If you are a “true” Sunny fan… you are probably already pissed off at me for the mere concept of this article.
A seemingly endless argument among Sunny fans is about whether The Waitress’ real name is Nikki Potnick. Although this has been refuted by co-writer and actor Glenn Howerton (twice), discussed on multiple blog articles, and specifically mentioned on the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia Nikki Potnick wiki page, there are always more and more new (and existing) fans participating in Sunny fan groups who think The Waitress’ name has already been revealed.
Why Do These Jabronis Keep Thinking The Waitress is Nikki Potnick???
The confusion is the result of a standard concept of storytelling and audience expectation, called Chekov’s Gun.
The concept behind this dramatic principle is simple. In storytelling, every element must be vital to the story and irrelevant elements must be removed. A story should be concise and rewarding to the audience, so when something is mentioned early in the story, an item, a person, or even an idea, it must correlate to an element later in the story to provide a satisfactory payoff. Audiences have been conditioned to pay attention to every detail in expectation that it will result in a dramatic or comedic payoff.
During this golden age of television, this concept has been embraced, covered in gold, and worshipped as a false idol. The most popular titles and cult favorites embrace the concept of constant payoffs for faithful viewers who pay attention to detail. Lost, Arrested Development, Game of Thrones, and Community all employ masterful story arcs where hidden clues are there for those willing to look.
So, it makes perfect sense that the brilliant and amazing writers of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia would follow this idea, and that sophisticated TV audiences of today would recognize and look for those little clues.
The two-part season seven finale, The High-School Reunion, is an exceptional set of episodes with call backs, revealed mysteries, and the greatest dance routine ever to be performed at St. Joseph’s Preparatory School.
With the audience already emotionally invested in the characters and all the plot twists of the High School reunion, Frank explains how he snuck into the event.
Frank: I snuck right past that security prick. Look, I got myself a name tag. Nikki Potnick.
After a hilarious exchange between Nikki/Frank, Dennis, and Maureen Ponderosa (complete with dead tooth), The Waitress dumps herself into the scene where she makes the following comment.
Waitress: You know what, Dennis? I went to go find my name tag– they didn’t have one for me.
Yeah, I went to go find my name tag– they didn’t even have one.
So, the astute audience member, prepared for throwbacks, references, and clues, assumes they didn’t have a name tag for The Waitress because Frank stole it; therefore, The Waitress = Nikki Potnick!
But, Nikki Potnick and The Waitress are NOT the same characters. Nikki Potnick is a friend from high school who had her car crashed by a drunk Gang, and she did not attend the High School reunion.
So, what is the joke and where did the name tag go? The joke refers to a reoccurring theme and the meaningful echo trope (a sub-set of Chekov’s Gun). In S5 E5, The Waitress is Getting Married, The Waitress reminds Dee that they went to High School together, to which Dee responds:
Dee: You went to High School with us? Wow, you are very forgettable.
This reoccurring motif of forgetting about The Waitress provides the explanation. It’s not that they didn’t have a nametag for her. It’s that they forgot to make one for her because she is very forgettable.
The Frank/Nametag joke is a separate joke from The Waitress is forgettable/ they forget to make her name tag joke. Both jokes are call backs, both jokes are subtle in a Chekov’s gun-esque way, and, most importantly, both jokes are hilarious. And in the end, that’s really all that matters. Let take a cue from a Glenn Howerton favorite and remember it’s just a show, we should really just relax.