‘The Office’ Writer and Actor Paul Lieberstein Says the Scranton Strangler Didn’t Strangle People to Death—’Sound[s] like Toby’

Though The Office premiered in 2005, it’s a show that fans relentlessly return to — particularly in times of boredom, stress, and indecision. Suffice to say, The Office came back in a big way this past year and a half. Even when the workplace comedy moved from Netflix to Peacock, The Office diehards couldn’t let go. Perhaps a bit disgruntled — but with minimal questions asked — fans simply signed up for the new streaming service.

According to The Verge, “The Office arriving on Peacock drove more signups than the nationwide launch, including a notable uptick in people signing up for the $10-a-month premium plan that allows them full ad-free access to all nine seasons.”

With every resurgence of the NBC sitcom comes the resurgence of the juiciest fan theories. One of those theories is that Toby Flenderson is the Scranton Strangler. In an interview The Office writer and Toby actor Paul Lieberstein did with the Box Angeles podcast in 2018, he spoke about the popular fan theory. He also revealed a little bit more about the strangler’s specific attacks.

Paul Lieberstein as Toby Flenderson, sitting at his desk in 'The Office.'
Paul Lieberstein as Toby Flenderson in ‘The Office’ | Mitchell Haaseth/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

The Office’s Scranton Strangler

We never actually meet the Scranton Strangler. But we hear plenty about him. The first mention of the notorious attacker takes place in season 6. To commemorate the day Jim and Pam’s daughter Cecilia is born, Andy purchases a newspaper. A nice thought, but the headline reads: “Scranton Strangler Strikes Again.”

The strangler is mentioned several other times throughout the series. In season 7, Toby takes a leave of absence because he’s a member of the jury on the strangler case. He gets so wrapped up in the case that he eventually feels the man who went to prison for strangling people, George Howard Skub, is actually innocent.

The theory that Toby is the Scranton Strangler

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One of the first times The Office fans really started believing that Toby could be the Scranton Strangler is during the “Viewing Party” episode in season 7. Dunder Mifflin employees huddle around a TV that shows the strangler involved in a car chase with police. During the chase, the phone rings at Toby’s desk, but he’s not there to answer it. So some theorize that Toby is the one being chased and he is calling the office to confess.

The other big moment that had fans thinking Toby may be the strangler is when he goes to visit George in prison to let him know he believes he’s innocent. There, he is attacked and left with damaged vocal cords and an injured neck. While this seems to confirm that George is, indeed, the strangler, some fans believe George strangles Toby after he confesses that he himself is the strangler.

Paul Lieberstein weighs in

Lieberstein is used to getting questions about if Toby is the Scranton Strangler.

“Seven out of 10 tweets aimed at me are simply, ‘Are you the Scranton Strangler?'” he told podcast host Mike “Box” Elder.

Though Lieberstein says the theory is “kind of fun,” he doesn’t definitively say whether Toby is or isn’t the attacker. In fact, “maybe” is his official answer.

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“I don’t know,” he replied when Elder asked him if Toby is the strangler. “I don’t know. There’s a world where he was the strangler. Maybe one where he wasn’t. Maybe there’s two stranglers.”

But there is something about the strangler’s technique that even Lieberstein admits is very Toby.

“He could have been the strangler,” he said. “The one thing the strangler did was he strangled people but didn’t kill them. He left them once they’ve been strangled and pass out.”

“Is that true?” asked Elder. He’d never heard that before. As it turns out, there’s good reason for that.

“Yes, yeah,” continued Lieberstein. “I’m not sure we ever got around to saying it. But that was always our thing: The Scranton Strangler didn’t strangle you to death. I thought, ‘Yeah, that does sound like Toby.’ Just mostly strangled.”