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Monday, September 28, 2009

Q&A: Glenn Howerton from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Posted By on Mon, Sep 28, 2009 at 11:41 AM

click to enlarge Howerton (standing)  in "The Nightman Cometh" with Danny DeVito. - PATRICK MCELHENNEY
  • Patrick McElhenney
  • Howerton (standing) in "The Nightman Cometh" with Danny DeVito.
Glenn Howerton co-writes and produces FX's cultishly beloved TV show, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia; he also plays vain pretty-boy, Dennis R. Reynolds. The cast recently toured with a live version of the show, in which they reproduced an episode called "The Nightman Cometh." SF Weekly chatted with Howerton on the eve of last week's San Francisco performance, discussing, among other important topics, Danny

DeVito's balls and the dangers of fingering poop on television.

SF Weekly: What's it like performing "Nightman" for a live audience?

Glenn Howerton: It's so fun. Audiences are flipping out. It's palpable. People seem to really take ownership of the show because it started so small and spread by word of mouth. People are going over to their friends' houses, bringing the DVDs, and sitting them down and saying "You have to watch this fucking show."

SFW: How do you guys strike a balance between being funny and disturbing without just putting people off?

GH: We spend a lot of time talking about that. I guess it all comes down to you have to justify the characters' actions. The audience has to believe that the character believes that what he's doing is going to work.

I think it's a major, major failing in a lot of different TV shows and movies that the writer and the people involved think they can get away with the character just doing something silly or funny and by virtue of the fact they're doing it, it's supposed to be funny. One of the funniest things about the show to me is watching the characters justify their actions. They're trying to basically do the most selfish and horrible things but somehow finding a way to say, "Hey, this is OK because it serves purpose A, purpose B or purpose C."


SFW: Do you think believing in the character's motivation makes it easier to enjoy watching terrible people do terrible things to each other?

GH: I think everything these characters do people can relate to on some twisted level...You take a guy like Danny

DeVito, who is an actor that people universally love. And the truth of

the matter is that if you look back, most of the characters that people

love Danny playing are these despicable people. I think Danny

himself is such a lovable guy that it weirdly comes across. Maybe

that's what it is. We're all nice guys in real life and that comes

across and makes our characters more likable.


SFW:

Do the characters like each other?

GH: I think so. I do. We like to say that the characters are friends

with each other because no one else will be friends with them. For as

disloyal as they often are in any given moment, I think they're also

weirdly loyal to each other.

SFW What's the weirdest thing you know about Danny DeVito?

GH: Well I saw a little bit too much of his balls one day. We were doing a

scene, the extreme home makeover episode, and that house that the

Mexican family lived in that we're supposed to be renovating and end up

burning down -- that was a set...There's these stairs and the stairs

didn't actually go anywhere. So there's a scene where I'm supposed to

leave and he enters, and we're both just sitting at the top of the

stairs. I don't know what the fuck he was wearing, some little short

shorts under this robe or something, but I could see his balls hanging

out. And then this season, we shot a Christmas DVD that's coming out in

November and I saw his balls again. So I totally know what that guy's

balls look like.

SFW: What do they look like?

GH: I can't do that. I won't go so far as to describe them. But he's a

sixty-something year-old man. You can only imagine what his balls look

like.

SFW: How did you guys get hooked up with Fred Savage?

GH: Savage knew one of our executive producer/writers, David Hornsby, who

actually plays Rickety Cricket on the show, and he was a big fan of

Sunny. We were losing our second season director and we were looking

for three directors. He was one of the guys that came in and

interviewed and we really liked his energy. And on top of that we're like, "Hey, he's fucking Kevin

Arnold. That's gotta count for something, right? "

SFW: Is he ever going to be on the show?

GH: We've talked to him about it. I don't know why it hasn't happened

yet, I think there just hasn't been the right character yet. The thing

about Fred is most people still remember him from the Wonder Years and

Princess Bride but...I've seen him in other stuff where he surprised me.

I saw him do some pretty dark stuff...He's a

dark twisted human being; I can tell you that from experience. He's

willing to take it as far as us, if not further.

SFW: Has FX ever told you can't do something or to tone something down?

GH: I'll give you two examples. One was from the first season, and it was

a big thing. In the very first season of the show, the original episode

"Charlie Got Molested" was about him getting molested by a Catholic

priest. It was kind of at the height of that whole controversy. And at

the very last minute they said, "Hey guys, we can't do the priest

thing." We fought back and they fought back and we were ready to walk. We were like, "That's the essence of the episode, and that's

the essence of this show." At that point we were all younger, our rent

was pretty cheap, none of us were married, and we were like, "Fuck you

man, we don't need this shit." But before we did that, we thought,

"We've got a good thing going here and let's at least explore what it

would be like to do it with a gym teacher and if it's just as funny, we

should do it." And in the end we looked at it and said, "This is just

as funny, let's not throw this opportunity away." It's incredible,

because they haven't done it since. And we've done some pretty crazy

shit since then. I think part of it is that they get it, and they get

that the audience gets it. We haven't had many complaints. I think

people get that the joke is on us.

Here's an example of something really stupid they asked us to take out.

We did this whole episode about poop. Some people gave us, pardon the

expression, shit for it because they were like, "Oh, the guys from It's

Always Sunny resorting to poop humor. That's too bad. I thought they

were smarter than that." And of course I wanted to say, "Are you

fucking kidding me? The whole episode is about how it's stupid to think

poop is funny." We were trying to have it both ways: Both making poop

jokes and making fun of people who make poop jokes. I think poop is

funny. But I digress.

At one point, when Artemis is doing the whole

wrap-up at the end, she had a part where she very casually put her

finger on the poop that was on the paper plate and kind of rolls it

while saying a line. And for whatever reason, FX was like, no. It

wasn't even FX, actually. It was their legal department. They were

like, "It's too much poop. You can't have Artemis' character finger the

poop." And we were like, "You've got to be kidding me. That is so

stupid. You can have people's heads exploding and on The Shield people

being tortured to a bloody pulp, but you can't have a character just

lightly finger a piece of dry poop on a paper plate? That's

ridiculous."

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Andy Wright

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