Charlie Kelly's 'It's Always Sunny' Illiteracy Was A Last-Minute Choice
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Spoiler Warning: The article contains a minor spoiler from season 15 of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia. Don't be a jabroni -- read ahead at your own risk.
Ahhh, Charlie Kelly, the It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia gang's resident rat king, famed for obsessing over the waitress, beefing with Santa Claus for f--king his mom, and of course for being absolutely illiterate (well, except in Gaelic, as we recently learned when season 15's “The Gang Goes To Ireland” hit the small screen last month). But despite Charlie's penchant for making hieroglyphs great again, penning the rousing “money me, money now" speech that would undoubtedly bring a tear of pride to Abraham Lincon's eye, and uncovering the shocking Pepe Silvia mail conspiracy (whose name is apparently not a misreading of the state of Pennsylvania, contrary to popular fan theories), this illiteracy wasn't always a part of the Sunny plan.
Charlie wasn't originally intended to be illiterate. His inability to read and write was tossed in as a last-minute addition to season two's “The Gang Gives Back," a tidbit revealed on Monday's episode of The Always Sunny Podcast, hosted by the three cool guys behind Charlie, Mac, and Dennis/the show's creators: Charlie Day, Rob McElhenney, and Glenn Howerton.
“In that first scene, it was not written in the script that you couldn't read,” Howerton said, referencing the episode's cold open in which Charlie struggles to read the words “interstate” and “six months” while perusing his sentence for burning down a building with his pals in “The Gang Goes Jihad” earlier that season. “That document, that was something that you just wanted to do -- you were like ‘I’m gonna try something,'" he explained.
According to McElhenney, Howerton was apparently a bit nervous considering the … implication(s) … of making such a bold choice. “I distinctly remember you, Glenn being like, ‘this is so dumb’ and then me being like 'I think it's dumb too, but it's also funny,” recalled McElhenney. “We were on set and you were like ‘are we literally saying that Charlie can’t read?' … and Charlie was like ‘yeah, I guess so.” he continued. McElhenney later clarified that Howerton's hesitation stemmed from the broader question of "‘wait, are we making a massive character choice, right now, on the fly, in the middle of a scene?’"
Despite these long-term doubts, Day was confident that this choice would read well – or should we say not read well – with audiences. “'I got you guys covered on this one,'” he remembered telling his co-stars. “This is gonna play, this is gonna play."
This decision to make Charlie dumber than originally meets the eye wasn't a one-time thing, according to Howerton. Throughout the series, Day has apparently struggled with how clown-ish his on-screen persona should be while also existing as a real person in the Sunny universe. “This is the funny thing about Charlie Day, not Charlie Kelly, but Charlie Day, is that he is both constantly making his own character dumber and dumber, and also complaining about how dumb his character is getting to us as we're writing things," he said of his co-star, describing the writing process as a “push/pull” between making Kelly a silly caricature, but still keeping him grounded in the show's reality.
So, folks, here's to Charlie Kelly – he may not be able to read English, but he's always cracking eggs of wisdom … even in these trying times.
Top Image: FXX
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