The Untold Truth Of Rob McElhenney

A native of Philadelphia, Rob McElhenney eventually sought the bright lights of Hollywood when he moved to Los Angeles to pursue an unlikely career as an actor. Ambitious and creative, instead of waiting around for the perfect role, he created it. Per The Washington Post, McElhenny wrote a pilot script about a trio of losers who own a dive bar. Armed with a cheap camcorder and a paltry three-figure budget, he and his pals, Charlie Day and Glenn Howerton, brought the script to life. When McElhenny showed his cheaply made pilot to executives at the FX network, they liked what they saw and ordered a full season of what came to be titled "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." 

Since making its debut back in 2005, the show has gone on to make history by becoming television's longest-running live-action comedy, making stars of its cast in the process. McElhenney has also expanded his horizons by starring in the Apple TV+ comedy "Mythic Quest" (which he also created) and the FX documentary series "Welcome to Wrexham," which chronicles what took place when McElhenney teamed up with Ryan Reynolds to purchase the third-oldest soccer team in the world, Wales' Wrexham A.F.C.

Despite being a member of the ensemble cast of one of television's most popular comedies, there's more than meets the eye about this wildly talented writer, actor, and all-around mogul. Pour yourself a tall glass of Fight Milk and take a seat at the bar because this is the untold truth of Rob McElhenney.

Rob McElhenney's upbringing was far from typical

The best (and possibly most cliche) piece of advice given to aspiring writers is to write what you know. So, it's no coincidence that Rob McElhenney cast back to his own lower-class upbringing in the City of Brotherly Love when creating "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." As he explained in an interview with Marc Maron's "WTF" podcast, the star was born and raised in South Philly. He revealed that he was about 8 years old when his mom, Helena McElhenney, left the family home to figure some things out — she subsequently came out as gay. "She found a partner very quickly," he told Marc Maron. "And they've been together now for over 30 years." He added that he referred to both women as his mom.

In a statement for GLAAD (via The Advocate) regarding a sweet Mother's Day video about his two moms, Rob explained that his upbringing wasn't ordinary, it was extraordinary. "I get asked a lot about what it was like to have two moms. The truth is that it was a pretty great gift," he said. "By the standards of 1984 South Philadelphia, our upbringing was unconventional, but my brother, sister, and I were able to recognize early on that not every family looked exactly the same or like what we saw on television. Yet we had nothing but love and support and compassion and empathy. And I think that that allowed us to flourish."

His strict Catholic school kept him from going off the rails

Growing up, Rob McElhenney was apparently something of a handful to the teachers at the all-boys Catholic school he attended. That became clear from an anecdote he shared on an episode of "WTF with Marc Maron." After acting up in class and getting into a physical altercation with another student, McElhenney faced disciplinary action.

However, he was called into the office of one of the school's nuns, Sister Kate, who closed the door behind them and gave him a short, sweet lecture that's stuck with him for his entire life. "Just remember this," she told him. "Most people in your life don't know what the f*** they are talking about. Get out." The two had many conversations about her cryptic yet philosophical statement over the years. Eventually, McElhenney concluded it was one of compassion. "Sometimes, when you're a 14-year-old boy, you don't need to be told what to do all the time. You just need someone to tell you that you're not bad," he said.

The star has maintained ties with his alma mater, St. Joseph's Prep. In 2014, he attended the school's annual scholarship and donor reception, where he delivered an inspirational speech to students. "Young men, you get very few truly great opportunities in this life," he said, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. "Now you've earned one. The only question is, what will you do with it?"

He got cut from some major movies

Rob McElhenney started his showbiz career the way many actors have, by appearing in TV commercials. As he explained on "WTF with Marc Maron," McElhenney capitalized on his youthful looks when, at the age of 18 or 19, he was able to convincingly portray a younger adolescent. One such role, was when he depicted a 14-year-old in an anti-smoking TV spot

The actor seemingly caught his big break when he landed a role in the 1997 thriller "The Devil's Own," appearing in scenes alongside Brad Pitt and Harrison Ford. As he recalled on Maron's podcast, he brought his family and friends to watch the movie with him — only to be utterly humiliated upon discovering his scenes had been completely cut.

As McElhenney told Philadelphia magazine, that trip to the movies didn't exactly convince his dad that skipping college to pursue acting was the right decision. "My father was not too pleased with my decision to not go to college," McElhenney said. "Each time I'd do this, it would blow up in my face." He subsequently landed another big role, in 2000's "Wonder Boys" alongside Michael Douglas and Katie Holmes. But once again none of his scenes made the film's final cut. This time, director Christopher Young sent him a letter to let him know — thus avoiding another embarrassing trip to the cinema with friends and family. 

His top secret romance with Sweet Dee

Rob McElhenney and Kaitlin Olson, aka Sweet Dee in "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," got married in 2008. Apparently, it would be inaccurate to describe their romance as love at first sight. Olson told Entertainment Weekly that her future hubby didn't leave much of an impression during her audition for the show. "My manager actually asked, 'Were any of them cute?' And I was like, 'Nah. Not really,'" she shared.

However, as they worked together, a mutual attraction developed, sending them careening into uncharted territory when they began dating in secret during the production of the show's first season. Not wanting to create any potential friction on the set, Olson told Dax Shepard's "Armchair Expert" podcast, that they made a conscious decision to keep their romance hidden from their co-stars.

Keeping their relationship under wraps was no mean feat, considering that McElhenney was living with co-star Glenn Howerton at the time. All those nights and weekends he spent in secret with Olson led Howerton to jump to some very different conclusions about his roommate, apparently assuming that he was with a different woman every night. "Glenn would come to work jealous and be like, 'God, Rob is just like, he's just out there at bars, just like, meeting people? F***ing every bar he goes to, he goes and spends the night at her house!'" Olson recalled.

Mac's extreme body transformations were no joke

Over the course of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," viewers have watched Rob McElhenney's character, Mac, undergo some extreme physical transformations. That was particularly true in Season 7 when he deliberately gained 50 pounds because he felt his character would be funnier if he were heavier. As McElhenney told The Wrap, gaining so much weight so quickly required consuming five 1,000-calorie meals each day, scarfing down donuts, Big Macs, and calorie-laden protein shakes. "I was jolly as f***," he said about life on the radical eating plan. "... I was just full of energy because I was eating so much. It was just constant fuel."

For Season 13, McElhenney decided to take his character's look in an entirely different direction, relentlessly training and dieting in order to attain the ripped, sculpted physique of a competitive bodybuilder. However, he assured Decider that the impetus behind the regime was comedy, not vanity. "I feel like ... every time a male actor takes his shirt off in a movie or television show they seem to look like a greek god out of nowhere," McElhenney explained. "I thought that is such a funny thing to explore if you have a character who has put in so much effort and energy to get as ripped as possible, and it literally took me months and months and months. And you show it off for essentially 45 seconds in one scene ..."

None of his friends thought he was funny

While growing up and attending a Catholic school in his native Philadelphia, a career in comedy was the last thing that Rob McElhenney's friends would have envisioned for him. In an interview with The Guardian, McElhenney admitted he wasn't exactly known to be a class clown, and certainly didn't have a reputation for being funny. "I'm in a text chain with my friends from high school and I'm not even the third funniest person," he explained. "It is astonishing to them, having known me forever, that I'm in this position. I was never the funny guy." 

Despite being the creator of one of television's funniest comedies, McElhenney has continually maintained that he's not particularly chuckle-worthy, something he reiterated in a New York Times profile. He is, however, a student of comedy, particularly TV sitcoms, with "Friends" being a favorite. In fact, he revealed in an interview with Esquire, the idea for "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" came from taking the sentiment in the beloved sitcom's iconic theme song and flipping it upside down. "The thematic fabric of that show is 'I'll be there for you,' and I thought, wouldn't it be interesting to do a show about a group of friends who will never be there for each other?" he explained. "They will actively try and find reasons to distance themselves from each other, but they can't because they're stuck together."

Buying a soccer team taught him some tough lessons

Back in 2021, Rob McElhenney made a sharp left turn in his career when he partnered with Canadian "Deadpool" star Ryan Reynolds to buy the Welsh soccer team, Wrexham A.F.C. Naturally, there was a bit of showbiz underlying the venture — the duo's adventures as team owners would be chronicled for an FX docuseries, "Welcome to Wrexham." While the whole thing may have appeared to be a lark, becoming owners of a Welsh football team (as the sport is known in pretty much every country in the world outside the U.S.) is not for the faint of heart. McElhenney and Reynolds had not met in person before partnering to buy the team. It also didn't help that neither were particularly knowledgeable about the sport, the team, its storied history, and Wales in general. 

"Yeah, it's really difficult," McElhenney admitted to Forbes about the challenges they faced in owning the team. Unsure of where to turn for advice, the comedy star drew upon his roots and contacted Jeff Lurie, owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, to seek advice on owning a sports team. "He had ... really, really great insight in terms of what our role is or the way that he sees it," McElhenney recalled. "... He hires the right people to make the right decisions. And then his job is to foster the right culture." He and Reynolds applied this logic to their own approach.

Rob McElhenney guest-hosted a talk show

In summer 2022, Rob McElhenney was among several celebrities to serve as guest host on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" when the show's host decided to take the summer off. McElhenney hosted for two nights, and even though he's not an experienced standup comic, he held his own while performing the show's signature monologue. In his debut monologue, he made light of news reports that ex-president Donald Trump routinely flushed documents down White House toilets (including a birthday card from son Eric), the escalating monkeypox epidemic, and the current climate emergency. "A lot has changed since we started doing 'It's Always Sunny,'" he quipped. "Now because of climate change, it's always sunny everywhere, all the time, and we're all going to die."

As for guests, McElhenney didn't stray too far outside his wheelhouse, inviting his Wrexham A.F.C. business partner, and "Welcome to Wrexham" co-star, Ryan Reynolds. During the interview, Reynolds recalled the moment he revealed to his wife, Blake Lively, that he was now the half-owner of a Welsh soccer team. Asked by McElhenney what her reaction was, Reynolds deadpanned, "Not good, Rob. Not great. We're still working through that one." 

Predictably enough, another guest on the show was his wife and "It's Always Sunny" co-star Kaitlin Olson. "Oh my god, you're doing such a good job!" she beamed after joining him onstage. McElhenney earnestly responded, "I've had the best time here."

He's a Philly native and owns a tavern there

While Rob McElhenney and the character he plays on "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" don't share too many similarities, there's one striking parallel between them: Both own bars in Philadelphia. While Mac is part-owner of the fictional Paddy's Pub, McElhenney is among the owners of the very real Mac's Tavern in Philly's Old City district. Reviews of the place on Yelp are mainly positive, including one who compared the experience of visiting to that of putting on still-warm clothing right out of the dryer, writing, "I was comfortable and taken care of."

Mac's Tavern was front and center during McElhenney's two-night guest-hosting stint on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" in August 2022. During his opening-night monologue, McElhenney discussed his Philly watering hole, joking, "we've set up a live feed there tonight so I can hassle the scumbags drinking away their life savings on a Monday night." However, those "scumbags" were in for a treat, because McElhenney announced that anytime he or one of his guests said the "magic word," everyone in the bar would get a free beer — courtesy of the show's vacationing host. "And Kimmel doesn't know this, but I found his credit card in his desk today, so he's picking up the tab." The "magic word," by the way, was "Guillermo," the name of Kimmel's talk-show sidekick.

He once got high with Snoop Dogg before work

Season 2 of Rob McElhenney's Apple TV+ show "Mythic Quest" featured a memorable guest appearance from Snoop Dogg. Not that the comedy actor can recollect much from his time on set. McElhenney's memories of filming with the rap legend are apparently hazy bordering on foggy. "I don't remember, I was so high for a good part of that day," he told NME. As he revealed on an episode of "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" he simply couldn't refuse the rap legend's invitation to partake in a little leaf.

However, there was a complication. The star noted that smoking with Snoop took place early in the morning, prior to a full day of work on the set of the show, in which McElhenney is the star, executive producer, and all-around head honcho. "It turns out if Snoop asks you to smoke at 7:30 in the morning on a workday, you say 'no,'" he explained about the lesson he learned from the experience. "Because by 7:46 I was hurtling through the atmosphere at 30,000 miles per hour directly towards Mars."

Miraculously, production progressed without any major problems, about which McElhenney was both grateful and oblivious. "And apparently I had a blast, because I was just like, 'Sure, yeah, spend, whatever, don't worry about it!'" he said.

The hard-earned advice he offers to TV creators

There's no questioning Rob McElhenney's incredible accomplishments in television, thanks to the long-running success of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," in addition to his Apple TV+ comedy "Mythic Quest," and the FX documentary series "Welcome to Wrexham." 

In an interview with Backstage, the comedy star explained that the secret behind his own success is relatively simple — create the kind of show that you yourself would like to watch. Not only has that worked for him, but McElhenney believes that the strategy will also work for other aspiring TV producers. "Just make it," he advised. "People either rise to that challenge or they don't." McElhenney had no formal training when he began writing for television, however, his natural aptitude for the form took over. "I think it was something that seeped into my subconscious over hours and hours and hours of watching television," he said, advising anyone looking to break into television to simply watch as much TV as possible.

As McElhenney told ET, one flip side of the success of "It's Always Sunny," is that the longer the series runs, the more difficult it is to come up with fresh, new storylines. "The limitations that we have with 'Sunny' is that there's only so many stories that you can tell with this group of people," he explained. "And we've done a lot of them. So, it's a challenge for us to continually come up with new stories for them."

Rob McElhenney has racked up an enviable net worth

As the creator of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" (not to mention star, director, writer, and producer), Rob McElhenney has certainly reaped the financial benefits of having a hit TV show on the air for 15 seasons and counting. In fact, Celebrity Net Worth estimated that McElhenney is worth an eye-popping $50 million. 

Despite that impressive level of wealth, when he first envisioned buying Welsh soccer team Wrexham A.F.C. (at a cost of $3.4 million, per CBC News), McElhenney realized he'd need a partner with even deeper pockets than his own. "I have TV money, I realized we needed movie star money," he quipped to BBC Sport Wales of how he ended up partnering with Ryan Reynolds. "Superhero, movie star money."

Yet plunking down the cash was only the beginning. "So there's no part of us that rests on our laurels and gets too comfortable with any of this stuff," McElhenney told Forbes. "... There's a lot of work to do, and there's always going to be a lot of work to do. It's evergreen."

If he has his way he'll do Always Sunny 'forever'

In late 2020, Variety reported that "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" had been renewed for four more seasons, which confirms that the show will continue through to at least the 18th season. As noted by the outlet, the comedy had already broken the record to become television's longest-running live-action comedy, a record that had previously been held for decades by "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" and its 14-season run.

When that season inevitably rolls around, it certainly won't seem like the beginning of the end for series creator Rob McElhenney. Asked by NME how many years he felt he could keep "It's Always Sunny" going, the showrunner responded, "How many years do I have on this planet? I'll do it forever. If people keep watching it and we keep having fun, why would we ever stop? It's my dream job."

In fact, McElhenney admitted he couldn't quite wrap his head around why someone like him would want to exit a hit TV show. "I never understand that," he said. "The show is what I dreamed of doing my entire life. I don't take it for granted. And if they keep paying me and the audience keeps watching it and I still love it ... why would I ever stop?"