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No More Funny Business

It's time to lay off the office humor

February 22, 2007—No matter what you do for a living, chances are you've worked in an office at some point in your life, and you thought it sucked. Well, as you may have figured out by now, you're not the only one. Writers as diverse as David Mamet, Mike Judge, and Ricky Gervais have turned a gimlet eye on the blowhard bosses and tangled politics of the modern workplace. Unfortunately, so has Taco Bell. And Burger King. And Raisin Bran Crunch, CareerBuilder, FedEx Kinko's, Sprint Nextel, Wendy's, and Nickelodeon. (And that's just during last night's episode of The Closer.) What began as a bit of subversive satire has been copied, counterfeited, and devalued to the point of cliché.

Who's to blame? Lazy ad execs, of course. After all, even though it followed Office Space and the BBC original, the American version of The Office still felt sharp and relevant when Michael Scott & Co. arrived in 2005. Since then, however, our favorite archetypes—the pretty (but not too pretty) brunette, the army of schlubby cubicle drones, that blowhard boss—have been rehashed and recycled mindlessly and, in a phrase, ad nauseum. You imagine it's a pretty easy pitch for the commercial hacks to make to the corporations they tout: "Hey, guys. You know what it's like to work in a mind-numbing corporate culture. Well, have we got an ad concept for you!" But ask yourself, how long has it been since you actually laughed at a Bill Lumbergh impression? If anything, the guy who stops by your desk and says, "Mmm, yeah, I'm going to have to go ahead and ask you to come in on Sunday," is now an integral part of the soul-crushing corporate culture Lumbergh was created to satirize in the first place.

Don't get me wrong: The Office still makes me laugh. And Ricky Gervais' landmark series holds up on the 90th viewing—though it’s worth noting that he only made 14 episodes. Maybe he realized that the joke could only go so far. Maybe advertisers should follow his lead. Maybe you should get back to work before your boss sees you reading this.

— Paul L. Underwood
Photo: Courtesy of the Everett Collection