Season four finale “The Nightman Cometh” might be the most beloved episode in It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’s 13-season history. Profane, catchy, and even, in its own way, kind of sweet, the episode has spawned any number of impromptu singalongs among the show’s fans, and even a brief national tour by its cast, bringing the epic story of the Nightman and the Dayman to theater audiences across the country.
To celebrate this landmark musical accomplishment (and the decade it’s been since the episode first aired), GQ has an oral history of “The Nightman Cometh” today, complete with conversations with all five of the show’s stars, plus episode director Matt Shakman. The clearest thing that comes through from these chats is how much everybody involved loved the episode, in which the Gang stages a truly terrible musical at poor Charlie’s behest. Danny DeVito happily reminisced about the ear-worm nature of the show’s Charlie Day-penned melodies: “I never stopped singing, ‘You gotta pay the troll toll to get into that boy’s hole.’ After that episode, wherever I’d go, people would scream it [at me] out of windows.”
Meanwhile, Day and Rob McElhenney got into a deeper conversation about one of the episode’s biggest jokes—i.e., that Day’s character Charlie thinks his play is empowering, but which everyone else reads as being about child molestation—and how they approach that sort of material in their show.
Any time we deal with that kind of subject matter, I like to think it’s coming from a more intelligent place. A rape joke is not remotely a funny thing; a man writing a musical that he thinks is about self-empowerment, and not realizing that all his lyrics sound like they’re about a child being molested, is a funny thing. The joke is coming from confusion and misunderstanding, which are classic tropes of all comedy.
Ultimately, the question is always: “Well, what is the joke?” If the character is being homophobic or masochistic or racist, that can work. What can’t work is if the show or the writers or the direction or the actor is masochistic or homophobic or racist. The characters we’re presenting are deplorable people who should not be emulated. And that’s the joke.