‘Scrubs’: The Janitor Was Never Supposed to Be a Real Person

Scrubs had a nearly decade-long stint on television, running from 2001 to 2010.

The storylines in the hit TV show often played with reality, time and the viewers’ expectations (no one can forget the musical episode on Season 6, or the numerous times that J.D. broke the fourth wall and looked directly at the camera).

The backstory for the Scrubs characters also kept audiences second-guessing their assumptions. One backstory is especially surprising: The janitor was never supposed to be a real person.

Actor Neil Flynn starred as the ‘Scrubs’ janitor

Neil Flynn as the Janitor
Neil Flynn as the Janitor | Mitch Haddad/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

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From the very first episode of Scrubs, the ever-present custodian character was played by actor and comedian Neil Flynn. 

Flynn was a series regular all the way up to season eight. 

For the ninth and final season of Scrubs, Flynn was also starring in a pilot for his new show The Middle. The Hollywood Reporter explains that Flynn negotiated a “second position” contract with ABC that would have allowed him to continue to be in Scrubs if his new show wasn’t picked up. However, The Middle went on to be a critical success for nine seasons.

Besides Scrubs and The Middle, Flynn has also worked on shows like CSI, Bob’s Burgers, King of the Hill and more. 

The ‘Scrubs’ writers often didn’t write a script for the janitor

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“I don’t believe in the moon.”

“It’s a riddle: Two guys destroyed your bike with a crowbar and a bat. One of them wasn’t me.”

“I don’t believe in the moon. I think it’s just the back of the sun.”

Many of the janitor’s funniest lines weren’t actually scripted. Instead, the show trusted Flynn to come up with something on the fly. 

In a question-and-answer session on Reddit, actor Zach Braff (who plays J.D. in Scrubs) said: “Sometimes a script would show up and when Neil enters it would just say (Neil makes up something and then exits).”

Flynn has several decades of experience in improv comedy, reports the Chicago Tribune. That extensive improv background would have served Flynn well while on the Scrubs set. 

Neil Flynn’s janitor character was supposed to exist only in J.D.’s imagination

Most of Scrubs’ narrative is driven by the internal dialogue and thoughts of Dr. John Michael “J.D.” Dorian. J.D.’s imagination and surreal fantasies often broke the fourth wall. And in many episodes, J.D.’s point of view also played with the perception of time and reality.

For example, in the season five premiere, many of the characters talk straight to the camera. And in the “My New Suit” episode, J.D. literally points to the camera and asks the audience what they think of his new suit.

Thus, fans may find it surprising — but not out of the ordinary — that the janitor was originally never supposed to exist outside of J.D.’s on head. 

During his Reddit Q&A, Braff pointed out how the janitor only talks to J.D. — and not to any other character — in the first season of Scrubs

That’s because the Scrubs writers intended for the janitor to be just a figment of J.D.’s imagination. No other character could see the janitor or talk to him because he wasn’t real.

However, the show’s writers realized that the hospital’s custodian was a fan favorite, so they made him “real” after season one. No longer ignored by the other cast, the janitor gets coffee thrown at him by Elliot, gets punched in the crotch by a child, and even has a conversation with one of J.D.’s patients, proving once and for all that he’s no longer just a character in J.D.’s mind.