Around these parts, Brian Baumgartner is known best for his role as Kevin Malone in the U.S. version of The Office. The slow-at-times, yet very lovable character served as the source of plenty of laughs throughout the nine-year run of the fan-favorite sitcom. Now, over 15 years after the show's first episode first aired, Baumgartner has returned to the world of The Office with a Spotify exclusive podcast that dives deep into the world and development of the series.
Earlier this month, Spotify launched the podcast by releasing the first three episodes of the 12-episode series and since then, two more episodes have been released. ComicBook.com recently caught up with the actor to chat about An Oral History of The Office, his recent successes on the golf course, and a whole lot more.
Keep scrolling to see our full chat with Baumgartner.
Hitting The Links
ComicBook.com: How have things been your way? I saw you just played in a golf tournament and did much better than I could have, so that's a hell of a start.
Brian Baumgartner: Well, I'll tell you, I have been playing in that American Century Championships, I believe this was my 13th consecutive year and yes, I did. I'm actually quite proud. You've started off really well with me, Adam.
I was very proud. I got positive numbers all three days for the first time. And I finished in 30th place firmly in the top half of the field. I beat a guy. What's his name? Patrick Mahomes. Yeah. He was way behind me. Anyway. I'm very proud of myself about that.
That's great. Have you been hitting the links a lot during this? Obviously with golf, it's easy to social distance, right?
Yeah. I have definitely been playing more golf than I normally would. I'm normally on the road way more often. And that was the first time I had left my house since the beginning of March. So I was able to play a little bit more. I'm sure that helped. I don't know. Who knows? Golf is a very weird game, but I felt like I broke through, and I'm aiming for top 20 next year. We'll see what happens.
That's what life is. You have to see it and then you have to manifest it and then from there, it's all about moving forward.
That's exactly right. Well, there's no such thing as a perfect game of golf, so you're always working on something.prevnext
You've been quite busy, obviously the golf stuff, and with a little thing called The Office. It's a pretty significant show by this point. Then you've launched the podcast, An Oral History of The Office. Let's go back to the earliest days with the development of the show. How did this podcast initially come to fruition and involve you?
Ben Silverman, who was one of the executive producers, actually the executive producer who managed to partner with Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant and bring the show to America, he had an idea with Spotify to bring a podcast to Spotify, which was basically the idea being, let those of us who were on the inside, let us tell our story. And he approached me about partnering with him. And in my thinking about it, The Office, we haven't shot a scene in seven years, yet today the show is not only more popular than it was when we were the number one scripted show on NBC for most of our run, but based on any metric you can find it's the currently most-watched show in television, including news shows. So the thing that made sense to me was to do an active exploration and not just have it tell stories about behind the scenes, but really have an active exploration to try to answer a question, which was why.
Why is The Office now bigger than it was? Why is it the most watched show on television? Why are people flocking to it? And why are young people watching it now? And so I set out to try to answer some of these questions specifically by looking back to the beginning, the people that were hired, the people that were brought in, the casting, but not just that, the creatives, the writers, many of whom had no scripted television experience, our director of photography, who had no scripted television experience, one of our key editors had no scripted television experience, and why these people were chosen. And perhaps try to discover what the secret sauce was amongst this collection of people that have given the show not just longevity and been able to survive, but actually thrive now, 15 years after the premiere and seven years since we shot our last episode.prevnext
To The Top
You hit the nail on the head. I don't want to call you a band of misfits, but that's kind of what it was. There wasn't a single person on the cast that had been an A-list celebrity or star by any stretch of the imagination.
I talked to Creed [Bratton] earlier this year and he said he recognized the series was really massive when fans started piling up outside of the set hoping to get pictures and such and Leslie [David Baker] just told me last week he thought it was huge, apparently there was an Emmy party and it kind of sunk in at the Emmy party when you guys were all gathered around and taking pictures and such. Was there a single defining moment for you where you're like, "Wow, we might be on to something with small little workplace comedy?"
Well, I'll tell you, I knew that it was going to be a hard sell based on the aesthetic, no laugh track, the way it was shot. You brought up the band of misfits before, you know that Kevin Reilly in one of the first episodes of the podcast, Kevin Reilly was the chairman of NBC and he talked to me about where comedy had gone on the network side in the early 2000s. And really it had become not just that something needed to be funny, but the people all had to be good looking. And he was saying that that was never a part of comedy originally. And if you think back, and no disrespect in any way, but like Carol Burnett was not known as a classically beautiful woman. She was maybe the funniest woman ever alive, but at some point it kind of crept into network television that their comedy stars needed to not only be funny but also look a certain way. And I think that contributed to, "Are people going to want to watch us?"
But I remember even when we were shooting our second episode, "Diversity Day," I remember being in a conference room and I remember thinking, "Man, if people just give this show a shot." What we're doing is something that is really bold and really different and that I find really funny. And I felt like we were doing something special. Now in terms of, "Oh, we might be around for awhile," yeah, I think that the fourth episode of the podcast discusses season two and how we were literally dead on arrival. We were never supposed to last past six episodes. And then we really, really, weren't going to last past 12. But sort of a series of events that occurred and it is, at least my theory in the podcast, that the final nail in the positive coffin was in January of that year when Steve Carell won the Golden Globe. That was a massive shift in perception for us.
And as Season Two continued that year and as ratings began picking up and at one point actually exceeding our lead-in, which at the time was My Name is Earl, which was a bonafide hit for NBC, the end of that year culminating, and then us winning the Emmy, I knew we were going to be around for a while. But I think sort of the big moment, it was our first big fancy party and Jenna Fisher in the podcast describes, I think we really had fun because we thought we're never going to be invited again. And then when he won, it was just such a massive, massive surprise, but also sort of turnaround for the show. And actually yesterday, because that episode just aired, I posted on my Instagram account a photo that we discuss during the podcast, which was, TV guide or something, they have these photo booths or whatever and it was all of us jammed in with Steve holding the Golden Globe after he won. That is a moment that I will never, ever forget.prevnext
Building a Character
The podcast, I believe, is 12 episodes. You're developing this with the staff and the producers and you have pretty much everyone that's in the know on this show. Did you develop this to solely be this 12-episode limited series from beginning to end? I know Spotify is really doubling down on their podcast output. Is there the potential for a second season, per se?
You know, there's no specific plan at the moment beyond this to continue An Oral History of the Office. There're discussions about other things that we could do, but at this moment, it was really about... I talk about oral histories have been around since the beginning of time, like the cavemen before there was writing people were telling stories. And for me, it was about getting this collection of people together all with different memories, different opinions about specific events, and some people who knew things that other people didn't know, getting them together to attempt to tell our story from its origin, which was from the British version of The Office, through to today and its legacy and potentially, again, why the show has exploded since we've been off of traditional network television. So, in terms of continuing this, we'll see, but at the moment, we're trying to tell a contained story.
I know when I spoke with Leslie, he mentioned his crossword stuff was something he picked up, it wasn't scripted or anything like that and that became a pretty integral part of his character. Do you have a similar moment you injected with Kevin?
Well, I think what the writers were so gifted at was... And we talk about it in the podcast, there is a sense...like intellectually this makes sense...that you want to make something universal or you want to make a character universal. So let's make it as general as possible so that it appeals to the broadest range of people. That makes sense. Don't specify too much because you want to make sure that it becomes accessible. But I think what this show has done, maybe more than any other or at least any other that I've studied extensively, is that what we found was the more specific the characters are and the more contradictions that exist, which is true in people, actually that is what makes it more universally accessible.
As an example, you have Dwight Schrute, everybody loves Dwight. Dwight is a heavy metal listening, Trans-Am driving, sheriff's deputy who likes Dungeons and Dragons and anime. Those things make no sense. You go, oh, he's a nerd. So he likes Dungeons and Dragons and anime and playing cosplay. Right. But you don't add in heavy metal, sheriff's deputy. To me, one of the greatest characters ever created was Dwight Schrute, but it was about the juxtapositions and the contradictions between different things within his character.
So it's a long answer, but if you look at Kevin Malone, same idea. This is a person who I physically created that basically doesn't swivel in the middle like if he's looking to his right, his whole body moves to his right. There's no flexibility. But Kevin Malone is a really good basketball player because Brian is a really good basketball player. And Brian is a really good poker player. So Kevin, though he doesn't know numbers, he is a really good poker player.
And so what I think the writers were genius at was taking potential contradictions and embracing those things which created characters just that had way more dimension than certainly your average sitcom, but even, I would say, your average character on any kind of television show on TV. I'll share with you this because this is maybe the nerdiest writers room joke ever created.
Kevin had a band called Scrantonicity based on The Police music. So here's the thing as this was explained to me, but I didn't know that, since I'm not a musical expert. In The Police, the drumming happens on the beat but the singing happens off of the beat. So in order to be a drummer/lead singer of a Police cover band, you would have to be a musical savant to be able to play on one beat and sing on another. Now, nobody would get that. That is one of the jokes for them that just makes them laugh. But still, there is a contradiction within that character that becomes fascinating and becomes another layer to play.
So, the shorter answer to your question is, sure, there were a lot of things that was part of me that became part of Kevin. But I would say most things worked and collaborate, except the specific improv that happened on set. Most of the larger character things became a collaboration between myself and the writers.prevnext
Improv + Space Force
Would fans be surprised if one of Kevin's biggest lines was an improv? Are most of them mean something that were in the script?
I would say every character was different and every episode was different just in terms of what was chosen. I would say that a number of us did improv in every episode. Our first rough cuts, no joke, would come in at about 45 minutes, so that was kind of a rough assembly, rough episode. For network television, it has got to get down to 22 minutes, so already over half is gone. And so it then becomes taking a scalpel and attempting to create the best or most cohesive 22 minutes that tells a specific story that they want to tell and here's funny stuff that's lost left and right.
One of our writers talks about in the podcast that Greg Daniels had this theory that we only had 22 minutes and in most television shows, comedies, you have lines that are for story, plot, and then you have lines that are jokes. And what he challenged the writers to do every single episode was to attempt to make the lines that were for the story also funny and have a funny idea in there. And so when you as an actor were able to improv something that stayed on story, that worked within the story that was being told in that episode but was also funny or funnier than what was written, then that's when it stayed in.
You bring up Greg and he is apparently the busiest man in Hollywood now. He's got two shows going on at the same time with Upload and Space Force. Have you been hopping on phone with him wanting to appear on either of those?
I'm sure if Greg has something that he feels like I would be best suited for, he will give me a call. He has given me a call a few times since then over the years, but I'm so happy for him and the new shows that he's doing. And, by the way, as he was finishing Space Force, still editing, he came in and we spent a very, very long day together discussing The Office and everything from the very beginning. So, I love Greg. There's nobody in, "Hollywood," that I respect more than him and I'm so appreciative of his support for this project and his generosity in terms of his time in talking with me.
You mentioned earlier, being a student of the craft and I think you even mentioned on social media some time, you're definitely a student of comedy. Why do you think you're attracted to comedy so much?
It's funny because I did...funny, no pun intended. Most of the theater stuff that I did, which was immediately preceding The Office, was mostly drama actually, so I didn't really necessarily have a preference. I think that really good comedy is more complex and is more difficult than anything else.
I think that that really appeals to me and particularly on this show, on a long-running show, when you have the opportunity to create characters like the three of us in the accounting department, where you have really well-drawn characters that work so well in conjunction and opposition to each other, and you give talented, skilled, hilarious people nine years to develop those characters where each of us knows not just our own character so well, but the other people that we're playing with, it's like the best of the Golden State Warriors passing the ball around. We all know four passes ahead where the ball is going to end up. And because of that familiarity, it's usually going to be successful a I think there's nothing more fun than that.
An Oral History of The Office is now streaming on Spotify while all nine seasons of the show can be streamed on Netflix.
Cover photo by Joe Scarnici/FilmMagicprev