It's never too late to come out, even when you're a character on a long-running sitcom.
In an interview withRolling Stone, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia star Rob McElhenney discussed Mac's slow journey to coming out as a gay man, which was revealed at the end of the dark, dark, dark comedy's 11th season. For the uninitiated, It's Always Sunny is basically Seinfeld on bath salts. During a trip on a Christian cruise, Mac attempts to lead a gay couple back to heterosexuality, but the pair decides to "convert" him instead.
While McElhenney says the plan wasn't always to have Mac come out, he tells the magazine's Alan Sepinwall that the decision was borne out of the character's "intense, ultraconservative, right-leaning principles."
"We were looking at Mac at one point, and I was like, 'He is such an arch-arch Catholic conservative when it suits him, and when it doesn't, he drops that,'" he said. "And most of the people I know in that camp tend to be fairly homophobic. So we began going down that road: 'Let's satirize that hard Christian conservative who is also intensely homophobic. OK, so what's the next step from there?'"
For McElhenney, Mac's deeply buried homosexuality was a logical extension of that train of thought. "And that's when I thought, 'Let's just make him gay,'" he said.
According to the actor -- who is straight and married to co-star Kaitlyn Olson in real life -- the joke was never that Mac is queer, which he claims would have been "demeaning and offensive" to the LGBTQ+ community. Instead he says the idea of having the most outwardly homophobic member of The Gang be a self-hating gay man was intended to be a comment on "hypocrisy."
"We weren't creating a gay character for comedic effect, that was there just to be gay and to be funny because he was gay, but a very complex, very disturbed, very fucked-up and awful character, who happens to be gay," he said.
For a show where the its second-ever episode finds The Gang trying to pick up women at an abortion rally, It's Always Sunnyhas shown a surprising amount of sensitivity when it comes to Mac's sexuality. In a rare earnest moment at the end of the series' 13th season, Mac comes out to his father through dance sequence so elaborately choreographed it included a rain machine. Mac's hope was to express through dance what he couldn't in words.
Although his father walks out halfway through the number, the scene ends on a moment of tearful revelation for Frank (Danny DeVito), The Gang's de facto patriarch. "Oh my God, I get it," he says. "I get it."
But McElhenney admitted there were some missteps in how Mac's coming out storyline was handled. The actor said he regrets It's Always Sunny's decision to briefly force the character back into the closet before Mac's big moment, which he said led to a "massive outpouring from our [LGBTQ+] fans, who were really upset."
"We thought about it over the off-season, and I realized, 'Man, that is a bummer. We had an opportunity there, and we screwed it up,'" he said. "And we ameliorated that in the season after, where Mac winds up coming out and staying out."
McElhenney said the response since then has been "overwhelmingly positive, certainly from the people that [the cast and crew] cared about."
It's Always Sunnywill return Sept. 25 for its near record-breaking 14th season. On Wednesday, the show will tie The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet for the title of the long-running live action comedy in history, and McElhenney claims the beloved sitcom isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
"I truly believe we can do the show forever," he said.