‘The Office’: The Iconic Jim and Dwight Role Play Scene Was Based on a Real-Life Situation
While The Office Season 5 “Customer Survey” scene featuring Jim and Dwight role-playing as customer and salesperson might seem absurd, it was actually based on a real-life situation. The Office co-creator Stephen Merchant, who directed the episode, explained how the scene came from his own personal experience.
‘The Office’ Jim and Dwight role-playing scene involved a client named ‘Bill Buttlicker’
In the season 5 episode “Customer Survey,” Jim and Dwight earn poor customer reviews so boss Michael Scott decides to put them through a training exercise in hopes of improving their sales skills.
In the conference room scene, Michael makes up a role-playing scenario where Dwight is the salesperson and Jim is the client. When Dwight asks the client’s name, Jim tells him, “I am Bill Buttlicker” and is offended when Dwight asks, “That’s your real name?”
Michael instructs Dwight to be respectful and Jim pretends to take another call where he references the “stupid salesman” he’s talking to. He tells Dwight he had a family emergency and when Dwight asks, “What’s wrong,” Jim tells him, “That’s private.”
As Dwight continues on, offering Mr. Buttlicker discounted products, Jim tells him to “speak up” because he can’t hear.
Dwight: OK, as I was saying, right now we are having —
Jim: You’re gonna have to talk louder.
Dwight: OK, our prices have never been lower.
Jim: Son, you have to talk louder.
Dwight: … never been lower!
Jim: Louder, son!
Dwight: [shouting] Buttlicker! Our prices have never been lower!
Michael tells Dwight that yelling at the client is inappropriate and gets on the phone with the client. Jim tells him that he’s going to buy $1 million worth of paper products if he’ll fire the salesman who was rude to him.
‘The Office’ ‘Buttlicker’ scene was based on Stephen Merchant’s experience
During the July 7 Office Ladies podcast, hosts Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey discussed the episode and asked Merchant about his experience in the writing room. The “Mr. Buttlicker scene” was based on his real-life experience.
“I was working at a call center answering phones, and we had to have training for a week beforehand,” he recalled. “And one of the things we had to do was one person went in one room and called another trainee and one was the customer and one was the person working at the call center.”
Merchant decided to pretend to be a variety of clients who would be “challenging” or “a little bit difficult or ask difficult questions or go quiet sometimes” since it was more likely to really happen on a call.
“So I started playing difficult customers for the other trainee so I would be a little angry or whatever it would be,” he recalled. “And eventually the guy in charge of the training took me aside and said, I can’t have you do this anymore because you’re upsetting the other trainees with your characters and with your questions and with your attitude.”
Merchant loved the way the scene turned out
Merchant pitched his idea to The Office writers, explaining how it “just seemed like a funny idea to have Jim kind of deliberately needling Dwight in that way.” The writers took the idea and ran with it — and Merchant said the writers and actors nailed it.
“I really was so happy with that,” he shared. “I thought it was absolutely fantastic. I thought it was a really funny spin on that idea.”
“I just think when there’s three great performers and a really funny idea like that sort of given free rein, it’s so thrilling to be there as a director and watch it happen,” Merchant added. “And I was so satisfied with that scene.”
Fischer later revealed that the scene was scripted, with the exception of the line, “I am irate right now” and said the actors played a bit with what was written.