Screenshot: It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (YouTube)

It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’s Rob McElhenney has gone to some pretty extreme lengths for the sake of a joke. Back in season 7, he gained nearly 60 pounds because he thought it would be funny if his character looked worse as the seasons wore on. McElhenney has since pushed himself to the other end of the spectrum and, these days, Mac is looking comically jacked. In this week’s season finale, it was revealed that the reason Mac is in such good shape is that he’s been preparing an elaborate modern dance piece in order to express his emotional turmoil to his imprisoned father. Recently, Vulture got the inside story on this breathtaking surprise performance, which apparently took months of work and planning to make happen.

First, in order to get into the shape necessary to pull this off, McElhenney worked with celebrity trainer Arin Babaian, who gained notoriety working with Channing Tatum on Magic Mike. Once he was in good enough shape to dance for two hours a day, he reached out to choreographers Alison Faulk and Leo Moctezuma, and together they crafted the emotional modern routine that McElhenney would ultimately perform alongside professional ballerina Kylie Shea. Through all of this, McElhenney insisted he had “zero ability to dance” and was “not a very limber person.” The choreographers—and ultimately the viewers—would disagree.

“Rob is naturally a caretaker, and that’s something you have to be as a partner. We can’t let our partner fall,” Moctezuma tells Vulture. “He would get it on the first try with Alison and we would be like, ‘What the hell?’”

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But, just to make an already impossible task a little bit harder, McElhenney decided halfway through the process that he wanted the whole piece to be performed in the rain. The fear of falling or dropping his partner was markedly increased, but McElhenney never faltered. “It was one of the most physically demanding days of dance I’ve experienced and I’ve done a lot of dance,” says Shea.

In the end, the beautifully shot, evocative dance set to a Sigur Ros song took the boundary-pushing comedy to a place it’s never been before. For five full minutes of their season finale, they weren’t afraid to get serious. Mac cried for God’s sake. It’s hard to imagine what other directions this character can be pushed, but we’re confident McElhenney will figure it out by next season.

You can read Vulture’s full behind-the-scenes look here.

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