I am continuously amused by the FX comedy series It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. The writers and actors on that show are either utterly fearless or just don't care about remaining within politically correct boundaries — to uncomfortable and hilarious results.
I recently got to talk with Charlie Day, one of the creators/writers/stars of Always Sunny and picked his brain a bit about the series, his director Fred Savage, and his wife — who plays the waitress Charlie is obsessed with on the show.
There's another new episode of Always Sunny tonight at 10:00 PM on FX, and until then, you can check out what I learned from Charlie if you read more
How much of the show is scripted and how much is improvised? It seems like a lot of it is ad libbed.
I think the ad-libbing style and the feel both come from the way we acted on the set and also from the style of acting that we have adopted for this particular show. But we actually heavily script every episode. Once we feel comfortable with a take or two, we will start to get a little bit looser with the dialogue and deconstruct a little bit of what we wrote to see if there are different and funnier ways to say what we’d written. I would say at the end of day, about 20% stays in and the rest of it is the scripted version of the show.
But I think what is adding to the improv feel is the fact that we talk over each other a lot. We shoot with two cameras going constantly, so you can cut from one side to the other, and that overlapping isn’t a problem.
How much are you like your character Charlie?
I’d like to think I am not like him at all, but I think, sadly, I’m more like him than I care to be. It’s funny, I really never thought the show would go this far, because it was a home video. I figured, Charlie is such a good name for the character, let’s stick with it.
How much am I like him? Well, I have never gotten drunk and refereed a basketball game, but I have gotten drunk and I have played basketball, so there you go.
Your wife, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, plays the waitress on the show. What’s it like working with her knowing how much her character loathes Charlie?
It’s always great working with Mary Elizabeth. We actually have a great working relationship. Oftentimes, I think we joke around at home in various characters, or in the characters of the show. For us it’s very enjoyable and it’s easy for me to pine after her. I don’t know why it’s so easy for her to dislike me so much, but I think it’s pretty enjoyable for both of us.
There is a video online in which we learn there’s something in your contract as actors, you have to service Danny DeVito, which is highly amusing. Was that just something you guys wanted to do, or was it to get more buzz online for the show? And will we see more of that stuff in the future?
Without a doubt, it was to get more buzz for the show. FX said to us, "Do you think you guys could come up with anything like those 'Dick in the Box' things that get six million hits on YouTube?" I think, because we didn’t have Justin Timberlake and we weren’t airing it first on Saturday Night Live, the answer was "no."
That video goes back to what we used to do, which is there was no crew. It was a lot of fun. We came up with the concept of Danny’s contract and Danny and Rhea and Fred Savage were all up for the joke. Fred Savage is the best part about it. I think in the future, we’ll definitely do more, whether they’re for Sunny, or just for our own amusement.
Do you think Fred Savage will ever make an appearance on the show itself, or will he remain behind the cameras?
I am begging him to make an appearance on the show. Not only is Fred a very talented actor and a very funny guy, he’s really a great director and he helped us a lot. Obviously, I have been a fan of him since he was a kid, and he is a really strong, funny actor. If he ever wants to do anything in front of the camera for us, we’ll be lucky to have him and I know our fans will love it, too.
Additional reporting by Kate Emswiler and Kimra McPherson