From the Vanity Fair article “Q&A: The Office writer Michael Schur,” dated October 23, 2008:
Michael Schur is a writer and co-executive producer of The Office. He has also appeared in a few episodes as Dwight Schrute’s (Rainn Wilson) bizarre, bearded cousin Mose, who lives with Dwight on the Schrutes’ beet farm. Before moving to The Office, Schur spent six years as a writer for Saturday Night Live.
VF Daily: Can you tell me a little about how the writing process on The Office works?
Michael Schur: We all come in in the morning, and we just toss stuff out. If we hit a wall or something, and it doesn’t seem to be progressing, we’ll switch to some other idea. But it’s really just all the writers sitting around on some pretty uncomfortable fake leather couches for hours and hours and hours, just tossing out ideas about whatever story we’re talking about.
You’re NBC’s No. 1 comedy now — they can’t get you nice furniture?
Ha, no. We shoot the show in this very bizarre corner of Panorama City, California. We’re across the street from a business called Thompson Gundrilling. The other businesses in this weird cul-de-sac are all auto-body shops, and there’s a crematorium nearby. It’s a really godforsaken little part of the city. So we’re fine with the fake leather. We could be a lot worse.
You’ve been writing for The Office since the first season. How do you think the show has evolved?
The mission statement for us, if there is one, has been “Let’s make sure they’re all changing.” If the characters all stay exactly the same, then the show will get really boring. That’s why, for instance, Michael has gotten a little bit more self-aware and a little more mature in terms of his views toward women and his co-workers. I think Pam has gotten more self-confidence, and Dwight has gotten a little more sensitive. But you have to parse it out very slowly. The idea is to make sure that the characters are dynamic and that they can grow as people, so we don’t get bored. But at the same time you can’t just change them overnight. The show purports to be a documentary, so there has to be an element of realism in terms of how fast people change their behaviors.
One of the things I love about The Office is that the plot doesn’t constantly have to be moving forward. Is there a push and pull between random, kooky stuff and story lines that are required to move the plot along?
There is. You don’t want to turn purely episodic. I’m a huge fan of the show Lost, but it’s incredibly daunting to be a fan of Lost, because if you miss one episode, you’re just totally screwed. So it’s a little bit of a balancing act. You want to reward the people who are invested in the characters and their lives, but you also want there to always be the possibility that someone could turn on the show for the first time and enjoy it as a comedy show.
Which member of the cast or crew tends to keep everybody laughing on set?
It probably won’t surprise you, but it’s mostly Carell. He’s just in a league all by himself. We’ll do the same scene 15 or 16 times, and he’ll give a different amusing, interesting, funny performance every single time. It’s mind-blowing. He does a lot of incredibly funny and unexpected things inhabiting that character that just make the cast break up. There are many, many funny takes that we just can’t use, because he’ll do something and everyone will start laughing, and we’ll have to start over. That being said, everyone in the cast has their moments and is funny in his or her own special way. It’s an embarrassment of riches for a writer to be able to write for that whole cast.
I definitely thought, after The 40-Year-Old Virgin came out, He’s a huge movie star now, and it’s kind of fantastic that we’re able to have him every week in a half-hour comedy show.
I know — it’s like, Hey, it’s free Carell! Every week you get 30 minutes of free Steve Carell. It is the greatest deal in the world for America, in my opinion.