‘The Office’: This Cringey Episode Was Inspired by an Unbelievable Real-Life Experience

Many of Michael Scott’s moments on The Office are so awkward you’d never think they could really happen — but one of the cringiest episodes was inspired by a real-life experience. The “Diversity Day” episode features an exercise that’s almost too uncomfortable to watch, but it actually happened to one of The Office staff.

Steve Carell as Michael Scott on 'The Office'
Steve Carell as Michael Scott on ‘The Office’ | Justin Lubin/NBCU Photo Bank

The season 1 episode of The Office, titled “Diversity Day,” sees the employees of Dunder Mifflin participating in a racial diversity seminar. When Michael wants to run his own seminar he subjects everyone to a bizarre training exercise.

Michael instructs each person to put a notecard on their forehead with a different race on each. Then the employees try to guess what’s on their card based on the racial stereotype clues they’re given.

The ‘Diversity Day’ exercise really happened to a staff member

During a 2019 Office Ladies podcast episode, hosts Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey discussed the “Diversity Day” episode in depth and revealed the inspiration for Michael’s exercise came from a real-life experience.

Fischer explained, “People want to know where did the idea for this episode come from. This episode is based on the real-life experience of our writers’ assistant, Tom.”

“So when they were in that writers’ room they throw out ideas for episodes and Tom told this story about how when he was in college, he took a class and in the class they did this exercise where they had to put notecards on their heads that said different ethnicities and then they had to go around and regard one another as that ethnicity,” she shared.

“But that happened,” Fischer added. “So let that sink in.”

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‘The Office’ cast had to keep the notecards on their heads all day

The Office co-stars also shared a behind-the-scenes tidbit about filming the episode — they had to keep the notecards taped on their heads the whole day.

“So here’s the thing, guys. Imagine taping a notecard to your forehead because it had the double stick tape so it would stay in place,” Kinsey explained. “Imagine putting that on at 7:30 in the morning and not taking it off until like 5 p.m.”

“I mean, we did take it off at lunch for thirty minutes but then we had to put it back on,” she added. “At the end of the day of wearing that double stick tape on my forehead, when we took that notecard off, it had peeled off all my baby hairs on my forehead.”

The next day, it made it difficult for makeup to stick to the spot where the tape had peeled off of their faces.

Fischer said they had the cards on during breaks backstage because “it was a continuity thing. They didn’t want it to be in any way different.”

According to Kinsey, photos were taken of the cast so they could reposition the cards in the right place. “And once they taped it on, they were really like, ‘Guys, please don’t take your notecard off your forehead,’” she recalled.

“So imagine being like, ‘Oh we have a 15-minute break. I’m gonna get some pretzels and a cheese stick’ but I’m eating the cheese stick and pretzels while wearing a notecard on my head that said Jamaica… Oh my lord.”