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NEW YORK — B.J. Novak says his plan of action following nine seasons of writing, producing and acting on NBC’s popular workplace comedy The Office was a bit random.
He decided his next project would be to write, not a film or another series, or a memoir or even a novel. Instead, it would be a book of short stories.
“It sounded like a crazy thing to do,” Novak said in a recent interview. “’Oh, what are you doing after The Office? Are you doing a movie? Are you writing a new TV show?’ To say, ‘No, no. I’m writing a book. Just odd little short stories.’ It sounds like you’ve lost your mind and no one’s ever gonna hear from you again. It sounds like, you know, a crazy, old man in a cabin. And I wondered if I was a crazy, old man in a cabin.”
Novak, 34, said the ideas for One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories (Knopf), which debuted at No. 4 on The New York Times best-seller list, had been floating around in his head for a while. Still, the guy responsible for writing some of the funniest episodes of The Office was apprehensive about sharing those ideas.
“I didn’t know if they would ever be worth anything to anybody,” he said. “But I just really wanted to write them, so at first I would email them out to a friend or two at a time. One story to one friend. One story to another. Very shyly.”
To keep himself on track, he set up gigs at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, where he would read his stories to an audience. From there, he would gauge what worked and what needed work.
“I was so used to this regimen where scripts had deadlines and had to be filmed and Steve Carell is waiting for the new pages that I didn’t know what it would be like to just sit in a house with no one expecting anything from me and write something. So I think scheduling those shows for me was a great bridge between being on The Office and writing on my own.”
Novak took other interesting approaches for this book.
He directed a black-and-white Parisian-themed trailer that can be seen on YouTube, in which he plays a version of himself trying to impress friend Mindy Kaling because he, too, had written a book. Kaling’s book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) was also a New York Times best-seller.
“At first I wanted to look cool,” he laughed. “Then I thought, ‘Maybe make fun of the part of you that wants to be that.’”
Then there’s the audio book, where he enlisted actors Carey Mulligan, Julianne Moore, Katy Perry, Lena Dunham, Rainn Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman to read some of the characters.
“I consider this book a work of entertainment and so I wanted (the audio book) to be entertaining,” he said.
Novak has a deal for another book and says he has “hundreds” of ideas for stories.
And he wants to do more acting, although feeling comfortable on-camera didn’t happen overnight.
“I read an interview once where a director said that you have to be two things in front of a camera, completely focused and completely relaxed. That sounds like a paradox and the best actors are the ones who can do that. I think that’s why we can all agree I’m one of the best actors alive,” he deadpanned.