“Well, I don’t know how many years on this Earth I got left. I’m gonna get real weird with it.”—Frank Reynolds.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia follows five morally abject barkeeps—the “Gang” of Paddy’s Pub—as they scheme, sleep, and generally slosh their way through the city of Philadelphia. Pitch-black comedy isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (or, in this case, beer), but the bleak humor is well-mixed enough with a little bit of heart—from Kitten Mittens to full-length musicals—so there’s someone for everyone. The FXX sitcom was not always a runaway hit. In the early years, the show dodged cancellation and lack of funds so many times it’s a miracle that they’re still around. So, how did the Gang escape annihilation? Which cast member almost died during a stunt that would make even Mac himself cringe? Offer us an egg in this trying time as we share 43 amoral facts about It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
1. Handheld Welcome
The song’s beautiful opening credits feature strolling shots of the Philadelphia streets to public domain music. This was shot via shaky camcorder by Glenn Howerton, Charlie Day, and Rob McElhanney as they drove around the City of Brotherly Love in their car. Costing nothing but the price of gas, these credits might be the cheapest opening titles in TV history.
2. Shoot Low, Aim High
The initial pilot for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia cost $200. Originally, Rob McElhenny and Glenn Howerton wrote a short film about a man who is trying to confide in his friend about a potential cancer diagnosis, all while the friend is only concerned with borrowing sugar for his coffee. After watching the DVD, an executive at FX let McElhenny and his friends re-shoot a professional pilot, this time with $400,000.
3. Stunt Double
Despite the show’s title, most of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s shooting takes place in Los Angeles. Even the external shots of Paddy’s Pub are taken from 544 Mateo Street, LA. So that's why it's always sunny!
4. The Shape of Fanboying
Celebrated director Guillermo del Toro is a huge fan of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. While working with Charlie Day on Pacific Rim, del Toro expressed his love for Day’s show and said he’d love to be a guest star. Day wasn’t sure how serious he was, but all it took was one follow-up email from Day for the director to embrace his cameo in season eight’s “The Ponderosa Wedding Massacre.”
Thus, del Toro was immortalized in the It’s Always Sunny canon forever as “Pappy McPoyle.”
5. Sweet Recycling
“Sweet Dee” was also the nickname of Rob McElhenny’s friend’s girlfriend. He used it when developing the character of Dennis’s twin sister, Deandra Reynolds.
6. Funny First
Initially, “Sweet Dee” Reynolds was written to act much more restrained—a “voice of reason” for the gang. When her actress, Kaitlin Olson, brought it up to Rob McElhenny, the writer said, “We don’t really know how to write for women, because we just kind of write for ourselves.” Kaitlin Olson replied, “Well don’t write for a woman, just write another funny character and I’ll make it a woman…"
It worked out on all counts. As Olson put it, "I’m glad that I trusted him, and I’m glad that he wasn’t lying.”
7. Not Worth the Price
Allegedly, FX offered $500 to the writers if they could come up with a better series name than “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” It doesn’t look like they did.
8. Partners in Life and Art
Every main actor’s spouse has appeared on the show at least once. The only exception is Danny DeVito’s wife, Rhea Perlman. However, this may not be totally true: Perlman did appear in the live stage production of the gang’s musical, The Nightman Cometh. Does that count?
9. Eastern Promises
The Russian adaptation of the show is titled It’s Always Sunny in Moscow. The bar is called “Philadelphia.”
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10. Close Enough
Before she moved in with Charlie’s mother, Mac’s mom lived in her own place. The house they used for Casa MacDonald was, in fact, McElhenney's actual aunt and uncle's house while he was growing up. And the white house right next door? That was McElhenny’s real-life childhood home.
11. Better Late Than Never
Despite its super-long run, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia wasn't nominated for any Emmys until its ninth season—and even then, it has only ever been nominated for Outstanding Stunt Coordination for a Comedy Series or a Variety Program. Ironically, this was the same season as the episode “The Gang Tries Desperately to Win an Award,” which they wrote specifically about how they were never nominated for any awards.
12. Only In An Alternate Universe
Does knowing that Charlie Day and Mary Elizabeth Ellis (who plays the Waitress) are married in real-life make Charlie’s decades-long stalking of the Waitress any less creepy? No? Okay.
13. The System Works?
The pharmacist whom Dennis seduces in “The D.E.N.N.I.S. System” is played by Glenn Howerton’s real-life wife, Jill Latiano. They were married in November 2009, just two months before “The D.E.N.N.I.S. System” actually aired.
14. Day Writes for the Dayman
Charlie Day writes much of the music and lyrics for his musically “gifted” character, Charlie Kelly, himself.
15. The Comedic Couple
Despite Mac’s insistence that he would “rather get shot in the face” than marry Dee, Rob McElhenny and Kaitlin Olson have been married since 2008. They secretly began dating during the show’s second season.
16. Sitcom Cinematic Universe
Mac famously comes out of the closet in “Hero or Hate Crime?”, but it’s not the episode’s only iconic piece of TV history. The sidewalk where Charlie saved Mac from the falling piano is the exterior of the famous Maclaren’s bar in How I Met Your Mother.
17. From Cult Hit to Cultivating Mass
You cannot accuse McElhenny of lacking a commitment to his art: the showrunner and star famously gained 50 pounds on purpose for his role as Mac in the seventh season. Why? McElhenny found it weird and unrealistic how most sitcom characters look more “Hollywood” in grooming and shape as they and their shows age. McElhenny sought to subvert the trope by having his character gain a massive amount of weight, I mean, “cultivate mass.”
No wonder actor Nick Kroll called McElhenny the "Daniel Day-Lewis of basic cable.”
18. The Gang Bails Out
Originally, Rob McElhenny wanted all the stars of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia to gain a massive amount of weight—like he did—for season seven. No one—especially his wife and co-star Kaitlin Olson, who just had a baby—was interested in this experiment. But McElhenny was not discouraged…
19. Put Your Mouth Where Your Money Is
To “cultivate mass” for the “Fat Mac” arc, Rob McElhenny consumed about 5,000 calories a day. At least it was mostly healthy calories, including vegetables and chicken with the occasional ice cream. He then lost the weight simply by returning to his regular diet and exercise regime.
20. A Little Help From The Pros
Baseball player Chase Utley (with whom Mac is obsessed on the show) was actually the one who referred McElhenny to a nutritionist that could help the actor rapidly gain 50 pounds in a safe manner.
21. If Only Mac Had That Kind of Work Ethic
In the beginning, the show was operating on a budget of just one-third of what most sitcoms of the day were used to. During the first season, Rob McElhenny was still waiting tables in West Hollywood when he wasn’t shooting his sitcom.
22. Prototypical Dee
The role of “Sweet Dee” was originally played by Rob McElhenny’s then-girlfriend, Jordan Reid. According to Reid, their break-up led to her recasting, even after FX picked up the soon-to-be-hit. McElhenny also met his future wife, Kaitlin Olson, when she replaced Reid as Dee, so maybe some things are meant to be?
23. Saturday Night Alternate Lives
Kristen Wiig was in the running to play Dee Reynolds. Could she pass for a twin sister of Dennis, though? Then again, does Kaitlin Olson, who did get the part?
24. The Price of Laughter
Comedy Central famously paid $33 million for the syndication rights to It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, because the demand for reruns was that high.
25. Now That’s Some Improv
In 2009, the show’s cast toured six cities to perform their full-length in-universe musical, The Nightman Cometh. However, the show was born from a billing mistake: a West Hollywood club advertised that the actors would be doing the full musical production, instead of just a few songs from the episode. This sounds like a gaffe the Gang would get into and then subsequently exploit…
26. Direct Your Demons Away
The Wonder Years child star and now-director Fred Savage sought to direct several episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia because he saw his own “worst qualities” projected in the Gang.
27. Mac and Dee Start a Bar
Rob McElhenny and Kaitlin Olson own a real-life Philadelphian sports bar named “Mac’s Tavern.” There, you can order authentic “Mac’s Chili” and “Sweet Dee’s Turkey B.L.T.”
28. When Will the Golden God Get What He Wants?
Glenn Howerton has auditioned for several superhero leads over the years, including Clark Kent himself in Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns (2006) and Peter Quill in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014).
29. Almost Gone Too Soon
In one terrifying moment, Danny DeVito almost drowned in season 11. The cast was filming a scene where they would be holding hands as the water level rose in the room. Being abnormally “buoyant” for a man, DeVito needed to be weighed down. Unfortunately, he remained weighted after the scene was done; rescue divers had to swoop in and lift him to safety.
30. Continuing the Legacy
The 13th season was shot on the same lot in Studio City, California as Seinfeld.
31. Too Close for Comfort
While Charlie Day and Rob McElhenny’s characters are named after their actors, Glenn Howerton’s Dennis is not. This is partly because Howerton wanted to distance his IRL persona from Dennis’s “sociopathy.” Understandable.
32. Better Out Than In
At first, Rob McElhenny was resistant to the “conscious idea” of making Mac openly gay. Mac’s combo of repressed sexuality and open homophobia was “meant to satirize a particular attitude, that still sadly exists, that there’s something wrong with being gay.” But in McElhenny’s words, “I got to a point where I realized, I’m holding too hard and fast to that rule. And I think we have made plenty of jokes in that arena. We’ve satirized that to death. What sort of possibilities does it open up when that character finally does come out of the closet? Which is why we decided to have him come out once and for all.”
Mac officially came out of the closet—for good—in the season 12 episode “Hero or Hate Crime?” For the record, McElhenny's mother came out of the closet when he was eight years old.
33. Bad News, Good Consistency
Charlie’s unfinished tattoo from the episode “Dennis and Dee Get a New Dad" is visible on his arm for the rest of the series. It was supposed to read “Bad News,” in an effort to impress Mac’s dad, but Frank interrupts them, so it only reads “Bad New.” That’s some serious commitment to the lore for a sitcom.
34. One Word Is All You Need
Originally, the show was going to be called “Jerks.” That would have been easier to spell, but considerably less catchy.
35. Costume Drama
Regarding the episode “The Gang Gets Trapped”—the one where the Gang is, well, trapped in a house while trying to steal a precious vase—a Reddit user has pointed out a potential background joke: it looks like the Gang has purchased an Indiana Jones costume but can’t agree who should wear it. Mac is wearing the hat, Charlie the jacket, and Frank has the iconic whip.
36. The Greenman Cost Them Green
The show paid an old friend of Robert McElhenny’s for the full rights to his “Greenman” character. In the past, said friend would dress up in the green morph suit for every Philadelphia Eagles game; he sold the rights to his alter ego for an undisclosed sum. The wheel then kept on turning as two fans of the show became famous around the NHL as "The Green Men."
At Vancouver Canucks games, the pair would dress in the iconic all green bodysuits and sit right next to the opposing team's penalty box, taunting any players that were sent there.
37. It Will Always Be Always Sunny
In 2014, It’s Always Sunny became the longest-running live-action sitcom in cable history. It had been renewed for an 11th and 12th season, which meant 133 episodes of awfully good comedy. Then, in 2016, it was renewed through 14 seasons, at which point it will tie The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet as the longest-running live-action sitcom, period (as far as seasons are concerned, Ozzie and Harriet still trumps Sunny in terms of episodes).
38. The Portrait of Rickety Cricket
Someone on Reddit once put forth the theory that the much-abused defrocked priest Rickety Cricket is, in a way, the Gang’s Picturet of Dorian Gray. In Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, the titular character is blessed and cursed with a painting of himself that ages and bears the scars of his bad deeds while he stays the same.
In the same vein, Cricket appears to be bearing the scars, burns, scratches, broken bones, and missing eyes of the Gang’s misdeeds while they remain untouched. Hmm…
39. McPoyles Will Rule the World
The McPoyles are based on a real-life family that Rob McElhenny grew up knowing. But never fret: they aren’t inbred terrifying hillbillies (as far as he knows…). McElhenny drew inspiration for (1) their surname and (2) the fact that there were so many McPoyles.
40. Quick to the Draw
For season two, Danny DeVito was only available for 20 days of filming. As a result, all ten episodes worth of Frank Reynolds footage in season two was shot over that brief window.
41. I’m Gonna Get Weird With It
Danny DeVito saved It’s Always Sunny from cancellation. Although the show’s first season was well-received, the ratings weren’t enough for FX to renew the show… at least without some conditions. FX told them to get a big-star name to draw viewers, or else they would be canceled. Danny DeVito was put forth as a name; luckily, DeVito’s kids were fans of the show.
In Rob McElhenny’s words, he could play “despicable characters" that still have a warmth underneath. Thus, despite the rest of the cast's initial hesitation, DeVito entered as Dee and Dennis’s dad Frank, and the show has lived another dozen-plus years.
42. Stream of Unconsciousness
Danny DeVito is often cited as having “saved” the show from cancellation, but he was not the only reason. While DeVito’s casting kept the show alive to see season two, the ratings were still mediocre. What really made It’s Always Sunny a household name was when the DVDs became available just as Hulu began streaming the program.
With this easy access, viewers found it very easy to love the unlovable exploits of the Gang, and the show quickly became one of Hulu’s most popular streams.
43. Game of Guest Writers
Game of Thrones showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff guest-wrote the episode “Flowers for Charlie,” where Charlie seemingly undergoes a procedure to become more intelligent. Coincidentally, the episode features a guest role from Burn Gorman, who had a significant guest role in the third and fourth seasons of Game of Thrones, where he played Night’s Watch deserter Karl Tanner. He also appeared alongside Day in Pacific Rim. Connections abound!