Brian Baumgartner played Kevin the accountant on “The Office” for all of the sitcom’s nine seasons. Now he’s the host of “An Oral History of The Office” podcast on Spotify, looking back on what made the show so popular, both in its original run on NBC and its second life on Netflix. (In 2021, the show will move to NBC’s streaming platform Peacock.)
“To me what was interesting to me about doing this, which was different than any other television podcast that exists, is that I wanted to tell our story from the inside,” Baumgartner said. “So it’s a collage of voices — writers, directors, actors, crew people — telling a full oral history of what happened 15 years ago and all the way through to now.
“We thought we were making a workplace comedy that people who worked in offices could relate to,” he added. “But with the shift to a younger audience — 12- and 13-year-olds are consuming it over and over — we’ve come up with a number of theories in the podcast as to why that is. One that I think has some merit is that there is a mirror between people who are working together in an office and people who are going to school. In school you might have the equivalent of an unreasonable boss or sitting next to people you don’t necessarily choose to sit with. I think that experience of being stuck in a place and spending more time with these people than your family does have some resonance.”
“The Office” remains a highpoint in Baumgartner’s career. When asked about the opposite — a cringe-worthy moment — he recalled a movie audition that happened during his time on the show.
“This was the worst audition,” he said. “Truly, when it runs through my mind today, my face gets hot.”
My worst moment …
“I got called to audition for the new movie version of ‘The Three Stooges’ (from 2012). I think, really, who they were going to cast was preordained and pre-organized and I don’t know why they held auditions (laughs), but they did.
(Bobby and Peter Farrelly directed; Chris Diamantopoulos played Moe; Sean Hayes played Larry and Will Sasso played Curly.)
“Of course I was auditioning for Curly, the bald guy, right? And even in the days leading up to this audition I was like, ‘This doesn’t make any sense to me.’ Because everything about this material is physical comedy and it was like, are they pairing us up? Are we going in with different groups of people? Even just the intricacy of this physical comedy — this feels like something you should work out ahead of time if you’re really auditioning people, because you need to see how their chemistry works with one another.
“So I go the audition and I go into the room — I feel like I’m sweating just talking about it — and stood in front of a group of people and did a ‘Three Stooges’ scene by myself. The physical comedy is that you’re doing things to other people, that’s literally what you’re doing! You’re saying nonsense words but poking them in the eye and hitting them in the groin — but there’s nobody else there.
“And so it was this lame attempt at trying to physicalize ‘The Three Stooges’ while I was alone, with invisible people there. I was miming! Because otherwise I’m just going, ‘Nyuk nyuk nyuk,’ because there’s barely any words, but there’s all these elaborate stage directions about how you’re physically harming each other! Oh my gosh. It was just the most horrifyingly embarrassing thing ever.
“And look, I came from theater and obviously had done a lot of physical comedy — none of that is a problem for me, which is why I’m sure I was brought in — but I know I couldn’t commit to it because I was like, ‘This is just awful and embarrassing.’
“I remember miming the double poke in the eye thing but there was no one there. Just poking air. Yeah. (Laughs) And I understand how movies are shot — because that might very well be a shot; right close on me putting my fingers out, then you see the reverse side of the guy getting it in the face. But without someone else there it was just awful.”
It does sound odd to ask an actor to perform a three-person slapstick routine solo.
“I know that I’m right about that!
“I was a fan of ‘The Three Stooges.’ And I thought they would be like, ‘OK, you’re going to go in with this person and this person,’ and then we would have a little bit of time to figure things out together before we went in the room. But instead we went in one by one and it was like, oh no. I felt blindsided.
“I was horribly embarrassed. I think of myself as a serious actor! And I remember thinking, if this humiliating tape ever surfaces I’ll never get another job again. I knew it was bad and I knew I was bad. I was put in a situation where I could not succeed.
“I’m usually able to laugh about embarrassing things later, but this one that I can’t. To this day, I wish I had never gone in.”
The takeaway … .
“This is what I learned from it: If that’s the approach — if that is what I’m being asked to do — I will never, ever do it again.
“It was almost as though it wasn’t a real audition. I know that’s not true, but in my imagination I was like, ‘This is an exercise to humiliate and embarrass people.’ (Laughs) And look, I’ll roll around in chili, I’ll slip on grease — I’ll do all that stuff. So it’s not about me not being willing to do that. But in that setting, I couldn’t do it.”
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