Rob McElhenney Talks Utley, Howard and Phillies
A little more than a week ago you probably thought this weekend’s series in Atlanta would mean something.
It turns out it doesn’t.
We’ll have plenty of time before Game 1 to discuss the NLDS rotation, the postseason roster, the Cincinnati Reds, Placido Polanco‘s elbow and Jimmy Rollins‘ hamstring. So let’s move into the weekend the right way, with an interview I did Tuesday with Philadelphia native Rob McElhenney, creator and star of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are appearing in the Dec. 2 episode, so I thought it would be a good time to talk to Rob about it, and get his thoughts on other things Phillies related:
(Note: Rob allowed me to watch the scenes in which Utley and Howard appear. I definitely laughed. Check out the story on MLB.com, with reaction from Utley and Howard.)
Question: I know Utley and Howard are appearing in an upcoming episode. I’ve seen some dicey cameos from athletes on other TV shows. How did they do?
Answer: I thought they did a really amazing job. I thought they were better than a lot of actors we wind up having on the show. I thought they did a (freakin’) amazing job.
Answer: I thought so.
Question: Were you aware of Utley’s reputation for being a guy that isn’t especially talkative or outgoing, at least publicly? I was surprised he even said yes.
Answer: He was the first person to say yes. We got word back from his representation, I think within an hour, that he was into it. I don’t think that he and (his wife) Jen watched the show before we mentioned him in the last season. I think a bunch of his buddies watch the show and handed him the DVD. I think he got the joke.
Question: I know Chase told me that he thought the “Chase Utley love letter” was pretty funny.
Answer: It spawned from a conversation we were having in the writer’s room about what an interesting phenomena it is as you grow older to continue to think about professional athletes as being older than you. I think it’s just something that happens when you’re a kid, and then when you look up the ages of some of these guys … I’m like two years older than Chase, and I thought what a funny idea it would be if a character looked up to Chase Utley as his older brother-type figure. Then he comes to find out that he’s older than him and how sad that is.
Question: So that whole thing came from one conversation in the writer’s room?
Answer: We have a bunch of people from Philly obviously that work on the show. One other writer in particular. And we’re obviously big Phillies fans and thought, ‘Man, that would be a really fun episode.’
Question: And that turned into the idea of having Utley and Howard make cameos this season?
Answer: It actually spawned from the episode of the gang sneaking into the World Series. That was based on a rumor that I remember hearing when I was a kid. That there were tunnels. And obviously it spawned first from the idea that there was a judge and a jail in the basement of the Vet. And I remember hearing there were tunnels all underneath the Vet where they would escort people out after they were arraigned, and also from protection from the fans. It just got our imaginations wandering like, ‘Well, there’s that Holiday Inn, which is right down the street. How funny would it be if the opposing teams would stay there and then would be able to just go through an underground tunnel so they could avoid all the Phillies fans who would try to beat the (stuff) out of them.’ These characters believed that it actually was in existence and then they tried to sneak in to the game. So we just kind of ran with it that way. We just thought it would be really funny if Mac maybe had an opportunity to meet Chase and then maybe Dee has a crush on Ryan Howard and she really wants to meet Ryan Howard.
Question: Did I hear it correctly in that episode where you call the Phanatic look-a-like the Phrenetic? Or am I imagining that?
Answer: No, that’s exactly what we did. I know the Phanatic very well. We’ve become friends. A very nice guy Tom (Burgoyne). And we wanted him to do the show and he was totally into it. And MLB put the kibosh on it. They read the script and they thought, well, this is not something we want to be a part of. So we said we’re just going to use free speech and parody as our banner and just go in and do what we want to do. So we had to change the way he looks. He doesn’t look exactly like the Phanatic. It’s a completely different character – the Phrenetic. And if you also notice, we don’t say Holiday Inn. We say Oliday Inn, which is the way, growing up in South Philly, most people said that word anyway. Oliday. They wouldn’t let us say Holiday Inn so we just changed that, too.
Question: I know it doesn’t look exactly like the Phanatic, but it looks pretty close. How close could you actually get? Are there guidelines?
Answer: There are. You have to make it clear. I think it’s something like a 30 percent difference or something like that. Obviously that’s just a judgment call. But I think ultimately, and this happens a lot with our show, is that when people read the scripts and they don’t know the television show, they make rash decisions. And they make decisions on what people told them and they don’t really pay attention to what we’re doing. So they think based on our reputation and they think even maybe even based on the script that the show is one thing. Of course, anybody who is paying attention recognizes that we are not condoning deplorable behavior. We’re showing that these are a bunch of losers who continually make these horrific mistakes and wind up back in the toilet every single day. So I think in the end when it aired, I think representatives from MLB saw it and got the joke and were like, ‘Oh, OK.’ We had a similar thing with the Flyers this year, although the Flyers were great and they wound up giving us clearance because they got the joke. First they read the script and they were a little nervous.
Question: When does the Howard and Utley episode air?
Answer: I don’t know. I just finished sound mixing it, so it’s almost completely finished. But I think they’re going to time it around the World Series, which is when they aired the World Series episode last year.
(UPDATED: The episode will air Dec. 2).
Question: Did you hear about the fan that ran onto the field at Citizens Bank Park dressed in the Red Man costume?
Answer: I was watching the game and obviously they didn’t show it on the telecast, but almost immediately afterward, I think within 15 minutes I had about 5,000 e-mails from people. Obviously that’s not something we’re interested in being a part of or condoning in any way. Luckily, we didn’t take too much heat from it. But it certainly shows the ferocity with which our audience watches our television show.
Question: So we know Mac loves Chase. Who do you like on this team?
Answer: It’s hard. I don’t necessarily have a favorite player. What’s so great to watch is that throughout the entire lineup … it’s almost frustrating. Sometimes the best thing about baseball is you can have it on in the background and do other things because the game is so boring most of the time. And yet with the Phillies there is never a time when you can grab something to eat or (go to the bathroom) because everybody that comes up, you know there’s the possibility they’re going to do something. And then you have people like (Wilson) Valdez who step in during (Jimmy) Rollins’ absence and all of a sudden he’s an All-Star. Valdez has been playing really, really well. It’s like, man, Domonic Brown, guys that are supposed to be sitting on the bench, they wind up in the game and they go 2 for 4.
Question: So you do follow these guys closely. Do you watch them on TV a lot?
Answer: Yeah, I watch on MLB.com with MLB.tv. I watch when I can. That’s the thing about baseball that’s great. You can kind of have it on in the background. You don’t have to necessarily pay attention. But also on PlayStation, which is an amazing app (from MLB.tv), you can watch it. What I’ll do is because we’re on a time delay – I’m not usually home around 4 o’clock in the afternoon, which is when the games start out here – I’ll wait until the seventh or eighth inning. But you can skip to an inning, so I’ll just go to whatever inning I want and just watch it straight through. So if I look at the score and it’s 8-2 Mets, then I’ll just skip that game.
Question: I read the press release about your wife Kaitlin (Olson) having your son (Axel Lee on Sept. 1). It said she went into labor in the middle of the Phillies-Dodgers game (at Dodger Stadium on Aug. 31). She said you two knew you could leave after Howard hit a three-run homer. I want to believe that actually happened. How true is that story?
Answer: We left around the fifth inning. They were up at that point. Even when we pulled into the parking lot she realized she was probably in the beginning stages of labor. But everybody we had spoken to at that point – we had the baby at home, so we had a midwife – but we also had an OB. And they said one of the biggest issues with women, especially with first-time pregnancies, the biggest mistake they make is that as soon as they feel the labor starting they go right to the hospital. As soon as they get to the hospital, the hospital turns them around and says go back home because you’ve got another 12 hours before you’re going to have this baby. Otherwise you’re going to sit down in a hospital bed for 12 hours. So Kaitlin said, ‘I’m not going to do that. Let’s just go about the day as much as we can. I’ll just stay at this baseball game until it’s no longer comfortable.’ As the contractions starting getting closer and closer together and they started getting more aggressive … yeah, it was like the fifth inning. Howard hit the home run and we were like, ‘Let’s just go. It looks like they have control of the game. It looks like they’re going to win.’ And then we left and she had the baby two hours later. His name is Axel, so that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to a nickname because his name is already as cool as (stuff). But we’re thinking Chooch.
Question: I’m sure Chooch would approve.
Answer: I mean, he just looks like a Chooch. I will say that Kaitlin’s favorite player is definitely (Carlos) Ruiz. Yeah, definitely. Loves him, loves him, loves him.
Question: Why Chooch?
Answer: She’s been following the Phillies. She’s a huge sports fan, but she likes the Phillies by proxy and really only started following them when we started dating. And when they won the Series in 2008, she kind of was into it, but kind of wasn’t. She was sort of following it peripherally. So she knew Ryan Howard. She knew Chase Utley. She knew the big names. So she didn’t know any of the utility players and she certainly didn’t know the catcher’s name. And then all of a sudden she’s watching the game and like, ‘Man, this guy is the star of the team.’ I think it was when he was really clutch this season and he was kind of carrying the team, and that’s when she started getting really into it. She was just really impressed with the fact that you don’t hear too much about him. And she hadn’t heard too much about him. And here he is out there with four RBIs a game. She also loved the fact that she thought people were booing him, and couldn’t understand why they were booing him. And when I told her that his nickname was Chooch, she just like fell madly in love with him.
Question: I told one of my friends that I’d have a chance to talk to you, so he wanted me to ask you a question. I’m sure you know Jayson Werth will be a free agent after the season. He wants to know if you think Werth is using the DENNIS system with the Phillies?
Answer: Who doesn’t? He’s about to sign with Scott Boras, right?
Question: Yeah, he actually already signed with him.
Answer: He did? Well, that’s all Scott Boras does. He DENNIS’ the (stuff) out of every team in the Major Leagues and he gets his way.
Question: Hey, Rob, I appreciate the time. It was great.
Answer: You got it. I want to try and come back (for the playoffs). It’s hard for me to get out for anything. And I feel like – it’s so ridiculous – I feel like a Braves fan in the ’90s. I can’t really get excited until the World Series anymore.