Comedy at work ‘Office’s’ Kevin talks about evolving character

From Scranton’s The Times-Tribune:

What sets Kevin Malone, the portly, slow-talking accountant on NBC’s “The Office,” apart from his other colleagues at Scranton’s Dunder-Mifflin paper distribution firm?

According to his alter ego, actor Brian Baumgartner, it’s his tendency “to say things that other people are thinking,” coupled with a total inability to consider “the ramifications” of his actions.

It’s that type of good-natured guilelessness that has made Kevin one of the stronger supporting characters on the Emmy-winning sitcom, which begins its third season Thursday at 8:30 p.m.

Aside from its deadpan, faux-documentary format, “The Office” has set itself apart from other network comedies with its huge cast of characters — 14 regulars in all. Each week, in addition to the five lead characters (office manager Michael Scott, assistant to the regional manager Dwight Schrute, salesman Jim Halpert, receptionist Pam Beesly and temp Ryan Howard), a few of the other office drones, like Kevin, get a few scenes to shine.

In this capacity, Mr. Baumgartner said, the supporting actors play a role similar to a guest star on a more traditional series.

A native of Atlanta, Mr. Baumgartner worked for many years in regional theater before landing the role on “The Office.” The show was among the first he auditioned for upon moving to L.A. from Minneapolis, where he performed at the renowned Guthrie Theater.

Looking for unknowns

Going in, he was already a huge fan of the original British version of the show.

“I identified this as a show that would be good for me,” said Mr. Baumgartner in a recent phone interview from Los Angeles. “I had just moved into Los Angeles, and I decided they were looking for people who were not known.”

The beauty of the Kevin character, who has a tendency to make lewd, inappropriate comments, is that he’s “a guy who’s only concerned himself with the exact moment he’s in,” said Mr. Baumgartner, who speaks nowhere near as slow as his character. Kevin’s monotone, he said, is one way to get across “the numbness” brought on by his job.

As the show has progressed, Kevin has continued to evolve, his complexities conveyed through his appearance and personal life. For a big guy, Mr. Baumgartner pointed out, Kevin is no slob: he rarely takes off his suit coat and never loosens his tie. It’s also been revealed that he has a fiance, is an accomplished poker player and plays in a cover band with the very amusing name of Scrantonicity.

“You start to (wonder) if Kevin would be different if he weren’t an accountant at Dunder-Mifflin,” Mr. Baumgartner said. “I would like to say yes.”

Then were was the episode where Kevin experienced a cancer scare, which really allowed Mr. Baumgartner to explore the poignancy of the character.

“You saw there was actual concern for this guy. In many ways, he’s not an outsider,” he said. “He seemingly gets along with everyone. He is sort of a gap bridger, in a weird way.”

Mr. Baumgartner has gotten the chance to extend the character’s reach through cyberspace. During the summer months, Kevin and the rest of the Dunder-Mifflin accounting staff were the stars of “The Office” webisodes that ran on the show’s NBC Web site. Mr. Baumgartner also writes a regular blog for, and maintains a Kevin profile page on, where many posters have been urging him and the cast to come to Scranton for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

“I’m dying to go (to Scranton). I really, really am,” Mr. Baumgartner, who said he would visit the city himself if the show doesn’t make it here sometime this season.

“That’s a promise,” he said.

Mum’s the word

Like “Office” executive producer Greg Daniels, who was interviewed a few weeks ago by The Times-Tribune, Mr. Baumgartner was limited on what plot lines he could reveal for the new season. In fact, he had a sheet of paper in front of him telling him what he could and couldn’t discuss.

Besides, he said, what’s the fun in giving everything away.

“I just think it’s so much more fun to experience something fresh all the time,” he said. “Let’s be honest, it’s mostly about the Jim and Pam thing. There has to be some sort of resolution, and everyone knows that.”

And what about Kevin?

“There’s a lot of things for Kevin,” Mr. Baumgartner promised. “Be assured that Kevin is around and will continue being Kevin for as long as he can.”