Ahhh, the City of Brotherly Love. Home of soft pretzels, Gary Heidnik and now, something just as delicious and sick: It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Created, written by and starring Philly native Rob McElhenney, the comedy (airing Thursdays at 10:30 pm/ET) about a trio of borderline racist, homophobic pals running a bar in the town's trendy Northern Liberties section may be the bawdiest thing to hit FX since a pair of plastic surgeons started nipping and tucking everything in sight. Here, the disarmingly innocent-looking McElhenney opens up to a fellow local boy about offending the masses, avoiding the censors and what all he has up his sleeve.
TVGuide.com: You went to St. Joe's Prep, right? What is a nice, private-schooled, Irish-Catholic boy like you doing with a show like this?
Rob McElhenney: I don't know how the school is going to respond, because all three of our characters went to [St. Joe's]. Hopefully the general audience is smart enough to recognize what we're doing [is just having fun].
TVGuide.com: What inspired you?
McElhenney: I basically hit a brick wall in my career as an actor and wasn't working at all. I was sick of doing what I thought people wanted me to do, acting a certain way or writing a certain way. So I said, "[Bleep] it," and wrote this script about these guys that no one would like, but that I thought was funny, since it's based on some of my friends at home…
TVGuide.com: And they're cool with that?
McElhenney: It's less about real people than the situations I thought were funny. [In one episode] we find out that a friend has cancer, and it's about how the guys react to that. Nobody would necessarily laugh at cancer, just as they wouldn't laugh at racism or abortion, but it's part of the human condition so, inherently, there are going to be aspects that are funny. Then I brought [the idea] to [costars/coproducers] Glenn [Howerton] and Charlie [Day] and they thought it was funny. So we shot it.
TVGuide.com: Do you see yourselves as a live-action South Park?
McElhenney: I'm really wary about comparing us to anybody, because South Park is an amazing show and I would hate for people to watch us and think, "Oh, they think they're the human South Park." We've had a couple of different comparisons — to Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Friends — that I really can't understand. We're the anti-Friends. While we are similar, sort of, to those shows, because they're all about characters, I personally think we are completely different.
TVGuide.com: How much of the language is going to fly on basic cable?
McElhenney: All of it.
McElhenney: I know! There actually have been a couple of things, odd things.... We got a call from Standards & Practices that we couldn't say "friggin.'" In an episode where I say [bleep] and [bleep] and [bleep], we can't say "friggin.'" Very strange. But we get away with a lot.
TVGuide.com: Yet it doesn't feel forced for vulgarity's sake.
McElhenney: That's what we're going for. Aside from the heightened reality, we wanted it to feel like their relationships were real. And that's the way [friends] speak to each other.
TVGuide.com: I'll confess, I had to Google you to see what was going on before all of this and... there's not much. The indie film Latter Days, a couple episodics…
McElhenney: I had the life of a sort-of-working actor. I wasn't a complete failure, but I spent many years making a living and then not making a living. It takes a toll. I've been in L.A. for two years, but I'd been in New York for about eight….
TVGuide.com: Doing theater?
McElhenney: Yep. And doing a couple Law & Orders and some off-off-off Broadway, commercials, voice-overs, things like that.
TVGuide.com: And now you're part of a Philadelphia renaissance. This season alone has you and your show, Seth Green and Josh Cooke in Four Kings, Kitchen Confidential with Bradley Cooper, [Dancing with the Stars'] Kelly Monaco…
McElhenney: That's awesome. I swear, the entire staff of [my talent agency] Endeavor is from Philly.
TVGuide.com: We represent. Philadelphia has got gays, racists, abortion, cancer…. What else is on your hit list?
McElhenney: Um, we deal with gun control. [Laughing] We buy a gun to protect the bar, but end up just getting drunk and shooting it. There's an episode where we find a dead guy in the bar and his granddaughter comes in, so Glenn and I fight over her. And of course there's the episode called "Charlie Got Molested."
McElhenney: Yeah. [Laughs] There's this gym teacher that we find out has been indicted for molesting kids, and Charlie starts acting all weird when we find out, so we're like, "Hmmm, he definitely got molested." But my character starts getting p---ed off because he was in the class, too, and didn't get molested. I'm like, "What the [bleep]? I'm not good enough?" So we stage an intervention with Charlie's family. Oh, and the gym teacher is played Mr. Belding from Saved by the Bell, Dennis Haskins. He's great.
TVGuide.com: Is there anything you won't make fun of?
McElhenney: You know, as soon as someone tells me I can't, we'll be all over it.