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Best Running Gags On It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia

In 2020, "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" surpassed "Ozzie and Harriet" to become the longest-running live-action sitcom in television history. It makes sense, too: Whereas many sitcoms peak in Season 3 or 4 and then decline for another few seasons, often ending on a relatively low note, "Always Sunny" just gets better and better. We're not sure how they manage to squeeze so much timelessly hilarious comedy out of the five classless, clueless, selfish, backstabbing slobs who run Paddy's Pub in South Philly, but every season is just packed with brilliant writing, unforgettable characters, and of course, no shortage of hysterical running gags.

Like "Seinfeld," "The Office," "Arrested Development," and any other sitcom worth your time, "Always Sunny" has mastered the art of the running gag, often seamlessly layering them into an episode without beating you over the head. There are plenty of recurring jokes to choose from, so which are in the running for the best "It's Always Sunny" has to offer? We've taken the liberty of assembling them here.

Mac's parents hate him

Only a show like "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" could make light of neglectful parents and get away with it. Throughout the show's nine seasons, it becomes tragically (and also, hilariously) evident that Mac's obsessive need to be taken seriously despite being thoroughly un-intimidating likely stems from his nonexistent relationship with his dad, Luther.

Luther, who's always in and out of prison, is a wide-eyed, stone-faced, terrifying man who may or may not have murdered people in the past. Everyone's terrified of him except two people: Mac, who wants nothing more than to earn his dad's affection (which he never gets because Mac's schemes always seem to ruin Luther's life), and "Mrs. Mac" (Mac's mom), a woman so utterly lacking in class and charm that she couldn't be bothered to fear her ex-husband if he had a gun to her head.

Mac frequently tries to get her to admit she loves him, but she's always too busy smoking, grunting, ignoring everything and everyone around her, and watching trashy daytime TV to show him any love whatsoever. Nobody else who encounters her can stand the woman, but Mac is so damaged by his childhood that he keeps seeking validation from her.

Okay, we admit: None of this sounds remotely funny on paper. It just sounds deeply sad. But trust us, "Always Sunny" can use even this to bring out the big laughs.

Bird law

Charlie Kelly is a man of few talents. He's good at beating basement rats to death, and in the episode "Charlie Work" he does, brilliantly, help Paddy's Pub pass an unannounced health inspection on the fly.

But in almost every other episode, the semi-literate janitor struggles to understand what's happening and displays no social skills. Despite this, and not unlike his friends, he drastically overestimates his abilities, especially in one small (made-up) field: bird law.

Yes, Charlie, who probably couldn't even name a real law school with a gun to his head, thinks he's an expert in the nonexistent legal field of "bird law." It's exactly what it sounds like, but somehow this self-appointed scholar seems to think it can be invoked in just about every legal situation, even when birds have nothing to do with the matter at hand. (Which is the case with almost all legal matters.) He whips out his fake credentials when trying to defend Mac, whom the Gang wrongfully thinks is a notorious local serial killer; when the Gang gets thrown out of a not-yet-vacated house they're trying to secure after winning it in a foreclosure auction; during Season 11's "McPoyle vs. Ponderosa" case (a long story); and on several other occasions. It never works and is never relevant, but it's always hilarious and absurd to watch.

Dee is a bird

Nobody in the Gang really likes each other, as evidenced by the fact that they turn on and gossip about whoever's not in the room and have no problem scheming against one another.

But amidst all the vitriol, Deandra "Sweet Dee" Reynolds is arguably the most disrespected member of the Gang. Mac and Dennis, despite their toxic relationship, are at least partners in crime (sometimes literally). Frank and Charlie live together in squalor and seem to have some affection for each other. But Dee has nobody. She's dismissed as a dumb girl by four men who are, with the possible exception of Dennis, at least as uncouth as she is. Her ideas are tossed aside. Her apartment and possessions are routinely used and destroyed by the others, who never even consider compensating her for the damage.

Most commonly, though, they just refer to her as "bird." "Shut up, bird." "Out of my way, bird." "Don't get all high and mighty on me because you've got a pantsuit on, alright? You look like Big Bird." We'll admit, we don't really see it. But calling Dee a bird seems to be the go-to insult to get the other four to bond with each other. At one point, Dennis tags along with Mac to borrow a bowl from Dee just so he can call her a bird while he's there. And in one of the best visual gags ever, when Mac is recounting an event, the flashback sequence shows Dee as a literal ostrich.

Nobody knows the Waitress' name

Women have it rough on "It's Always Sunny." Dee's the most abused and disrespected member of the Gang, but she's also a willing participant in the torment of the unlucky schlubs who get caught in the group's orbit. One of their most frequent targets of abuse is the Waitress. In a nutshell, Dennis sleeps with her and emotionally strings her along for years. She sleeps with Frank once, which couldn't have helped her on-again, off-again alcoholism. Dee mistreats her frequently, and Mac tries to use her to get back at Charlie. Notoriously, Charlie has an unrequited obsession with her and stalks her constantly, much to her irritation. He's far too dimwitted to understand boundaries and believes her constant demands for him to leave her alone are simply her way of playing hard to get.

Despite all that, and even with the countless other run-ins the Gang has had with her, nobody (including the audience) knows the character's real name. She's simply known as "Waitress," and whenever she confronts the Gang for never learning her real name, they cut her off before she can reveal it. It's mean-spirited, but that's exactly the kind of humor "Always Sunny" pulls off so well.

The Gang's one videotape

Many of the Gang's schemes require videos, like when Dennis runs for Philadelphia city comptroller (a position he knows nothing about and abandons his campaign for when he finds out it's a glorified accountant position) or when Mac tries to film himself doing "bad-ass" motorcycle tricks (which he is completely incapable of pulling off). They even make a video twice in the same episode, "Mac and Dennis Buy a Timeshare," for different reasons: once when Dee and Charlie try to rope people into their Invigaron pyramid scheme and need a video explaining the system, and once when Dennis and Mac try to sell their excess timeshares by pretending to be terrorists and scaring Ben the soldier into joining their team. The Gang also employs video marketing whenever they need to sell merch, as well as in several other instances. 

There are just a few small problems: First, they're all comically bad at shooting, writing, and editing. This should surprise no one.

Second, and most hilariously, they seem to only have one videotape between them. Each time they need a new video for some harebrained, goin'-nowhere scheme, they just record over the last thing they did. In "Mac and Dennis Buy A Timeshare," you can catch glimpses of the last few tapes they made at the end of the latest one. It's a hilarious, subtle way to celebrate the show's highlights from older seasons.

Frank and Charlie live in squalor

Frank Reynolds' introduction in Season 2 took the show to a whole new level. Even though it's immediately made clear that he's wealthy, it's also hammered home that he despises his old life and prefers an existence of classlessness and filth. Luckily for him, his two kids, Dee and Dennis (who end up not being his), pal around with one Mr. Charlie Kelly (who very well may be Frank's kid; don't ask, it's a long story).

Charlie, as fans well know, lives in utter squalor. His apartment is filthy. The walls are yellowed and stained. He sleeps on a rickety pull-out couch and eats cat food, because, as he tells Dee later on when she tries to spend a day in his shoes, it makes him sick — and thus helps him sleep despite the stray cats who scream all night just outside his window.

Naturally, Frank is right at home when he moves in, officially cementing the so-called "Gruesome Twosome" that constitutes one of the Gang's major subgroups. Any normal person would be miserable in such unhygienic conditions (to put it politely). But Frank and Charlie bring out the most disgusting attributes in each other, leading both men to spiral into a disgusting pit of grime and boorishness. Somehow, someway, the show makes it look endearing.

Dee's cars keep getting destroyed

Deandra "Sweet Dee" Reynolds just can't seem to get a break. Whereas Frank and Charlie, the so-called "Gruesome Twosome," are best friends in squalor, and Dennis and Mac are usually inseparable (despite often clashing), Dee is alone. She's constantly dismissed or insultingly compared to a bird, and is frequently and unenviably the target of the others' scorn and abuse. One of the most egregious things the guys do is take her car without asking and routinely destroy it.

In Season 4, Mac and Charlie use her car in a scheme to fake their own deaths. To sell the narrative of having died in a car accident, they crash it into a wall, shoot it, and even drop a grenade in the back seat. They're disappointed that it doesn't go up in flames, but it's certainly unusable when they're done. In Season 5, Charlie inadvertently lets a hitchhiker steal her replacement car. In Season 6, Bill Ponderosa gives her a car that ends up being the property of another of his mistresses, who drives off with it. Two seasons later, Charlie crashes her car after he and Mac try to use it to escape Maureen Ponderosa's cursed wedding.

Later on in Season 8, after Frank rear-ends Dennis and a trial is held in Paddy's, Dee (who's never been compensated for her own vehicles) is somehow stuck with the bill for Dennis' damages when it's all said and done. We're mad for her, but man, is her constant "car trouble" funny.

The feud with the McPoyles

As acknowledged in Season 9's "The Gang Squashes Their Beefs," the Gang has, well, a lot of enemies. It's not surprising: All five members of the group are clueless, selfish slobs who routinely mistreat others (except for Charlie, who is kind of sweet but genuinely doesn't seem to understand what's going on 90% of the time). Sometimes they mean to hurt people. Other times they do it by mistake. Either way, they never make amends and generally deserve the vitriol they get from others around town, like Rickety Cricket, the Lawyer, and the Waitress, among others.

But there's one group of enemies so unlikeable that you can't help but take the Gang's side over theirs. That would be the McPoyles: a clan of subtly villainous, thoroughly creepy, often bathrobe-clad, proudly inbred siblings, led by Liam and Ryan, who've made it their life's mission to antagonize the Gang. You can almost smell them from across the screen whenever they arrive to get revenge on the Gang for the latest slight, try to forcibly wed their sister Margaret to Dennis, and even perpetrate the titular crime in Season 3's "The Gang Gets Held Hostage."

To hear the two lead brothers describe their bizarre family, the clan once dominated the country before incestuous relationships designed to keep the bloodline pure killed half of them off through syphilis and other illnesses. This and their constant bickering with the Gang add up to quite the legacy.

Charlie stalks the Waitress

If there's one thing "It's Always Sunny" does better than maybe any TV show ever, it's tap-dancing over social laser beams and emerging unscathed. The show examines racism, homelessness, religion, and countless other sensitive topics. Amazingly, with the exception of the regrettable handling of trans issues in the early seasons, it rarely steps over the line and becomes truly offensive. The reason? It's clear the writers don't share the same viewpoints as their moronic five lead characters, who are almost always positioned as the real butt of the satirical joke.

One of the issues "Always Sunny" handles is stalking, and if you've seen the show, you know exactly what we're talking about. Charlie Kelly is head-over-heels in love with the Waitress and too dumb to understand boundaries or take her constant "no" for an answer. In real life, a restraining order would be warranted. On other fictional shows, similar behavior is downright creepy, because the behavior often comes across as romanticized.

Here, though, Charlie's constant habits of following her around, making unsuccessful advances, and even entering her apartment secretly to make unrequested repairs, are hilarious — because he's usually put in his place in the end. Even when the two finally get together in later seasons, it's not a reward, because Charlie is suddenly unhappy in the very relationship he's been obsessed with securing for years.

That's in contrast to real life, where the two actors are happily married.

Rickety Cricket's descent

We're not sure if the show had this planned from the beginning or if they just decided on the fly to take the story of Matthew Mara, known more popularly as "Rickety Cricket," to the most extreme imaginable depths as the show progressed. Either way, we're both sad and glad things worked out the way they did.

We're sad because Cricket's descent from respectable clergyman to deranged, drug-dependent, homeless vagrant is obviously heartbreaking on the face of it. The once well-to-do man of the church falls in love with Dee, who convinces him to leave the clergy for her before ultimately rejecting him. His life ruined, he now lives in a box and sells his body for drugs. He suffers indignity after indignity, ranging from the Gang using him to further their various moronic schemes to being burned, injured, and scarred in various misadventures.

But we're glad, too, because Cricket's story is one of the most unique in sitcom history. David Hornsby's performance is one for the ages, and you never know where it'll go next (except down). In Season 12, we even get a disarmingly powerful episode, "A Cricket's Tale," centered entirely around his (unsuccessful) redemption, in which the Gang itself has only a small role to play. The twist ending is less than triumphant. But this is "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," so you should always go into an episode expecting the bizarre and hilariously dark.

Charlie work

Dee is the most ridiculed and disrespected member of the Gang, both because she's a woman surrounded by clueless misogynists and because she has no allies in the group (largely because, well, she's a woman who's surrounded by clueless misogynists). But that doesn't mean anyone else in the Gang gets off lightly. Charlie Kelly, the janitor of Paddy's Pub, has a lack of education and an innocent naiveté that is frequently taken advantage of by his so-called friends. And while being the bar's custodian is his official job, the other members of the Gang often go out of their way to look down on it and make it harder than it needs to be. Even a sweet, thoroughly oblivious guy like Charlie has his limits and is capable of picking up on the disrespect.

As we've seen throughout the show, "Charlie work," as his custodial duties are often described, is not easy. That's especially true when he's doing it in the stupidest way possible, like when he clears out pests by smashing them with spiked bats or when he intentionally and dangerously floods the basement with carbon monoxide. But it's also the case when he's going about his duties with uncharacteristic intelligence and impressive skill, as seen in the episode "Charlie Work" when he expertly helps Paddy's pass an impromptu health inspection despite the uncooperative idiocy of his friends. The episode is proof that Charlie's "unique" skill set is often underestimated.

Charlie's illiteracy

Let's be honest: Nobody in the Gang is smart. Frank's former business success appears to have come as much from intimidation and corruption as anything else. Dennis fancies himself a classy genius, but he's really more of a slightly smarter-than-average psychopath who often succeeds because he's willing to do things other people aren't. Dee is deluded but seems to be of average intelligence, and Mac is just as clueless and quite possibly a bit denser than she is. Dimwitted as they all are, though, there's no arguing that Charlie Kelly, bless his heart, is the dumbest.

This manifests in several ways, like his often unorthodox methods of getting rid of rats, his not understanding social cues even when they're shouted in his face, and his living in squalor and genuinely not grasping why this should be beneath an adult human. Then there's the fact that while he's almost never the one who comes up with the Gang's plans, he's usually the one who fails to understand them and screws everything up.

By far his biggest (and funniest) nincompoop calling card, though, is his illiteracy. Throughout the show, Charlie struggles to read so much as bathroom signs (once genuinely misreading "private" as "pirate"), communicates in cryptic ransom note-style messages and pictographs, and writes utterly nonsensical scripts and songs. It's clear he does read and write a bit, but no better than a kindergartner can, if that. It's a mean-spirited running joke, but too funny not to laugh at.