The writers who worked on The Office were fortunate to work with Greg Daniels — someone who fostered creativity and welcomed new ideas, no matter how ridiculous they might have been.
While a few scenes were cut because the actors believed they crossed a line, there was one talking head scene involving Dwight that writer Mike Schur fought to have in the final edit of the “Dunder Mifflin Infinity” episode of season 4.
Greg Daniels wanted to be challenged by writers
“The fact that he hired people that were so animated and passionate — he wasn’t scared of somebody who would constantly challenge him,” writer Jen Celotta said of Greg Daniels on Brian Baumgartner’s podcast, An Oral History of The Office.
“He wanted to have people who would fight him on stuff in the room,” she continued. Daniels always sought the best ideas, regardless of who came up with them.
Often, those ideas came from the actors themselves. That’s because Daniels fostered a collaborative environment on the set of The Office.
“What we do is we create a structure within the script that allows good character movement,” writer Brent Forrester explained. “[After] we’ve roughly plotted what these characters should do and feel,” the actors are free to put their spin on it. In Forrester’s opinion, the cast were “way more knowledgable than [the writers] about [the characters].”
Sometimes, jokes were cut because they were too offensive
Part of the actors’ job was pointing out when the writers took jokes a bit too far.
For example, Angela Kinsey recalled a line from the “Gay Witch Hunt” episode that she felt went past the point of being funny and into offensive territory.
“There was a pretty harsh dig from me at Oscar’s expense about his sexual orientation,” Kinsey said. “Angela is a lot of things, but she does care for Oscar and she wouldn’t say that.”
Instead of Kinsey’s line being a dig at Oscar’s sexual orientation, the line was changed to have her discuss watching Will and Grace.
Showrunners allowed Dwight’s Nazi reference
Many of the jokes on The Office were designed to meet a specific “cringe” criteria. After all, the series is rooted in British comedy — which is designed to make you feel uncomfortable.
Regardless of the topic a joke was centered around, the writers always did their best to tell jokes in a tasteful manner. The same level of care was applied to a joke Schur penned for Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson).
“This was my own indulgence,” Schur admitted.
It was always backstoried that Dwight’s maternal ancestors were maybe Nazis. So we had a talking head where Dwight says, ‘My maternal grandmother is 102 and still puttering around down in Argentina.’
And then he says, ‘I tried to visit her once, but my visa was protested by the Shoah Foundation.’
For as hard as Schur fought, the joke didn’t get as many laughs as he had anticipated.
“It got a moderate laugh because most people probably didn’t know what the Shoah Foundation was,” Schur recalled. “I remember fighting really hard for that in the edit. Greg wanted to cut it and I was like ‘please, please, please, please, please.'”
Daniels had created an environment where everyone was free to pitch jokes — no matter how it might come across. Of course, some of the jokes deemed too insensitive were cut from the show. But when writers fought for what they believed in, Daniels was always willing to hear them out.