On this week’s episode of An Oral History of ‘The Office’ podcast, Brian Baumgartner got into a discussion of cringe comedy in relation to The Office, a brand of comedy that was rare in America at the time of The Office’s debut, outside of a few moments here and there on Seinfeld. The UK The Office, however, perfected the cringe, and Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant became “accidental pioneers” of that brand of comedy. “It was not an intention to make people squirm,” Stephen Merchant says in the podcast. “It was just that it was so much funnier when someone who was trying to be funny said a joke and then you just heard silence, and then you just sat in the silence.”
The cringe is not as pronounced in the American The Office, but it’s still there, making some sequences on the sitcom difficult to watch. Carell’s Michael Scott couldn’t be as cringeworthy as David Brent in the UK The Office because Michael had to somehow maintain a relationship with his employees. Still, there were some deeply uncomfortable moments, such as when Michael replaced his girlfriend’s ex-husband with himself in a family photo, or when he referred to Jan’s breasts as “the twins” in court while under oath. “They hang off m’lady’s chest. They make milk.”
However, there was one episode of The Office so cringeworthy that a lot of viewers still cannot bring themselves to watch it a second time. It’s called “Scott’s Tots.” The most painful moment comes around the six-minute mark in this clip, and to be honest, I can’t bring myself to watch it again now.
“Many fans have told me,” Baumgartner says in the podcast, “that this episode, for them, is the most difficult to watch. There is even a subreddit dedicated to this very topic, /rCannotWatchScottsTots.
Asked if he is proud of himself for writing the cringiest episode ever of The Office, the episode’s writer Lee Eisenberg admits that he very much is. “Nothing makes me happier. The comic premise is so strong, and it’s like, what can you do to turn the screw and make it worse and worse. It was incredible.”
The legacy of that episode is solid. It’s been years since it first aired, and people are still talking about how uncomfortable it is to watch to this day.
I've lost count of how many times I've watched the office. I've watched Scott's tots once.
— L'appel du vide (@Fenikkuro) August 1, 2020
I want to be mentally stable enough to be able to watch Scott’s tots
— emma (@emmawestoverr) August 4, 2020
2020 has just been one long episode of scott’s tots
— 3T (@NoTweetThreet) August 4, 2020
absolutely no character in the fiction world gives me more second hand embarrassment than Michael Scott in the Scott's Tots episode
— Vrushti Patel (@vrushtyy) August 4, 2020
Source: An Oral History of ‘The Office’