Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

Why the Awkward Humor on "The Office" Is Funny

Question:  "The Office" relies heavily on embarrassing moments for humor. Why are we so into awkwardness in humor?

Rainn Wilson:  Our show is the most kind of awkward, embarrassing and kind of real show on TV that deals with that color of comedy.  I think we’re the best in that genre, which we inherited from the brilliant English show, but what is so interesting to me is how much young people like that kind of humor.  They love it.  Older people, they don’t like it.  They’re like, “I can’t watch it. It’s too awkward. It’s too painful. The people are too gross. They’re weird. They’re mean and it’s awkward. I can’t stand it.”  Young kids I mean down to 9, 10, 11, 12 year-olds they eat it up.  They love "The Office."  They have it memorized.  They love that kind of awkward humor. 

I don’t know what it is, but it seems that Ricky Gervais was able to just capitalize almost on a generational shift with an understanding that so much of the comedy is not in the set up, set up, punch line.  There is very few "jokes" on our show.  It really is behavior, characters behaving and the reactions to that behavior.  You know Dwight will do something stupid, but the laugh is on Pam watching it or Jim seeing it and then turning to the camera because that is I think how young people... that is how young people feel today.  You know they’re seeing all this absurdity and it’s like if they could young people would just be like and just look at the camera, so it’s less say a comedy of awkwardness and more a comedy of reactivity. 

Question: Do you have a similar sense of humor?

Rainn Wilson:  I really like the stuff that is very absurd and very real at the same time.  I think Anton Chekhov is the greatest comedy writer of all time.  I think he would make a great addition to The Office staff. If you look through Chekhov plays there is a lot of awkward pauses in there. His mixture of pathos, absurdity, truthfulness and whimsy is just mixed together perfectly.

Recorded November 11, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman

Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler

Ricky Gervais was able to capitalize on a generational shift with an understanding that so much of the comedy is not set up, set up, punch line. It really is about characters behaving and the reactions to that behavior.

LIVE ON MONDAY | "Lights, camera, activism!" with Judith Light

Join multiple Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress Judith Light live on Big Think at 2 pm ET on Monday.

Big Think LIVE

Add event to calendar

AppleGoogleOffice 365OutlookOutlook.comYahoo

Keep reading Show less

The mind-blowing science of black holes

What we know about black holes is both fascinating and scary.

Videos
  • When it comes to black holes, science simultaneously knows so much and so little, which is why they are so fascinating. Focusing on what we do know, this group of astronomers, educators, and physicists share some of the most incredible facts about the powerful and mysterious objects.
  • A black hole is so massive that light (and anything else it swallows) can't escape, says Bill Nye. You can't see a black hole, theoretical physicists Michio Kaku and Christophe Galfard explain, because it is too dark. What you can see, however, is the distortion of light around it caused by its extreme gravity.
  • Explaining one unsettling concept from astrophysics called spaghettification, astronomer Michelle Thaller says that "If you got close to a black hole there would be tides over your body that small that would rip you apart into basically a strand of spaghetti that would fall down the black hole."

Space travel could create language unintelligible to people on Earth

A new study looks at what would happen to human language on a long journey to other star systems.

Credit: NASA Ames Research Center.
Surprising Science
  • A new study proposes that language could change dramatically on long space voyages.
  • Spacefaring people might lose the ability to understand the people of Earth.
  • This scenario is of particular concern for potential "generation ships".
Keep reading Show less

Scientists see 'rarest event ever recorded' in search for dark matter

The team caught a glimpse of a process that takes 18,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years.

Image source: Pixabay
Surprising Science
  • In Italy, a team of scientists is using a highly sophisticated detector to hunt for dark matter.
  • The team observed an ultra-rare particle interaction that reveals the half-life of a xenon-124 atom to be 18 sextillion years.
  • The half-life of a process is how long it takes for half of the radioactive nuclei present in a sample to decay.
Keep reading Show less

Your emotions are the new hot commodity — and there’s an app for that

Many of the most popular apps are about self-improvement.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Personal Growth

Emotions are the newest hot commodity, and we can't get enough.

Keep reading Show less
Quantcast