Rob McElhenney plays the emotionally stunted pub owner Mac on the wildly popular FX sitcom It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. He's also the show's creator and showrunner. We recently sat down to discuss the secret to the series' longevity, the legendary Danny DeVito, and some eyebrow-raising storylines planned for future episodes. Then things got a bit off topic. My bad.
Steven Shehori: It's Always Sunny has been on the top of its game this year, both critically and commercially. Do you guys feel like you've got a few more seasons in you?
Rob McElhenney: We're under contract for one more. And we feel from a creative standpoint we're really hitting our stride. Certainly from an audience perspective we're larger than we've ever been; we keep growing about 30 to 40% each year.
SS: It may take them a while to catch on, but viewers know a good sitcom when they see it... You know what sitcom I loved as a kid? Mork & Mindy.
RM: Oh yeah. Definitely.
SS: Let's talk about what made Mork & Mindy so good.
RM: Sure, we can do that.
SS: Cool. You start.
RM: Okay, well... You know, inexplicably, and unbelievably, Mork & Mindy was a spinoff of Happy Days. Mork was in an episode where he comes down to Earth and winds up at Arnold's, where he challenges Fonzie to some sort of battle of coolness. And Mork -- from Ork -- winds up defeating Fonzie courtesy of his alien powers, if I recall correctly. And the producers thought, "Well this works. Let's make a show about him."
SS: It's flooding back to me now. Doesn't Mork kidnap Fonzie at the end of that episode?
RM: Yeah, that's exactly what happens.
SS: And does he do this because he needs the Fonz to save his planet or something? Or is he just being a dick?
RM: I can't really remember. But the interesting thing about Happy Days is that it wasn't supposed to be about the Fonz at all. It was supposed to be about Richie and his family, but Fonzie quickly became the most popular character, so they ended up revolving almost every episode around him.
SS: Some might say he was the Urkel of Happy Days.
RM: They might.
SS: There are a couple of people out there who think Happy Days jumped the shark during a seldom-referenced episode where Fonzie jumped a shark. But I say the show started heading south after Arnold's burned down and they built a new one.
RM: How come?
SS: I dunno, they just did weird things. In the old Arnold's, Fonzie used to call the men's room his "office." It was a figure of speech. But in the new Arnold's, they actually built an office in the freakin' men's room. So he had a little desk and a phone a few feet from where guys would void their bowels.
RM: So you thought it was weird that Fonzie now had an actual office to go to, as opposed to calling a men's room stall his office.
SS: Yeah. For some reason, my brain felt that was the weirdest thing I'd seen in a sitcom.
RM: I may be able to top that. On Night Court, you may recall the elderly actresses playing the bailiffs kept dying. Eventually, the producers thought, "Maybe we should stop getting old ladies." So they wrote in a wisecracking young black woman named Roz. And one of the most bizarre episodes I've ever seen involves her going into diabetic shock.
SS: It's like Chekhov once said. "If you place a diabetic in the first act, she has to go off in the last."
RM: And that's not even the weird part. In this episode, she climbs up on the roof, stumbles dangerously close to the ledge, and starts talking to an imaginary bird on her finger.
SS: So far this sounds 100% medically accurate.
RM: And then Dan Fielding the D.A. puts on a voice and pretends to be her father, promising her an ice cream cone if she gets down off the ledge. This is all played straight; very dramatic. So he talks her down from the ledge and gives her a hug, saves her life, the audiences applauds, etcetera. And then she turns to him and says, "Hey! You ain't my daddy!" To which he replies, "And this ain't no ice cream cone." And he stabs her in the ass with an insulin needle.
SS: Wow. You win. That definitely beats Fonzie's disgusting poop-office.
SS: Did she end up getting ice cream?
SS: Well that fucking sucks.
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia airs Thursday nights at 10pm on FX.