Brian Baumgartner Is Trying To Figure Out Why Everyone Watches ‘The Office’ So Much

This whole COVID lockdown situation has caused people to discover new and interesting skills that they didn’t know they had. For a lot of us, that means baking bread and taking to TikTok (with not always the best results). For celebrities, it can mean breaking into song (with not always the best results) or diving deep into your past work to reconnect with fans and find some interesting details in the margins of pop culture history.

Which brings us to Brian Baumgartner. We all know him as Kevin from The Office, but he’s taking a new role now that thanks to An Oral History Of The Office, his new Spotify exclusive 12-episode podcast series (5 episodes are live with new ones dropping every Tuesday) wherein he talks with nearly everyone associated with The Office to reminisce. But it’s more than that, they’re also getting to the bottom of the show’s enduring existence, charm, and popularity. Recently, we spoke with Baumgartner about that pursuit, what makes this exploration unique, “Dinner Party” palace intrigue, and shopping for tissue paper box shoes in a paper product shortage.

How much are you personally reexploring The Office now and is that where the idea for this came from?

Well, the idea specifically for the podcast came from Ben Silverman and Propagate and deciding to partner with Spotify. The general idea was to have the story of The Office told from the inside, from our perspective. Ben Silverman approached me about partnering with him on it. And to me, the question that was interesting or most interesting to go back and explore was simply why is The Office — seven years since we filmed our last scenes in the finale — still the most-watched television show? What has happened and what happened early on, in the creation of the show, that formed the show that has not just survived and which has a legacy, but which actually thrives and increases in viewership and… including new shows that are on the air now, by any metric you can measure, more people are watching The Office now, then not only ever before, but more than any other show that exists today. So my approach was that it was an exploration… that it was an active investigation, as opposed to passively telling the story of what happened. But it’s really about wanting to look at why and what happened, that has created this show that now is bigger than ever.

Is this a companion or a competitor to the oral history book that just came out?

I don’t know that I would call it a competitor. I don’t think that I look at it that way. I mean, journalists are better than I am. I mean, we have a couple of jokes there about me pretending or acting like a journalist. I am not, but this is a story that is told from the inside, right? And so, for example, if I was talking to John Krasinski on the phone, right now, the conversation that we would be having…

Would be far more interesting than the one you’re having with me, I’m sure.

Well, no, I’m not even saying more interesting, but more familiar. And talking about a subject that we both experienced together. You may ask way more insightful questions, but the conversation that he and I would be having would just be different. I was never interviewed for that other book. He took quotes from things that were previously said, and I’m not suggesting he took them out of context. I just think this is a story that’s being told from the inside.

I’m curious, what are some of the surprises you came across when you talked to past castmates?

There are some major revelations that will come out as the series goes. One is around Steve leaving. But more significantly, even than that was what happened around the writer’s strike in 2008 and the 100 days that Hollywood shut down and The Office‘s role in that. How that changed kind of the course of the show, in some ways. And also the intense family that was, if not made, certainly strengthened by the events that happened there and everybody bonding together. There were stories and things that happened, significant major things that I truly found out as I was interviewing people [who were] in the room.

Is there anything specific that changed your perception of a moment?

Yeah. I’m trying to decide what I want to tell you.

[Laughs] Tantalize the audience, man.

The show was shut down for 100 days. We had a script that was written and had been approved by the network. And we showed back up at work day one of the writers strike to shoot an episode. Because we had to, that was our job, as actors, we weren’t bound. Not only were we not bound by the strike, we were not able to not show up. But [because of] some heroic actions by a specific actor on our show we did not shoot that episode. And that episode became the first episode that we shot once we were back with The Dinner Party. Which became one of our touchstones. A huge episode that happened. And had we continued to shoot, [Paul] Feig, the amazing director, would not have directed Dinner Party. So I had no idea all of the things that were going on behind the scenes — people being threatened to be sued, people being threatened to lose their jobs.

I think one of the reasons the show has endured and why people still want to watch it is… Even if Michael Scott is doing something really bad or saying something really terrible, I think when you watch the show, you feel that the people involved really care for each other. And we talked a lot about… people that you work with, you spend more time with than your actual family. So on some level, you’re forming some dysfunctional family not of your choosing, but I think that on this show, it was true.

I’m curious about a Kevin specific moment from The Office, if you’ll indulge me. Jim and Pam’s wedding and Kevin with the tissue box shoes. I’m curious how that all came together.

Yeah, I mean, as the show developed, the character of Kevin evolved. They saw that I came from theater and that I did a lot of physical comedy. I mean, that’s what the writers were really good at. There could be some outlandish, crazy scenarios, that they came up with. I feel like they were all rooted in some basic character truth and history. I mean, that example specifically, what is it? Two, three years earlier? You hear from Kevin, that if he has the opportunity to buy himself one gift (because he’s given himself as secret Santa), he’s going to buy a foot bath. You have a number of references over the years of Angela about Kevin and his feet.

I think I loved this idea even more than the tissue box shoes. The idea that Kevin is going to dress up for this big event, and as a way of dressing up, he wants to look really good so he’s going to, for the first time, put on a hairpiece. And the idea that that in and of itself is not jarring. That he can somehow pull that idea off is, to me, amazing. But of course, his perfect outfit gets spoiled because of his shoes being destroyed.

I will tell you at colleges or Q & A’s or things that I do, undoubtedly, there is someone or some group of people who will show up in tissue box shoes. And the comment that I always have for them is, “This was a really funny idea this morning when you decided to do this. Right?” And then I’m like, “It’s not so comfortable now. Admit that you’re regretting the decision, just a little bit.” So I do, with those people, try to take a picture with them and make it somehow feel worth it. Because I know what they’re going to be feeling for a few days.

I’m sure. So, no Hollywood tricks there? No insoles or no other special padding?

No! My recollection is that they tried to do something or build something, but it made it not fit right or whatever. And I will tell you this, this is true, that we just… For John Krasinski’s thing, Some Good News, we had a reunion and it was about the wedding, he married some people on it and he had all of us come on and I was like, “Of course. Well, I mean, I’ve got to find some tissue boxes, right? I’ve got to find some tissue boxes to put on my feet, at least give a nod to that.” Well, first of all, we’re in a lockdown where paper products are difficult to find… I will say that. For me, attempting to do that, they must have found some… I do have big feet. They must have found some jumbo-sized tissue boxes. But yes, they were real tissue boxes.

If there was a reunion, what would be the best part of that for you: telling more stories or being with these people?

It would unquestionably be being able to play with these people. I mean that, and that’s the greatest joy that I have with the podcast, even just in a small way being able to connect and work with them again. We talk a lot about the accounting part, so Oscar and Angela and Kevin. And I view that as a perfect comedy triangle, the three characters together and their specific traits and personalities and how they feed off of each other and how there are constantly shifting alliances. Whether it’s Kevin and Oscar against Angela or Angela and Oscar against Kevin, I don’t know if Angela and Kevin were ever too aligned. But you know, that is sort of a perfect comedy triangle. And then you give us nine years to explore those characters. It’s a chess game of comedy that we have worked out, three, four, five, six lines ahead. And that is just, as an actor and as someone who loves and appreciates comedy and making people laugh, that is the greatest gift to have. And so to be able to go back in and not just that, interact with Michael and Dwight and Jim and Pam, that would be the most fun for me, for sure.

‘An Oral History Of The Office’ podcast is available on Spotify