At The Office, the Actors Are Writers

Posted on December 4, 2006

One reason the hit comedy The Office is so popular may be in its unusual approach to the writing on the show: the actors and the writers are the same people. The dual roles have resulted in some hilarious episodes and stories and help make the series great.

In fact, all the writers have clauses in their contracts which require them to act or do improv as needed. Star Steve Carrell writes scripts, as do several other cast members including Mindy Kaling, who plays the show's "Indian Valley Girl" Kelly Kapoor. Mindy wrote the script about the staff of the office awkardly trying to celebrate the Indian holiday, Diwali. Just about everyone has to pitch in on the writing.

Greg Daniels (The Simpons, King of the Hill) is the executive producer. An L.A. Times story explains the writer's room bull sessions:

The 11-member writing staff of NBC's Office gathers for the typical "writers' room" bull sessions, in which Daniels solicits ideas and assigns scripts to individual writers. Although each episode's basic structure is mapped out in advance, Daniels leaves room for improvisation. "The actors I hired, I tried to have them all have improvisational backgrounds," he said. "Improv is a good tool to make it seem more natural."
The article says some of the writer-actors are more comfortable wearing their writer hats. Paul Lieberstein (Toby) and Mindy Kaling are both more comfortable writing according to the article.
But the dual roles aren't always easy on the cast. Lieberstein admits that he still feels more comfortable writing. The reaction to early episodes, however, guaranteed him more air time as Toby. "Kevin Reilly, who's the president of NBC, was watching dailies and said, 'He's funny. More of him.' And that got around," Lieberstein said.

Lieberstein admits that he feels intimidated by his more experienced colleagues, including Carell and Rainn Wilson, who plays the nerdy crank Dwight, and John Krasinski, as the ambivalent regular guy Jim. Kaling too confesses she would rather write than act. But her personality and background have helped develop Kelly into a popular supporting character and the sometime love interest of a reluctant Ryan.

That's the key to a good long career in Hollywood: the more job descriptions you can tack on to your name, the better. Joe Smith: Screenwriter/Actor/Producer/Director/Musician/Key Grip. That guy is always going to have a job. Still, one has to wonder if the "jack of all trades, master of none" concept is a good thing. For an improv comedy show like The Office, it does makes sense, though.

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