Editor's note: Erin Ryan began writing for It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia in 2018. In our five-part series, she chronicles her experience joining a comedy series in its 13th season.
The Sunny writers room feels like a team effort; every episode in season 13 contains jokes that each writer pitched. Nobody is dead weight. But while the time we spent at work tended to be pretty efficient, we figured out ways to f— around and waste time.
That’s not to denigrate f—ing around and wasting time. F—ing around and wasting time is part of being a writer, no matter where you’re working or who is paying you. At Always Sunny, retreating into nonsense and absurdity and arguing about dumb bullshit that doesn’t matter provides a much-needed break from the serious business of pitching jokes about pinkeye, pooping, and paint-huffing.
Here are some ways in which our time wasting was useless this season: We wrote between February and May of 2017, which meant that the Oscars fell right smack in the middle of it. We’re all individuals with our own tastes and preferences, and of course so we tended to have minor disagreements about movies and shows we liked apart from Sunny. But one Oscar-nominated film in particular threatened to rip the writers room in half. I won’t say what the movie was, because the film itself doesn’t matter. What matters is that we got into arguments about that film on a near-daily basis for weeks.
At one point, one producer gave a list of reasons he thought the film was great, and in response, I stood up and yelled “OPPOSITE!” A major magazine ran a favorable review of the film right around Oscar time, and I emailed it to the producer who liked the film with a note conceding that okay fine, one magazine critic agrees with his bad opinion. When we got to work that Monday, the producer had printed out copies of the review and put them on the desks of everybody who had been on the DID NOT LIKE side of the debate over the movie. I poked my head into his office and reminded him that I was the one who had sent him the article. He shrugged. “Maybe you should read it again!” Another producer and I used to grab handfuls of candies that had affirming sayings on the insides of their wrappers and present them to each other like gifts.
And another producer would make elaborate, page-sized geometric doodles that were so mesmerizingly pretty that after we were done writing the season, the guys had it framed (It’s now hanging in Rob [McElhenney]'s office.) We would throw balls of rubber bands around. Some people would play ping pong.
Retreating into nonsense and absurdity and arguing about dumb bullshit that doesn’t matter provides a much-needed break from the serious business of pitching jokes about pinkeye, pooping, and paint-huffing.
Here are some times f—ing around and wasting time was useful: Charlie’s (Charlie Day) storyline in the Super Bowl arc came from one producer shouting out that he should get "home alone-d." An EP’s enthusiasm for completing escape rooms led to the escape rooms episode. Joking around about all-female reboots sometimes being used as Band-Aids that don’t really “fix” gender inequality in entertainment led us to the all-female reboot episode (We also considered adding a “girls trip” arc to the Super Bowl storyline, but then realized that three episodes covering a football game that, by the time the episode aired would have occurred nine months prior would maybe be overkill.) Somebody made an off-handed comment about cut scenes and clip shows that lead to this season’s episode that sort of starts as a clip show and ends as something completely off the rails.
The escape room episode came from one producer’s love of doing escape rooms. By “love,” I mean that it’s a part of this person’s lifestyle. (Until I worked at Sunny, I’d never heard of them outside of episodes of The Bachelor and randomly walking by one inside a mall in Hollywood.) The gum-chewing through line in that episode came from a somewhat famous-in-the-room story of one Sunny staffer being profoundly bothered by the sound of loud chewing.
Speaking of chewing: we also snacked a ton. I’ve worked in a lot of places with excellent snacks and I have to say, the snack situation at Sunny was top-notch. Because Rob was in the middle of getting super buff so that Mac could spend the whole season trying to find excuses to take his shirt off, we had mostly healthy options: various salted and unsalted nuts, dried seaweed, those Trader Joe’s snacks that can’t possibly be as healthy as the label makes it seem they are. A fridge full of LaCroix (all of the flavors!). A table full of gum, specifically this one kind of grape Ice Breakers gum that we’d pop like candy. I feel blessed that I didn’t gain 10 pounds while I was working there.
I guess we all have Mac’s suddenly-buff torso to thank for that.
Erin Ryan is a writer, podcaster, and political commentator who lives in Los Angeles. In addition to her work on Always Sunny, she hosts Crooked Media’s Hysteria and occasionally appears on Pod Save America and Lovett or Leave It. She is currently working on Rob Mcelhenney and Charlie Day’s forthcoming Apple TV project. Her writing has been featured by The Daily Beast, The New York Times, Playboy, Runner's World, and other places. Erin was born and raised in Frederic, Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Norte Dame. In her free time, she sometimes sleeps.