories this season.

R. McElhenney Yes, we thought it would be really interesting for somebody who we’ve sort of created this finality of almost anti-social behavior.  He, out of everybody, seems to be the most pathological.  I think there is something that is really funny in that particular episode, the premier, when he talks about how he’s feeling feelings again, and do you remember feelings.  Do you remember what it was like to actually feel something? 

We thought that was a really interesting look into who and why that character acts the way that he does, and the potential that he has been going around for the last five years that the audience has known him actually not feeling anything. 

Now all of a sudden he’s met this woman that has triggered something in him, and of course it has nothing to do with the woman; everything in Dennis’s life has to do with himself.  It stirred up all of a sudden these emotions that he never thought he had, hadn’t had since he was a kid, and how that manifests itself over the course of the season, and we thought that was a really interesting look into a character.

Monsters and Critics: What is your favorite episode for the whole season so far?

R. McElhenney I think my favorite episode thus far is probably “Who Got Dee Pregnant,” which we’re going to air about halfway through the season.  I just feel like it was really fun and by the way, I like episodes for many different reasons.  But that one in particular because we screened it at ComicCon, there was about 7,000 people in the room. 

Sometimes TV shows don’t play in large crowds—especially single camera shows—because there is no break for the laugh track.  And the show doesn’t really lend itself to that to begin with.  Often times, a lot of things are missed. 

And you know when you’re making a movie, you’re making it for a theatre audience, and when we’re making our show, we’re making it for a television audience of people sitting at home. 

So you never really know how something is going to play in front of 7,000 or 8,000 people, and to watch the fans reactions—by the way, in a lot of ways it’s almost frustrating because they’re laughing so loud and for so long that they’re missing two and three jokes that happen after the one that they’re originally laughing at.  So as gratifying as it is as a filmmaker to watch people enjoy the show, there is still sort of an element there that is frustrating because you want them to enjoy the whole thing.

That being said, it was such an experience and it led me to believe that this was the funniest episode we had done this season.

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Love “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” soundtracks? The latest release of the Always Sunny In Philadelphia soundtrack coincides with the series premiere next week September 16.

Listen to it here:
It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia Music From The Original FX Series – “Temptation Sensation”  Composed by Heinz Kiessling.  Performed by The Heinz Kiessling Orchestra.: Soundtrack Album  LINK 

Temptation Sensation by SusanBlondInc

 

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