We haven’t even pulled out of the dock and we’re already in deep trouble. As anyone who’s watched Deadliest Catch knows, crabbing is an extremely dangerous endeavor. People get maimed. People get killed. And, sometimes, people can’t open the bottle of pinot grigio needed to make a white wine spritzer.
“Use blunt force!” Rob McElhenney shouts to Glenn Howerton, who has wedged a fish-gutting knife into the cork. Despite spending the afternoon using Maxim’s money to purchase every last item they thought they’d need for a day of crabbing, the two creators, writers, and stars of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia forgot to buy a corkscrew. “So many tools, but we can’t even open this fucking thing,” says Glenn, who has ditched the knife for a pair of rusty needle-nose pliers and a Curious George mechanical pencil. “We’re about as successful at our ventures as our characters.”
Their characters, who are like family to anyone with basic cable and a bong, are Dennis (Glenn) and Mac (Rob), the extremely selfish, totally deluded, hilariously underachieving co-owners of Paddy’s Pub, a run-down dive in South Philly. Dennis’ sister Sweet Dee (Kaitlin Olson, Rob’s real-life wife); their childhood friend Charlie (Charlie Day); and Dennis and Dee’s dad, Frank (Danny DeVito), round out the cast of the show, described by its network, FX, as “Seinfeld on crack.” Entering its seventh season this month, Always Sunny has gone from a no-budget short called “Charlie Has Cancer” that Glenn and Rob made for next to nothing in 2004 to one of the funniest sitcoms on TV. Glenn explains their philosophy thus: “Sitcoms so far have been about making the most likable characters possible. We make our characters as abhorrent, unlikable, and unglamorous as we can.”
About three hours before the wine bottle fiasco, I give the guys, who’ve been palling around since they were aspiring actors in New York, 848 of Maxim’s dollars to spend however they want. The handoff occurs outside Purfield’s Pro Tackle in sunny Marina del Ray, California, because they’ve decided to spend the dough on a day of crabbing. “We need gloves,” announces Rob, who, like his character on Sunny, grew up in the City of Brotherly Love. Glenn—an Air Force brat who ended up in Alabama before coming to New York—agrees. “You could go in there barehanded, but a guy like me who doesn’t work with his hands unless they’re flitting across a keyboard or playing with my hair? I have to wear gloves.” A rechargeable flashlight, waterproof boots, a small club, a hoop net, a variety of lures, a Purfield’s baseball cap, and some frozen mackerel quickly fill the basket. When the clerk informs us they’re out of crab traps, Glenn waves the cash in front of him. “You sure there are no traps in the back?” “I’m sure” is the curt response.
Undeterred, we pile into Josh Drisko’s truck. Josh is a longtime buddy of Glenn and Rob’s and an editor on Always Sunny. Besides driving us around, he’ll be captaining the boat, which he bought with Rob two years ago. “Any money left over is going to you,” Glenn promises Josh. “And to be clear,” adds Rob, “we’re not paying you to captain the boat. We’re paying you not to drink.” As we motor toward a Sports Chalet, where we can buy fishing licenses and, we are told, there are traps on hold for us, Glenn breaks down the intricacies of crabbing: “Drinking is the main part. Drop the traps. Drink. It’s not fucking complicated.”
By the time we check out of the Sports Chalet, Rob and Glenn have amassed crab traps, mussels and squid for bait, the licenses, a few fishing weights, and a packet of Tangerine Emergen-C. (“I might be catching a cold,” Glenn offers.)
The next stop is a Ralphs supermarket: Rob and Josh are in charge of the food, and Glenn and I handle the booze. “We need rum,” he states. As we scan the selection, we’re both drawn to one particular black-spiced brand: Kraken. “Tonight,” Glenn announces, “we shall release the Kraken!” Next comes whiskey, then tequila, then, of course, white wine for spritzers. “They’re refreshing on a hot day,” he confides. “Plus, I find them hilarious. It’s such a nonmanly drink.” After grabbing a 30-pack of Coors Original (“Coors Heavy. Drink it with pride!” Rob will roar five hours later), we reunite with the other dudes, whose cart is filled with sandwiches, Kettle Chips, pretzels, S. Pellegrino, Goldfish, jerky, ice, nuts…and coconut water. (“It’s very important to stay hydrated,” Rob warns.)
The Rickety Cricket, named after a crack-addicted ex-priest on Always Sunny, is a well-maintained 22-foot Grady White boat Rob and Josh bought used at a “good price.”
“She isn’t a yacht,“ says Rob. “Yachts are for blow and strippers. This is for beer and
fishing.” As he sets up the traps, I ask what his wife and costar, Kaitlin, thinks of his
hobby. “She’s been out with us twice, and that’s probably it for her.” What about Charlie? “He’s never been on the boat. I think he prefers golfing.” (As for Danny DeVito, he tells us later, “Go on a boat with those guys in the middle of nowhere? It’d be like those NFL players who drowned, God forbid.”) Glenn makes a toast before pushing off. One gutting knife, needle-nose pliers, and a mechanical pencil later, we raise our white wine spritzers into the evening sky. I silently pray the craft doesn’t end up like the one in the Always Sunny episode “The Gang Buys a Boat.” That is, in flames.
Captain Josh maneuvers us out of the dock, through the marina, and toward the open sea. Crabs, Rob explains, are easier to catch after dark, so by the time we’re ready to drop the first trap, the full moon over the L.A. skyline is all the light we need. Well, that and the light from the joint we’re about to spark.
Turns out Glenn’s description of what crabbing entails was spot on. We drop four traps, mark them on the GPS, and head to calmer waters by a reef to chill. Besides the Coors and spritzers, we start swigging from a bottle of Maker’s Mark. “I want to catch a Leviathan!” shouts Rob. “No, let us release the Kraken!” Glenn responds.
While I still (somewhat) have my wits about me, I ask Rob what I’ve been wondering since I first saw him: Why the hell did he gain almost 50 pounds for the new season? “I was watching a sitcom, and it was, like, the fifth season. I noticed the actors were getting better-looking as the years went by. They had more money, a better wardrobe, better teeth.” “Friends?” I ask. “Yeah. But I’ve never seen a sitcom where the actors try to look worse, so I gave it a shot. It took a little less than five months to go from 162 to 208. I was eating 5,000 calories a day. Twice a day I drank shakes that were milk, weight gainer, two scoops of ice cream, creatine, and coconut oil, and I did as little physical activity as possible. I’ve lost about 10 pounds of it now, but I was pretty fucking fat.”
We light a joint and take a few puffs. I ask Rob the last time he smoked. “Three nights ago. My wife was asleep, and I was watching Breaking Bad.” As we drift around the reef, conversation flows freely and oddly.
Glenn: “Jerry Orbach always looked to me like he belonged on The Munsters. He looked like a creature. He looked like a Muppet.”
Me: “Did you know he donated his eyes to blind people when he died?”
Glenn: “Why would you want a fucking 92-year-old man’s eyes? If you want somebody’s eyes, you get a 16-year-old’s.”
Rob: “He also originated the role of El Gallo in The Fantasticks.”
Glenn: “What? He originated El Gallo?! I was in that play in college!”
Rob, to me: “Did you know Glenn went to fucking Juilliard?”
Just as Glenn breaks into The Fantasticks’ maudlin showstopper “Try to Remember,” Captain Josh interrupts to tell us it’s time to check the traps. Not a moment too soon.
“Glenn, got your gloves on?” Rob shouts.
“No,” Glenn responds, “I’m pissing!”
“Well, hurry up.”
The guys pull the traps with confidence; they’ve done this many times before, and usually have a good-enough haul for a crab feast. Not this time, however. While all the traps are filled with a decent number of crabs, they’re mostly babies. “It’s like we hit a fucking litter,” says Glenn. As they throw the crabs back into the ocean, they bid fond farewells. “Good luck, little guys!” “We’ll eat you next year!”
Even though it’s approaching midnight, Rob wants to drop more traps. “No, we’re heading back,” Glenn declares. Rob turns to me. “Please write about this, when Glenn went from fun to not fun.” “What are we trying to prove?” Glenn protests. “We got some fucking crabs, and we threw them back.” Rob, amused by his pal’s surliness, starts baiting him. “You turned a corner, but I know I was with my friend Glenn earlier! What happened?” Glenn takes a swig of Kraken. “I’m just fucking tired.”
As we pull into the dock, Glenn gets introspective. “I’m just a one-hit-of-ecstasy guy. When the eight hours are done, I’m done. Why drop two more hits and stay up till the next day?” Rob laughs. “Me? I’m always trying to extend the good times.”
Purfield’s Pro Tackle
Flashlight, gloves, boots, net, lures, club, Purfield’s cap, mackerel, $361.39
Traps, mussels, squid, licenses, weights, Tangerine Emergen-C, $123.12
Tequila, rum, whiskey, wine, chips, pretzels, Goldfish, ice, jerky, nuts, sandwiches, beer, coconut water, S. Pellegrino, $268.97
Josh’s “No Drinking” fee, $94.52
Total = $848