Rainn Wilson Explains How Clowns Influenced ‘The Office’

If you’re a fan of The Office, you know it’s one of the funniest comedies to ever grace television. But have you ever wondered why? It turns out clowns inspired a lot of the comedy found within the series. Rainn Wilson clarifies how.

Rainn Wilson, Creed Bratton, Steve Carell, Kate Flannery
Rainn Wilson, Creed Bratton, Steve Carell, Kate Flannery | Justin Lubin/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

‘The Office’ is rooted in comedies like ‘I Love Lucy’

For showrunners to create a show like The Office, they had to examine what made the shows before it so entertaining. 

The secret to a comedy show lies in the relationships between comedic duos.  I Love Lucy is a perfect example. 

“In TV, I think you have to look back at Lucy and Desi,” critic Emily VanDerWerff told Brian Baumgartner on his podcast, An Oral History of The Office. “That’s the birth of so much of TV comedy.” 

For VanDerWerff, it’s all about the relationships between comedic duos. I Love Lucy had multiple comedic relationships that made the show enjoyable. 

“Lucy and Desi, Lucy and Ethel, Fred and Desi, Fred and Ethel — all four of those characters have interesting relationships among them,” VanDerWerff explained. “That became the standard for the American sitcom.” 

The Office fully embraced that standard. 

“American TV comedy is built on relationships, and the more interesting relationships there are within the show, the better that show tends to be,” VanDerWerff added.

As fans know, there was never a shortage of interesting relationships among the employees of Dunder Mifflin. 

‘The Office’ had plenty of iconic duos 

Greg Daniels understood the importance of comedic duos.

“[Greg] would always talk about [how], ‘In comedy, it’s never about the character — it’s about the duo,'” Wilson said. “‘How is that character in relation with other characters? That’s where you want to find the comedy.'”

For Daniels, characters didn’t have to be funny on their own. Instead, he focused on how funny certain characters were with others. 

“Dwight doesn’t have to be funny,” Wilson explained. “Dwight and Jim should be funny. Dwight and Pam should be funny. Dwight and Michael should be funny.” 

Eventually, viewers tuned in to see how the many relationships on the show played out. Whether it was the relationship between Oscar (Oscar Nuñez) and Angela (Angela Kinsey), the feud between Jim (John Krasinski) and Dwight, or the relationship between Michael Scott (Steve Carell) and his employees as a whole, fans loved the relationships present in The Office.

As Baumgartner explained on the podcast, this idea of comedy duos wasn’t just Daniels’ philosophy. Comedic duos actually date back to the early days of theater. 

Clowns inspired the tropes seen in ‘The Office’

Baumgartner and Wilson both have backgrounds in theater. Together, they dissected the humble beginnings of comedic duos. 

It all started with clowns. 

“I love the history of clowns and of clowning,” Wilson began.

It really started with the comedies of the ancient Greeks — Aristophanes, the frogs, some of those plays…

What’s the one where they all have boners? They withhold sex from the men until the men stop the war?

Wilson was referring to Lysistrata, a comedy by Aristophanes wherein the women sought to end the war by denying men sex. 

“Anyway, it all starts back then, and then swiftly moves to Commedia dell’arte, which sprang out of Roman theater,” Wilson continued.


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It had these comic tropes, and they always had the dopey clown-like coven. They had the weird, intense clown, like Dwight — there were these tropes and basically all of [the] comedy in the Western world I think is based off those tropes in Commedia dell’arte.

For Wilson, the comedic duos on The Office — like Dwight and Michael or Dwight and Jim — are the “inheritors of the history of comedy.” For fans — well, many are glad to have been entertained by the comedic duos on The Office — regardless of what inspired them.