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.
In January 2018, I was a political opinion columnist and cable pundit living alone with a cat in Manhattan (the dream!). It had been bitter cold for days. The new season of The Bachelor sucked. I was getting depressed. So one night, I got half-drunk and ordered myself a fancy new coat online. For good measure, I threw in a seasonal depression lamp and, for some reason, a bunch of bright yellow running socks. F— it, I thought. I’m leaning into how much winter sucks.
I had already forgotten about the sad drunk winter purchases I’d made when, two days later, Rob McElhenney called me at my desk at The Daily Beast. This wasn’t that odd an occurrence. Rob and I had first gotten to know each other about a year prior, when he’d reached out about possibly collaborating on a project, and we’d stayed in touch as I found time in my cramped schedule to work on it.
Rob had always been really positive and encouraging guy in the times we’d talked writing in the past, but that day, he sounded more upbeat than usual. I thought he was perhaps going to be cocky about the weather in Los Angeles and ask me how cold it was in New York. (Little known fact: 70% of calls from Los Angeles to New York that occur between January and April involve the Los Angeles person gleefully reminding the New York person that their weather is trash. At least we don’t have to drive everywhere, jerks!)
But only about half of Rob’s enthusiasm that day was weather-related. "This is a long shot," he said, about ten minutes into our phone conversation, "but we have a spot open in the Always Sunny writers’ room. It starts in a few weeks. You’d have to come out to Los Angeles..."
I think I blacked out a little bit as he was pitching the Sunny job to me, because it was a f—ing absurd thing that was happening. I felt my brain retreat back from my face. I tried my very best to sound casual as I said "Yeah, I’d be interested," but I could have screamed it at the top of my lungs or sang it in a Vaudeville voice; I have no way of knowing how it came out.
When I arrived home from work that night still in full TV makeup from an appearance on HLN, my seasonal depression lamp and fancy new jacket were waiting for me. I brought them up to my apartment and unboxed the jacket. I put it on, tags still attached, over the dress I’d worn on TV. I sat on my couch and booked a one way plane ticket to Los Angeles. I didn’t even take my shoes off. I looked and felt insane.
But holy shit was I terrified for my first day of work at It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.
Normally, high-pressure situations excite me. I don’t get nervous. I’ve done a lot of TV and live stage shows with Pod Save America. I’d met President Obama a few times. I accosted Bob Odenkirk at a party once. I sat two rows away from Madeleine Albright on a train to DC and introduced myself to her. I was, at worst, mildly nervous during all these life events.
But holy shit was I terrified for my first day of work at It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. Rob was the only person in the entire production I’d ever met. I’d worked in newsrooms before and I’d written jokes for another TV show before, but Sunny was my first scripted TV writers’ room. I very badly wanted to not suck.
I remember the feeling of the blood draining from my face as the elevator ascended to the floor the writers’ room was on. I tried to make small talk with another woman in the elevator who, turned out, didn’t work for Sunny. She wasn’t interested in assuaging my nerves.
The first thing I saw when I got off the elevator was Charlie Day eating a bagel.
"I’m Charlie," he said. "I know," I said, laughing nervously, like an asshole.
The other writers filtered in. For the most part, everybody already knew each other. Megan Ganz, a woman whose work I’d admired for years, had the office next to mine. There were also a few people whose names I’d recognized from the credits of old Sunny episodes—Conor Galvin, Dannah Phirman, Danielle Schneider. Besides me, there were two other new writers this season—Adam Weinstock and Andy Jones. There was one office in the line of writers’ offices curiously labeled "Guest office." Hm. Intriguing.
The writers’ "room" was more like a large table strewn with notecards, pens, various gums and snacks and surrounded by office chairs and bookended by two large whiteboards and bulletin boards. The guys called for everyone to have a seat for day one, meeting one. The producers and writers sat at the table and the writers’ assistants, production assistants, and personal assistants sat in the area around the table, laptops out. All of the other writers had notebooks, so I grabbed a notebook, a practice I’d later realized was mostly for doodling purposes, as the writers’ and production assistants basically wrote down every single thing we said during those meetings.
Who would have guessed that a show with an episode titled "The Gang Finds A Dumpster Baby" would be the most woman-friendly place I’ve ever worked?
Rob welcomed everybody and gave us a sort of coach-y pep talk about how excited he was to make season 13. Charlie added some thoughts. We went around the room and introduced ourselves, standard first day of school type stuff. And then, jumped right into brainstorming ideas for season 13 and I forgot to be nervous. (I’ll go more into exactly how the brainstorming process looks next post.)
A few things stood out to me, through my anxiety fog on my first day. Before I worked for him, Rob was always anecdotally a cool and supportive mentor, but in the room it was clear that he, Charlie, and Glenn [Howerton] had established a norm of behavior that was refreshingly egalitarian. I’m a woman who has worked in a lot of mostly-male spaces that traffic in opinions and information. I’m used to being interrupted or ignored. Even the "good" places in media sometimes have problems with this. At Sunny, people reacted to ideas rather than identity. I never felt like I was being talked to like a girl, not by my bosses, not by the producers or other writers, not by the assistants (later, when I’d visit set, the rest of the cast and crew would continue talking to me like a person rather than a girl). It was wild. Who would have guessed that a show with an episode titled "The Gang Finds A Dumpster Baby" would be the most woman-friendly place I’ve ever worked?
The second thing I noticed was that in a room full of people as funny as the Always Sunny staff, a person’s laugh threshold rises dramatically, partly out of self-preservation. On my first day, one Sunny staffer responded to a pitch of mine by looking me in the eye and saying, with zero smile, "That’s funny. That’s really funny." I didn’t understand it at the time, but after a couple of days at Always Sunny, I did. By day two, my face hurt from laughing so much. If I’d kept laughing at that rate, by the end of my stint in the writers’ room, my facial muscles would have been cartoonishly toned, like I was a bodybuilder competing for World’s Buffest Smile. I would have woke up in the middle of the night with facial charley horses. So, in a way, writing for It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia taught me to laugh less.
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.
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia airs Wednesday nights on FXX.