In this third and final part of my chat with The Office’s Michael Schur, we discuss gift exchanges, the origin of Dwight’s cousin, Mose, and eating on the set.
tanster: Which of your scripts was the most challenging to work on and why?
Michael: Lee and Gene (ugh) and I had to write “Traveling Salesmen” and “The Return” very quickly, so for that reason alone I’d say those two.
On my own, I’d say the “Christmas Party” from Season Two. The mechanics of that gift exchange was like calculus. And I got really scared when I realized that a huge part of the episode was just people sitting in a circle. Fortunately Charles McDougall directed the heck out of it, and the actors were at the top of their game.
tanster: The gift exchange was like calculus? Yeah, I guess I can totally see that! That must have been crazy, trying to figure out all the permutations.
Michael: All we really knew at the outline stage, as I remember it, was Jim’s gift for Pam, and Michael’s gift for Ryan. So I wrote all the other characters’ names on slips of paper, and actually did a mock-selection, to get a truly random Secret Santa list, and then just tried to figure out what everyone would get their intended giftee. The only thing I changed was making Kevin get Kevin, because I thought that would be funny.
tanster: Which single line of script is the one you’re most proud of?
Michael: I honestly have a hard time remembering which lines I wrote and which were pitched by other people. There are tons of great jokes and ideas in “my” scripts that were written by other people, so I’m always wary of taking credit for anything.
tanster: Did you know that IMDB credits you with writing “The Oompa Loompa Song” for the episode ‘Traveling Salesmen’? — I think that is so funny.
Michael: That day of shooting was really fun. I think it was Greg’s pitch to have Andy sing the song (if I’m wrong, sorry, other writer who pitched that). Ed Helms is a great improviser, and we just pitched out a hundred variations of the song that he could do.
I believe I came up with “Oompa loompa doopity dawesome / Dwight is now gone, which is totally awesome,” which is the one we ended up using. Ed came up with “Why is he gone he was such a nice guy! / No he was not, he was a total douche!” Which made me laugh for weeks.
tanster: True, “douche” is an awesomely funny word.
Michael: Especially when Andy says it, for some reason.
tanster: How did the part of Mose come about? Was the part written for you?
Michael: Mose goes all the way back to the very early days of Season One. I had watched a reality show called “Amish in the City,” wherein several Amish people on rumspringa moved in to a house in the Hollywood Hills with a bunch of idiot L.A. club kids.
One of the Amish guys was a very friendly fellow named Mose, who tried to become friends with the idiot club kids by making them little wooden toys. I did an impression of him in the room — this is literally like the first week of work — and immediately Greg said, “You’re Mose! You’re Dwight’s cousin Mose!”
tanster: “Amish in the City.” You are totally making that up.
Michael: IMDb it. It was real, and I watched it. Then BJ pitched the idea of “The Initiation,” and was determined to have Mose lurking around the barn to help Dwight with his weird mission. It was super hot that day and all I did was run around in wool clothes. It was kind of miserable. But BJ was very nice — he gave me a bottle of beet juice to thank me for doing it.
The real reason any of this happened, probably, is that my natural beard growth is, weirdly, very Amish. Nothing on my cheeks, only under my chin. That beard you saw in the episode is real, and it took three months to grow.