There may be sitcoms that are flashier, edgier or more ironic than The Middle, but you'd be hard-pressed to find any that are funnier. Since premiering in 2009, ABC's hit comedy about the Hecks, a working-class Midwestern family of misfits, has proven that it doesn't take a right- or left-coast sensibility to produce laughter — thanks in no small part to the performances of Charlie McDermott (Axl), 21, Eden Sher (Sue), 20, and Atticus Shaffer (Brick), 13. TV Guide Magazine played hooky with the trio for an afternoon of mini-golf at Castle Park in Sherman Oaks to find out if they're equally entertaining off duty.
TV Guide Magazine: You've been playing these characters for a few years now — have you guys caught yourself taking on any of their quirks?
McDermott: Maybe, but even though Axl is always in his underwear, I'm still pretty much pro-clothing.
Sher: I think Charlie would be way too comfortable doing a nude scene now. I put it out there for him. Sorry!
Shaffer: By the end of each season, I find myself doing Brick's whisper thing now and again. Like I'll say, "The banana is yellow... [whispers] yellow."
Sher: Personality-wise, once you get to know me, I'm a lot like Sue, but the way I present myself is so different. I get recognized way less than anyone else.
TV Guide Magazine: Charlie, you play a high school junior, but you had your 21st birthday in April. Did you tear up the L.A. club scene?
McDermott: I assembled a table from IKEA. It was crazy.
Sher: The blonde one?
McDermott: I've never heard a table described as blonde.
Sher: It's a sexy table.
McDermott: It's pretty nice, yeah. The only time I've been to a club was when I was, like, 19, in Canada. It was a very odd experience — I didn't necessarily enjoy it.
Sher: It's hard to get Charlie to even come to my house, which is five miles away, and just sit at my blonde table.
TV Guide Magazine: Word is, you two used to be next-door neighbors....
Sher: The best year of my life! We'd spend time with each other at work, then go hang out at home. We shared one washcloth. Charlie kept wanting to get different towels, and I was like, "No."
McDermott: I was out of line. We had a secret-knock language to communicate between our walls, but it never got specific.
Sher: It's way harder than you'd think. One time I thought he was knocking and he was actually just hanging photos.
McDermott: That was a sad day.
TV Guide Magazine: What will the Heck kids be like as adults?
Shaffer: I think Brick would probably work at the library — he'd be maybe just a little more filled in emotionally, not so out of it.
McDermott: Axl will be a professional athlete — or else he'll end up working in the quarry, like his dad.
Sher: Sue could be a guidance counselor — maybe at an elementary school. I don't think she's ever gonna grow up. Hopefully she won't still have braces, though.
TV Guide Magazine: Atticus, your mom is your tutor. What's that like?
Shaffer: I've always been homeschooled, so doing it on set is kind of the same thing. My mom makes it very interactive — we'll get a book on chocolate and learn how to make it, or she will buy antique items. I love military history, the mechanics and strategy of it.
TV Guide Magazine: Planning to invade any small nations?
McDermott: I saw a map of Puerto Rico in his trailer.
Shaffer: Circled, with a giant "no" sign through it.
TV Guide Magazine: Eden, what's the trick to capturing Sue's awkwardness?
Sher: I have to be willing to fail all the time, and willing to be in physical pain. It feels great. I'm not a teenager anymore, so I'm reliving this whole thing on the periphery. I can just laugh at it. When I'm doing a scene, I think, "What would be the funniest in this situation?" And it's usually the most awkward or uncomfortable thing.
TV Guide Magazine: You spend your vacations volunteering in Nicaragua, India and other places. Are you secretly saving the world?
Sher: It's way more selfish than people make it out to be. I just really like to travel and learn. If Atticus destroys Puerto Rico, I'll be there getting it back together.
TV Guide Magazine: Your TV parents are sitcom legends Neil Flynn (Scrubs) and Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond). Any stories?
McDermott: I made Patty laugh during a scene once, and it was the proudest day of my life. She broke character; she was off camera, but it was enough for me.
Sher: In Season 1, I must've brought up me being insecure about something to Neil, and he quoted the [poem] Desiderata: "If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be persons greater and lesser than yourself." Now it's like my mantra.
McDermott: I wish I got that advice! Neil is like Yoda.
TV Guide Magazine: Spill it: Who's the most popular person on the set?
Sher: With Atticus, it's a new lady visiting every day.
McDermott: We'll see some lady wandering around, like, "I'm looking for Atticus...?" Of course you are.
Shaffer: You guys are inspiring me to take over Costa Rica now. Viva la revolución!
The Middle airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on ABC.