Movie actors gain and lose weight for roles all the time. Remember when Russell Crowe gained weight for A Beautiful Mind, or Renee Zellweger did for Bridget Jones (and it was a way bigger deal because she’s a woman, even though she was a size ten at most, but that’s another story)? While Friends had Monica in a fatsuit (and Matthew Perry gaining and losing weight while he struggled with addiction), and Frasier had horrible fat jokes about Daphne (when Jane Leeves was pregnant), you don’t usually see comedians on TV deliberately changing their weight.
Until now, that is: one of the creators and stars of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Rob McElhenney, has gained 50 pounds for season seven of the show, which premiered last week. McElhenney, who plays Mac, says:
I never wondered what it would be like to have a fat character. That’s just mean and it’s not funny. Ultimately, what was funny to me was the abuse on one’s body. Mac was always talking about putting on mass, so he decided to put on mass. His vision was that when David was sculpted, they started with a big slab of marble and then he was whittled down. So Mac created himself a big slab of marble, but it turned out he was just a big slab of beef and never trimmed himself down. That to me is the funnier aspect of it. It stemmed from watching a really popular sitcom where the actors were better looking than five or six years before and I was like they’re better looking because they have more money, they are more famous, they have better makeup and wardrobe people. Our show has always been about deconstructing the sitcom and not creating likeable or attractive characters. It wasn’t just about weight gain, but about making myself look as self-abused as possible. I tried to look as ugly as possible.
(Two things about this quote that jump out at me: first, Danny DeVito is in the cast, and he’s not a thin guy, so they do have a “fat character,” although I can’t off the top of my head think about any weight-based jokes at his expense. I’m also not sure why having a fat character would be “mean,” but I’m guessing McElhenney’s referring to the type of character who exists for the sole purpose of having weight-based jokes made about them–a character trope with which we are all familiar.)
We started watching Sunny a couple of seasons ago (the gang’s musical, “The Nightman Cometh,” is endlessly hilarious to me), and the characters do and say wildly offensive things, making jokes about everything from crack addiction to rape. I do appreciate the fact that the woman in the group, Dee, is allowed to be just as offensive and horrible as the men, which makes it a rich comedic part for Kaitlin Olsen (who is married to McElhenney in real life). The question each episode seems to ask of the characters is “how low can they go?”
Glenn Howerton and Charlie Day, the co-creators of Sunny, were on one of the podcasts I occasionally listen to, WTF with Marc Maron. According to them, the characters–in their racism, sexism, and selfishness–are always the butt of the jokes, which is the source of the comedy. Howerton says:
Even with this year’s premise of Mac gaining weight, we are not making fun of fat people. We are making fun of Mac, because he thinks that he’s this muscle-bound person, and he’s done absolutely nothing in order to actually achieve that goal… this is not a person who is naturally fat, this is a person who is destroying his body under the delusion that he’s actually creating muscle… and that’s the joke, not fat people in general.
I’m glad Howerton makes this distinction, because I feel a lot of comedians don’t see a problem with making fun of fat people, and I appreciate (having seen the premiere and as a viewer of the show) that there’s more going on here. However, the “fat = funny” equation still strikes me as problematic. Alan Sepinwall, in his review of the premiere, calls Fat Mac a “sight gag,” and says:
Okay, first things first: major, major, major props are due Mr. Rob McElhenny for having the random but brilliant (if not necessarily wise from a personal standpoint) idea to put on 50 pounds in the off-season. Fat Mac is just a marvelous sight gag – in a way, it reminds me of that “30 Rock” episode where Jenna ate too much pizza over the summer, only, you know, real – that makes me laugh every single time I see him, while also standing in nicely as a commentary on the state of the gang. They’re getting older, and dumber, and sloppier – and in Mac’s case, fatter – and while another show might take this as an opportunity for personal growth, “Always Sunny” mainly just observes that they’re all getting too old for this shit, then has them keep doing it anyway, cuz it’s really really funny.
I don’t watch 30 Rock, so didn’t see the “Jenna ate too much pizza” plotline (which sounds like a dumb plotline, if I can judge merely based on the description) but I will be watching Sunny this season and am curious to see what others think. Here’s a preview of the show featuring “Fat Mac.” So what do you think? Do you watch Sunny, and do you think Fat Mac is funny? Can fat ever be funny?
Posted by mo pie