Q & A: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Kaitlin Olson on Improv, Line Delivery and the Evolution of ‘Sweet Dee’

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is one of my favorite shows and if you’ve been watching it this year, you know that the 7-year-old comedy is showing no signs of aging.

A huge part of that reason is because of ‘Sweet Dee’ herself, Kaitlin Olson who is always doing something interesting whenever she’s on-screen; whether she’s adding a certain spin to a line or vaulting over ‘over-the-top’ in a scene, she is always hilarious.

Kaitlin got her start with The Groundlings and she told me that she absolutely uses that training “all the time.” “I think it’s really important on our show to have either a natural improvising ability or an improv background,” she said.

I talked to her about It’s Always Sunny and her sometimes specific line delivery, the evolution of ‘Sweet D’ and how she’s currently updating her demo reel.

Check out our other It’s Always Sunny interviews with Rob McElhenney and Danny DeVito

It’s Always Sunny airs Thursdays at 10 on FX

For the full interview, click the audio link above or download it from iTunes

You got you got your start at the Groundlings.  Is that training something that you use every day when you’re working?

Kaitlin Olson: Yes, absolutely.  Absolutely.  I say this all the time, but the scripts come to me really, really funny.  They work really hard on them so I think it belittles it a little bit when we talk about how much improvising we do.  So I just want to be really clear that they just work so hard on the scripts and they’re so funny when we get them.  But it keeps it fresh to be able to show up and play around with the dialogue.

I think it’s really important on our show to have either a natural improvising ability or an improv background, because we do a couple of takes as scripted and then we just totally play around.  It’s really important to stay open and listen to what the other person is saying so that you can respond to it rather than just everyone jumping on top of each other and trying to get something funny in.  That might feel funny at the time, but that does not end up working on TV because you can’t hear what anyone’s saying.  So yes, I would say that the Groundlings background comes in real handy on this particular show.  

You said that you were updating your demo reel.  Do you still have to do that?  Everybody doesn’t know who the heck you are?

Kaitlin Olson: Thank you for saying that.  The funny thing is I haven’t done it in like seven years, and it’s all digital.  It’s all online.  So I was curious and I asked to see it the other day.  They’re just like adding new scenes every time a new episode comes out or a new thing I do comes out.  So it’s like 40 minutes long.  And I was like, “No one wants to watch someone’s 40-minute reel.  I don’t care how good it is.”  So I just was tweaking it.  Thank you for asking. They should know who I am! I should not have to have a reel!

Is there no dark corner that you guys won’t go to?

Kaitlin Olson: I don’t think we’ve found it yet, for sure.  If there is one, we are still looking for it.  I think there’s a way to approach any subject that can either make it intolerable or that can make it funny.  So we certainly weren’t saying that we think that babies dying are funny, but we spun it so that it does the same classic thing that our characters always do, which is make it about ourselves and do whatever we need to do to get ahead.  And that’s funny to us. 

So I guess, no.  I mean the good news is no baby actually died, right, because that wouldn’t be funny.  That would cross a line. 

How has ‘Sweet Dee’ evolved from when she was conceived and you were cast up until how she is today?

Kaitlin Olson: Definitely.  I think when I came on board we didn’t really know each other that well and so those guys were writing a show for themselves and they wanted a female character.  They definitely wanted to bring in somebody who was going to be able to hold her own, the character, in terms of being a part of the Gang, but they didn’t really—and they said to me, “Like we don’t really know how to write for a woman.” 

And I said, “Well please don’t think about it in terms of writing for a woman because what you’re writing for yourselves is really funny and that’s what I want to do.  So just write what you think is funny and I’ll bring the female aspect to it.”

So in the first few episodes, I think we were kind of finding our groove.  I was just sort of the female sidekick and the one that was a little bit more the voice of reason, and they were doing things that were insane.  And then the more they got to know me personally and sort of the different sensibilities that I had and the different comedic stuff that I liked to do, they started writing more for me and giving me bigger story lines and more ridiculous characteristics. 

That was more fun for me and I was having more fun doing it.  So I think I was doing a better job of it.  It sort of has evolved in that way so now I feel like we’re all pretty equal and everyone has their own—every character has their own selfish qualities, but I think they’re all just as ridiculous, which is so much more fun to play than the voice of reason or “the girl.”  You know what I mean?  And then we just brought ‘Frank’ on and he sort of topped it all off. 

So I think I consider us a little bit more equal now and all the characters are more defined.  Whereas in the very beginning, I think that they hadn’t quite figured out who this girl was and how to incorporate her into The Gang.  Does that answer your question?

How involved are you with the creative process?

Kaitlin Olson: I am not at all involved in the creative process.  Everyone asks me if I’ve ever wanted to write an episode, and the truth is, in the very beginning, I had some interest because I thought it would be fun.  I don’t have a writing background.  I have a lot of writing sketch comedy background because I did the Groundlings, but writing episodics is not my strongpoint.  I think that they do such a great job that there’s no reason that I would want to jump in and try and fix something that’s not broken at all.

But that being said, when they’re breaking stories, [Rob] he’s always coming home and telling me about it and I’m laughing and giving my opinion on stuff.  So I don’t know.  I stand back and wait to get the scripts and then I kind of just tweak my stuff a little bit.

Something that I really love about what you do on the show is your delivery and your intonation in your voice when you deliver, especially swear lines.  Is that something that you’ve brought and honed and developed over the years as far as like, “This is how she would say it.”

Kaitlin Olson: They don’t write any direction in at all.  It’s all just dialogue.  So we kind of just do our own thing with it.  I just found that I was swearing so much that I wanted to keep it interesting and not boring. 

I’ve said this a lot in the past too.  I don’t think that what we’re doing, even though our show is shocking sometimes, we’re not ever looking for shock value because that’s not funny to me.  I wouldn’t want to swear just to swear.  So I think I’m just trying to keep the swearing funny as well, and kind of do something interesting with it.  So that it’s not just swearing for the sake of swearing.

I appreciate you noticing.  Definitely, like I said, if you just say … over and over and over and over, either people aren’t going to hear it anymore or it’s going to start to get annoying or it’s going to start to get offensive.  So you might as well do something fun with it.

The core cast of Sunny are all so reprehensible, it’s kind of like taken to the ultimate level.  And since no one ever really thinks of themselves as being reprehensible, how do you find your way into ‘Sweet Dee?’  And what is it about her that keeps the character fresh for you?

Kaitlin Olson: Well I think it’s just that.  I think that you’re exactly right.  She doesn’t see herself as reprehensible.  She thinks that she’s a lovely person who just hasn’t been given opportunities in life. 

The reason that I love her, sort of the character I’ve ended up turning her into, is that she’s just so insecure.  Ultimately, I think she’s just desperately trying to get these guys to acknowledge her as part of their group, and that’s so sad to me and so funny.  It just disarms her a little bit.  There’s something about that that forgives all of the despicable acts because she’s just so clueless and needy and just wants to fit in ultimately.  And I think that that’s kind of at the root of most people. 

As far as getting into that, I don’t know.  I find something very endearing and funny about desperate, insecure people I guess.

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