‘The Office’: Steve Carell Reveals the Secret to Michael Scott’s Joke Delivery

Some fans might argue Michael Scott is the funniest character from The Office. What’s undoubtedly certain is how awkward Michael Scott is. But ironically, that’s part of his hilarious appeal. Steve Carell explains what he did behind the scenes to make his role on the show as funny as possible. The secret is in the way Carell deliver’s Michael Scott’s jokes.

Steve Carell as Michael Scott on 'The Office'
Steve Carell | Chris Haston/NBCU Photo Bank

‘The Office’ character Michael Scott ‘lacks self-awareness’ 

During a 2007 interview, Carell perfectly sums up his role on The Office. “I think he’s a man who clearly lacks self-awareness,” Carell explains. “I’ve always said that if he even caught a glimpse of who he really is, his head would explode.”

But Michael Scott’s lack of sensitivity is part of what makes the character fun for fans to watch and Carell to play. “The way the writers have created the dialogue, he can say the most incredibly offensive things,” Carell added. 

In his mind, the “World’s Best Boss” isn’t “offensive.” Instead, Michael simply lacks the understanding of his words and actions.

Steve Carell avoided leaning into jokes on ‘The Office’ to make fans laugh

Carell has talked at length with Office co-star Brian Baumgartner on both of his podcasts: An Oral History of The Office and The Office Deep Dive. During one of those chats, the two talk about why Michael Scott was awkward but hilariously lovable at the same time. 

“For my character, part of the trick was to not let on where the jokes were,” Carell admits during his conversation on The Office Deep Dive. “Because Michael generally wouldn’t know — he wouldn’t have an awareness that anything he was saying was funny unless he was trying to be.” 

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To make Michael Scott as authentic as possible, Carell leaned in to “making the absurdity of a line.” He achieved this by believing in what he was saying without commenting on the jokes or searching for praise. 

Not “leaning into the jokes” was challenging at times, according to Carell. But it is also what makes Michael Scott such a special role. 

‘The Office’ cast agrees the show’s production style makes it better 

The production behind The Office was a simple, single-camera documentary-style operation. According to Carell, “the lighting took five minutes” to set up for any given scene. But this simplicity ultimately helped the actors lean into their characters. 

Outside of the simplicity of the set, the cast’s appearance was simple, too. “No one was worried about getting touched up all the time,” Carell says. Behind the scenes, there was no vanity.

No one actor thought they were better than the other, regardless of their background. By stripping down the show to focus on the parts the actors are playing, fans continue to relate to the characters in The Office

‘The Office’ characters embrace awkward pauses, especially Michael Scott

A lot goes on in the quiet spaces between the actor’s lines on The Office. Those somewhat uncomfortable pauses are where Carell, Baumgartner, and the rest of the cast really made their characters come to life. 

During their conversation, the two mention the “Office Olympics” episode from season 2. After struggling with his decision to buy a condo, Michael returns to the office to receive an Olympic medal made from a yogurt lid. 

“I remember that turned into a really emotional moment for Michael Scott because someone was giving him an award,” Carell said. In that emotional moment, Michael starts to cry out of “joy and pride.” What’s more, that scene is hilarious and touching — another thing The Office does so well.