Brian Baumgartner hasn't landed a high-profile role since playing awkward accountant Kevin Malone on "The Office." But he's too busy leading tours down memory lane to complain.
The former Minnesotan started a podcast last year that serves as the main source for his new book, "Welcome to Dunder Mifflin: The Oral History of the Office." In addition, the 49-year-old actor has become one of the top three most requested celebrities on Cameo, the video service in which fans get a personalized message from stars.
NBC aired the American version of the British sitcom of the same name from 2005 to 2013. The beloved mockumentary centered on a group of people working at a paper company run by a deluded boss.
Baumgartner, who was raised in Atlanta and graduated from Southern Methodist University, started on the sitcom as little more than a glorified extra.
He got the gig shortly after leaving the Twin Cities, where he had spent seven years acting on various stages, including the Guthrie Theater and Theatre de la Jeune Lune, which closed in 2008. At one point, he was the artistic director for the now defunct Hidden Theatre.
Baumgartner chatted about the show's legacy from New York earlier this month.
Q: Is it too early to wish you happy holidays?
A: Not at all. You can also wish me a happy birthday, which I celebrated last week at Lambeau Field. I'm currently in New York to host "Good Morning Football." I just got back from Scranton [Pennsylvania], where we launched the book.
Q: How do the people in Scranton react these days to be associated with the show? Are they still excited or sick of the attention?
A: Their response truly takes my breath away. I think I signed over 1,000 books in one day. The population of the city has gone up. Tourism is a thing. When John Krasinksi was doing research, he shot some footage of the sign you see coming into town that was used in the opening credits. They've had to take that sign down because so many people were stopping on the side of the road to take pictures. I think they believe the show revitalized their town and made it cool.
Q: You're not the only cast member who has spent a considerable amount of time still talking about the show. I don't recall the actors on "Cheers" or "Seinfeld" doing the same thing. Why are you folks different?
A: At one time, we were NBC's No. 1 show, but we weren't "Friends." We weren't on billboards in Times Square or on the cover of Vogue. We were always the underdog. When Nielsen started including streaming numbers, we learned that we're now the No. 1 show on TV. That includes "Succession" and "Squid Games" and all these shows everyone is talking about. To explore what has happened, to look for the clues, is almost like therapy.
Q: Do you worry that by spending so much time revisiting "The Office" you're making it harder for Hollywood to think of you as anyone other than Kevin Malone?
A: Here's where I've landed on that. You're right. I have to spend a lot of time distancing myself from Kevin. I say no to a lot of roles that are too similar. But there's no escaping it. You can't pretend it doesn't exist. So my approach is kind of meta: Redefine myself by talking about Kevin rather than straying away from him.
Q: It's odd, because when you were working in the Twin Cities, you were known for your versatility.
A: It's funny. People now perceive me as a comedy guy. They assume I came from stand-up or improv. But most of the stuff I did in theater was dark and dramatic. I just finished a movie called "Electric Jesus" in which I play the tour manager for a Christian heavy-metal band in the '80s. He couldn't be any more different than Kevin. I had a lot of fun doing that.
Q: There are two characters in "The Office" that I think get laughs just by popping up on the screen without saying a word: Dwight (Rainn Wilson) and Kevin. Why do you think that is?
A: I definitely have felt that out in the world. It's difficult for me to talk about. Rainn [who also spent time doing Twin Cities theater] and I were given a tremendous amount of physical comedy to do. And when Steve Carell left, the producers had me lean into it even more.
Q: Why do you think Kevin became a breakout character?
A: I think there's something about Kevin's heart that resonates with people. The show was about celebrating the beauty of ordinary people. The scene most people want to talk about is the one in which Kevin makes chili. Every year, he makes a giant pot of chili and wants to share it with the people he cares about. And then he spills it. There are people who think it's the most hilarious scene ever and others who say they can't watch it anymore because they feel so badly for him. It's this one chance at a small victory and it fails. But you know that he's going to try again next year.
Q: That connection has to be a big reason you've become a superstar on Cameo.
A: It's crazy. I'm a very private guy. I said no for quite a while and I was encouraged by others to give it a try. I don't think it's about me. I view it through the eyes of the father who used to watch "The Office" with his daughter and they have a special place in their heart for Kevin. They can reconnect over fond memories of the show during the holidays or to mark the birth of a child. I never do them as Kevin, in full makeup or wardrobe. That would be weird. But I try to give them some "Kevin" flavor.
Q: Reboots and reunions are super popular right now. What are the chance "The Office" gang will get back together on screen?
A: I know there's a lot of interest from NBC. It's really up to [creator] Greg Daniels. If he comes up with an idea, I hope he gives me a call. It's tricky, though. If you remember how the show ends, Michael is in Colorado, Stanley is retired and living in Florida, Kevin has been fired and is running a bar. I don't know how you bring the characters back for future shows. But I think there's a reasonable chance the band will get back together for a special event.