You may know Glenn Howerton best as Dennis Reynolds, one of the devious yet lovable characters from the hit FX comedy “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” The show centers around four very politically incorrect friends that run a local pub in The City of Brotherly Love. The self-absorbed group tackles some of today’s hottest social issues with topics ranging from racism to abortion while constantly showcasing their complete inability to care for others. Howerton is not only one of the stars but also serves as one of the shows creators, producers and writers alongside the very talented Rob McElhenney and Charlie Day. In what is a Cinderella story of sorts, these three hard working guys shot their own pilot, sent it into the network and got picked up for a series — which is not an everyday occurrence in Hollywood. Along the way, the boys added the talents of Kaitlin Olson and comedy legend Danny DeVito to the mix and spawned an underground sensation! The show is now headed into it’s fifth season on FX, which begins it’ run on September 17th, and continues to gain steam and win over fans worldwide. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Glenn Howerton to discuss the show’s creation, the highly anticipated new season, the process of bringing “The Nightman Cometh” episode to the stage and all of his upcoming projects.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up all over the place, I was an Air Force brat. I was born in Japan and I grew up in England and Korea, and I moved to Montgomery, Alabama when I was ten. I lived there till I graduated high school, and then I got the fuck out! [laughs]
How did you get started in the entertainment business?
I used to do plays as a kid at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery, but I kind of just did it for fun and just got involved in it. My parents got me involved in some little acting class for kids when I was little, and I started doing all of these plays. So, I don’t know, it was just like one of those things that I did along with all the other shit I was doing like playing sports and whatnot. I was graduating high school and I was going to go school for aeronautical engineering and at the last minute, and it was actually my parents oddly, they encouraged me to go to school for acting. I got offered a full scholarship down to the theater school down in Miami and I wasn’t going to do it but my parents encouraged me to, so I’ve gotta give them some credit for that!
Well it seems to be working out so far!
Yeah man so far so good! I never thought I’d be writing and producing a television show. That was a bit of a spin on the whole acting career thing, but it’s fun and I like it.
How did you originally meet up and then spawn the series “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”?
We were friends and knew each other from New York, but we became closer friends out here in L.A. We were all a bunch of actors trying to get gigs and had a shitload of free time on our hands. We got our hands on a couple of cameras and started shooting stuff together just for the hell of it, just to stay busy. And basically we were constantly complaining about all of the material we were getting, so we were like “Well fuck man if we’re go God damn smart lets go out and buy some cameras and see if we’re any better than anyone else that’s trying to make shit.” We just started making our own home movies really, that’s what they were, and this “Sunny” thing was just one of the home movies that we made. When we put it all together and looked at it we were like “Shit this is actually really funny this could actually be something.” We showed it to all our friends and they thought it was funny, it just kind of spiraled out of control from there because we all had the same manager. He worked over at a company called 3 Arts Entertainment, they produced a lot of television. He showed it to them and they loved it, and within a couple of months we literally were shooting an actual pilot for FX. It was bizarre.
In addition to creating the series you all also produce, write and star in it. Is it difficult to balance all those aspects or is it old hat to you now?
It makes things both easier and harder, it’s a ton of work. In terms of balancing things, it’s extremely difficult because we’re trying to do them all at the same time, most shows the producers and writers are one thing and the actors are another. They are pretty much producing and writing at the same time as they’re shooting and they’re all acting at the same time. For us we have to do things in phases because we have such a heavy hand in every phase of the production. We try to take four months out of the year and write all the scripts first before we go into the acting of it, but it never works out that way. [laughs] We always end up writing as much as we can and then we go into shooting, and we’re usually shooting and writing and producing all at the same time. It’s a real haggle man, I mean it’s tough and a lot of fucking work. And then I guess in a sense it does make things a little bit easier only in the sense that we have full control over the product. So if we’re frustrated with the way a scene is written then we can actually do something about it as opposed to other actors on things that are frustrated about a scene and they think it’s not working but they can’t do anything about it because they don’t have any power.
You tackle a lot of edgy subjects on the show, do you and the network ever butt heads or is it pretty much smooth sailing?
They’re fans. We don’t have a lot of trouble with them. I think we, from the very beginning, because at least initially were such an incredibly low budget show it’s almost like we were FX’s little experiment you know what I mean? They wanted to get into the comedy business but they didn’t have a whole lot of money to spend and they found these guys that they thought were funny and they were like “Well let’s just put a little money towards this and just see what happens.” So because of that, we were so under the radar and we were able to get away with pretty much whatever we wanted, if anything they were always pushing us to go further. There is no studio attached to our show, it’s just us and the network, so that set the precedent right from the beginning that we could kind of get away with whatever we wanted. Then as the show got bigger we were just able to continue doing whatever we wanted because we already established, I keep using that word, but we’d already established the precedent so moving forward that made things a lot easier for us. I think it’s kind of the same thing with some of these other shows that get away with murder, like “Family Guy”, again they were so under the radar that they just got away with doing whatever the fuck they want to do with it and continued on that way from there on out. I can tell you the standards are a little bit different for newer shows that have a little bit more on them from the very beginning.
A few seasons back you added Danny DeVito to the cast, how did that come about and in your opinion what does Danny bring to the table as far as the show is concerned?
Initially after the first season, which was only seven episodes, we were so under the radar that the president of FX essentially told us “Look I’m a big fan of the show, I want to pick it up for a second season but I’ve got to be able to sell it to my bosses at the corporation. So I’ve got to be able to tell them that we’re going to do something different to bring these ratings up.” His first thought was, you know he was kind of laying it out there because we can come up with whatever we want, but why don’t we add a cast member who’s got a little bit of star power and bring him onto the show? And we had already been thinking of that for a character for the show, or a character or two as reoccurring characters anyway. Cause we thought it would be funny to get these parental characters to give an idea of where these people came from. So it all kind of came together and John Landegraf President of FX was friends with Danny and worked with him in the past and he brought up Danny’s name. And it was just right from the beginning, I mean we’re all huge Danny DeVito fans and we felt like he was such a natural fit for our show because his humor is skewed so dark. It’s so sort of bizarre anyway, so we thought “Shit, if there’s any chance in hell that we can ever get this guy on our show-great!” He’s clearly a smart guy and he’s a great actor, he’s funny and people love him. How could you do better than that?! So we basically came up with the character for him that we felt suited him and pitched it to him and by the end of the day he had said yes. We were all of course shocked, we didn’t think we could get somebody of his caliber involved in our tiny little under the radar show. We knew our show was good, we felt our show was good and we felt like we deserved it [laughs] but we didn’t think for a million years we were going to get it. But yeah I think it worked out. Basically one of the main reasons I think it worked out was because Danny’s kids were big fans of the first season of the show and I think he really puts a lot of credence in that.
You’re heading into season 5 now, what can you tell us about that?
About the new season? [laughs] I probably shouldn’t talk about this. The episodes specifically I never know what to begin with. I mean what can I say? It’s gonna be great, I think it’s our best season. All I know is that whenever we’re in the editing room going through these things we’ve been living with these episodes for eight or nine months. The fact that we’re sitting in the editing room still laughing every single day is a REALLY good sign. If we’re still laughing at it and we’ve been living with it for that long then I know that we’ve got something good on our hands. All I can say is that I’m really excited about it. I think everybody is really at the top of their game right now, and I can absolutely for sure say that this is Danny’s best season. He’s found something this year, I don’t know what the fuck is going on with that guy, but he’s so funny this year on the show. He’s fully embraced the insanity of this character and he’s killin’ it, he’s killin’ it!
One of the biggest developments in the last few seasons has been emergence of The Nightman, when you put that together did you have any idea of the impact it would have with the fans?
No we never know, that stuff never ceases to amaze me: the stuff that people sort of latch onto and find the funniest. You know like The Greenman thing and The Nightman/Dayman thing, when we were writing those things we obviously thought that they were funny or we wouldn’t have put them on the show. But I never in a million years dreamed that The Dayman song was going to become such a giant giant phenomenon with people. I do however remember in the third season when we did that episode and shot that scene the first time we sang that song on the set, I remember from that time, it was actually a scene between Charlie and I when we first sing that song it was the first scene that we shot in the third season. From that time forth everybody in the whole crew was singing that song. I kind of had this feeling, I was like “Well that’s interesting.” Everybody on the crew kept coming up and telling us how much they loved that song, how much it made them laugh and how catchy it was and they couldn’t get it out of their head. So I was like “Well that’s interesting.”, and then I kind of just didn’t think about it. So the episode came out and people just kind of went nuts for it.
Now you’re bringing it to the stage, what can you tell us about what’s been involved with that and what can people expect from the live show?
The live show is essentially an expanded version of the actual episode of “The Nightman Cometh” which was the season closer for season four. There are some added moments, added scenes, added songs and extended versions of songs that already existed. [laughs] This is another thing that we never intended to do, we just kind of did it for fun at The Troubadour here in L.A. and people just went absolutely ape shit for it. So Live Nation approached us about doing a tour, our initial reaction was “No that’s crazy, we’re never going to take this on tour that’s insane it would never work.” They were like “We think you guys could sell out three thousand, four thousand seat venues.” And we thought they were crazy, then they said “Look we’ve run the numbers and we think you guys could do it and would you be interested?” We thought it could be a really fun way to kind of connect with the fans and help promote the fifth season of the show and just see what it’s like to experience the life of a rock star for a second. [laughs] That’s how it evolved into this whole tour thing which is insane. And then those tickets sold out in like 90 minutes or something so we were like “Shit man!” We knew that people were watching the show, we knew that we had finally had created a nice firm fan-base for the show but it’s not till you see it firsthand that you get that gratification.
Speaking of your fan-base, there has been a lot of buzz around the internet from fans about a Christmas episode that you guys put together. What can you tell us about that?
We’d been wanting to do something like that for a long time, we’d been talking about doing double episode specials. We just wanted to do some kind of special: a Halloween special, a Thanksgiving special, and we thought that Christmas was great because you really want to see how at that time of giving how these characters would react. And we wanted to do something where we just had absolutely nothing holding us back whatsoever and we knew the only way we could do that would be something straight to dvd. Cuz even though we can get away with a lot on FX there are some things that you just can’t do you know?! [laughs] So we thought we’ll just do something exclusively for dvd. That’s how the idea came about. I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say without hesitation that we’re definitely getting away with a lot. [laughs] There is going to be a lot of havoc reeked on this dvd, I’m really excited for people to see it and it’s very funny. It’s a very funny take on Christmas and there’s a lot of crazy shit that happens on that episode, crazy shit!
You’ve had quite a full plate here lately, and a couple other projects I wanted to touch on. How did you get involved with “The Cleveland Show” what can you tell us about that?
I’ve been wanting to do animated voices since I was basically a kid, I just never really put myself out there just because I didn’t have the time and was doing too many other things. Initially I got very close to booking one of the main regular characters on the show and I guess they liked me over there so they started hiring me to come in and do little things here and there. Which I started doing. I guess they liked my character voice work, they just kept calling me. [laughs] I guess I did between fifteen and twenty episodes in the first season. I was going in and doing character voice whenever they needed me to. Really it’s all I have time for outside of “Sunny” right now and it’s such a great great fun gig. I think as an actor you get pigeonholed and there’s only so many characters you can play but if you can do stuff with your voice you can play anything you want if your voice can do it. I’d be hard pressed to ever get hired as a Puerto Rican man or a black preacher you know what I mean?! It’s never going to happen. But on “The Cleveland Show” I’ve gotten to play both of those, two characters and one is a Puerto Rican man and one is a black preacher. Roles I would never have gotten to play as an actor, so it’s a lot of fun.
You’ve been working on the pilot for “Boldly Going Nowhere”, again what can you tell us about that and when might we see some movement on that project?
It’s slow going only because we’re so busy, like you said we’ve got a million things going on. “Sunny” has always been our first priority, we were very strict with ourselves in the interest of expanding our business and doing other things which we all of course want to do, we never wanted to let “Sunny” suffer. Because it’s a show that we really love and a show that we really care about and we don’t want to let ourselves or our fans down. It’s just been tough to find time to concentrate on that without burning ourselves out. We wrote a script probably about a year and a half ago and it was a script that we thought was very funny and got a lot of traction and we actually shot a version of it but we are in the process of rewriting it and possibly re-shooting it. That’s essentially where we’re at.
Has there been a particular highlight along the way, or what is your favorite memory from “It’s Always Sunny”?
[pauses] Hmmmm, let me think about that for a second. It’s always the most simple things, I’m not always the best one to answer that question because there’s really no real real big moment. But if I had to say the first thing that pops into my head really was doing the live show at The Troubadour. Getting to experience the performing in front of people who are clearly die-hard incredibly enthusiastic fans of our show, and coming onto the stage and people went absolutely ape shit! I’ve never seen anything like it and it really hit home for me just how much our fans really care about our show and how much they love it. It’s really gratifying, you know? I mean when people approach me on the street, they don’t ever approach me because I’m some big celebrity. They approach me because they just love the show. I’m not banging Lindsey Lohan, I’m not on “Beverly Hills 90210” or “Melrose Place”. People aren’t like “Oh it’s that guy!”. And that’s not the kind of recognition I would ever want anyway, but to have someone come up to you and say “Hey man, I love your work.” is like the greatest feeling. So I would have to say, if I had to pick a moment, it would be the first time I stepped out on stage at The Troubadour for that first live show.
What’s it like working with the legendary Fred Savage?
[laughs] Fred is a great guy man, he’s got a ton of energy, he farts way too much on set I’ll tell you that much! He’s a gassy son of a bitch, man he’s so gassy. He’s a lot of fun, he’s game for whatever, he’s just a good dude and I like him a lot.
What advice would you have for someone getting involved in the entertainment industry?
My only advice is that if you don’t love what you do and you’re just doing it because you’ve got nothing else going on or because you want to become famous or you think you deserve to be famous, then just don’t do it. Just don’t. Because you’re not bringing anything to the world and you might just get your heart broken when you realize no one gives a shit who you are. I hate seeing people in the entertainment industry that are only doing it for the money or for the fame or they’re just doing it because they think they deserve to be a celebrity. That kind of shit in our society just needs to fuckin die, I hate that kind of stuff. And you know I see it all the time, in Hollywood and in the entertainment business people just like the “idea” of being famous or being rich and famous and being on the cover of “Us Weekly” and I say “Fuck that!” If that’s what you’re in it for then you’re never going to be a happy person.
Well I appreciate all the hard work you put into the show, we are looking forward to the new season. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Thanks for watching! We’ll keep the standard high and you guys just keep buying the dvds.
Thanks, Glenn! We are looking forward to the new season of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia and we will be tuning in!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.