Actor and Newton-native B.J. Novak is best known for his work on NBC’s Emmy Award-winning series “The Office,” where he played “the temp” Ryan Howard for all of its nine seasons.
Novak wore many hats on the show, including writer, director and executive producer. Now, he’s published his first collection of stories, "One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories."
He visited us back in February and talked about his new book, his comedy career, and what made "The Office" such a big hit.
On why he read his short stories at a comedy club:
It’s very different to write something in a college class and have everyone tell you, “Brilliant–they don’t get you, but I do.” But when you’re standing in front of an audience and people don’t get it, it feels bad. And it should feel bad unless you really believe in it. You should be challenged because I write for the reader. I wrote TV for the viewer.
My best revisions were not done on stage or after stage. The best revisions were done the few hours before stage when I was terrified and excited. I thought, “I can’t read this paragraph. This isn’t ready,” or “This piece is boring. They won’t like it, and I’ll agree with them.” Other times I’d think, “Oh, that’s funny, can I get one more laugh after that?” You know, just selfishly. I loved and feared the audience, and I wanted to do right by them.
On the origin of his story ideas:
These ideas were all, or at least at the beginning, were all ideas that I had had as a writer over eight years on “The Office” that just did not fit for Jim and Pam and Dwight. In general, I loved these ideas, but I could not work them into episodes. I kept track of them all in pocket notebooks I kept.
On what makes a show work:
I thought ["The Office"] would be a hit because I would go to the gym every day and they’d play “The Simpsons” on silent, and I noticed I would watch “The Simpsons” without hearing any dialogue because the characters are so clear…. That’s the secret weapon of shows that succeed; you can watch them with the sound off.
On why “The Office” was successful:
The characters were all really great. They were well defined. You felt like you knew them. Greg Daniels, who created the show, had a “5-percent rule.” He said characters should constantly surprise you by 5 percent. If a character does the opposite of what they would ever do you don’t buy it and if they do the same thing they always do, it’s not interesting.
On Boston as a center of comedy
A lot of people in comedy are from the Boston area … But, the other half of the cast is from St. Louis. That is stranger to me.
This segment aired on July 4, 2014.