15 ways The Office changed modern comedy
the office david brent ricky gervais featured image

This weekend (July 9) sees the 15th anniversary of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s amazing fly-on-the-wall sitcom The Office

The show, centred around the comings and goings of Slough paper merchants Wernham Hogg, debuted in 2001, providing some of the finest moments in British comedy and allowing us all the opportunity to laugh at our bosses (because we’ve all worked for a David Brent).

Its influence on modern comedy has been monumental. So to celebrate the show’s big birthday, here are 15 ways The Office changed modern comedy forever.

1. The fly-on-the-wall format was fresh

david brent ricky gervais gif the office

Before The Office came along, sitcoms were your standard, fixed-camera affair, often filmed in front of a studio audience.

But when The Office switched to a fly-on-the-wall, documentary style format, it felt as if we were actually taking a peek inside a real place, at real people, and anyone not wise to the programme would be unsure whether to laugh or wince at those hapless simpletons.

2. Characters didn’t have to be likeable anymore

One of The Office’s more underatted tricks was its ability to delicately attach sympathy-inducing moments to some hideously unlikeable characters. If you met David Brent in the street you’d think he was an ignorant, infuriating man, but as viewers came to learn more about him, we started to feel more empathy for him.

3. It nailed cringe humour

the office gareth david brent backrub gif

Cringe inducing humour is a go-to tool for making audiences laugh these days. Nearly every new comedy to hit our screens in recent years has featured its fair share of socially inept moments to make viewers squirm, and one of the first successful proponents of this style was The Office.

Countless others have tried, but few have managed to replicate the awkwardness of it all.

4. It featured incredibly relatable characters

The Office started a trend for sitcoms featuring people just like us. Not funny for their over-the-top comedic flair, but funny for how true to life they appeared.

Tim wasn’t eliciting belly laughs for his pratfalls or catch-phrases – he was getting laughs of agreement from people who could relate to the character so well.

Every office in the country had its own version of each of the sitcom’s characters.

5. It kick-started a British invasion

The Office

The Office‘s mass popularity meant that TV execs over in the US took notice, and so an American version was commissioned.

Many groaned at the thought, but it turned out that the US Office (which really picked up after a first season of rehashing jokes from the Brit version) was great in its own right, finding its groove which set it apart from the original.

No US remake of a British comedy has taken off since, but The Office had the eyes of the world looking in the UK’s direction.

6. Comedy became (subtly) more high concept

On the surface, The Office is about David Brent leading a team of woeful workers through the daily grind of a paper company.

But there’s much more to it than that, and the programme deals with themes of everything from social clumsiness, to the trivialities of human behaviour, to desperation and fame.

It’s allowed future comedies to be more that just gags, with emotional depth behind the bumbling characters..

7. Ricky Gervais – international superstar

Ricky Gervais Golden Globes


The Office introduced us to the first British comedy superstar of the modern era in Ricky Gervais.

The yearly round of pre-Christmas stand-up DVDs, big movie tie-ins and comedic Brits making waves in America. You could argue it was all started with Gervais.

8. Comedy characters became interesting again

Comic alter-egos have been around about as long as comedy itself, but Gervais’ David Brent really brought them back to the fore.

Of course we’d had Partridge et al in years prior, but an all encompassing character realised down to the very finest details was something few had managed to get right.

Brent – who is still going to this day with the upcoming meta-doc Life On The Road – paved the way for more and more fleshed out characters.

9. It destroyed the fourth wall

david brent fourth wall breaking the office ricky gervais gif

Subtle glances to camera. Addressing the viewers directly. These things hadn’t really been seen before The Office‘s mockumentary stylings. But they’ve been everywhere since, from Parks And Recreation to W1A.

10. It proved Christmas specials don’t have to be crap


Most sitcoms’ Christmas specials are essentially the B-side collections of comedy; gags not good enough to be included the first time around.

Not so with The Office, whose two Christmas episodes are masterpieces in their own right, furthering the narrative arc and providing moments as equally memorable, if not more so, than the series proper.

11. It began a trend of ensemble comedies

Until The Office came along, sitcoms very much tended to be focused on a central character.

But Gervais and co changed that. Sure, Brent was the figurehead of the piece, but a handful of mid-level characters and a revolving door of new, incidental guests gave the whole thing an ensemble feel that many shows have run with since.

12. It made ‘the everyman’ a hero

the office tim love life gif

Tim Canterbury: by day an insecure sales represenative, by night the unlikely hero of The Office. Tim and Dawn’s will-they-won’t-they romance has been well documented, but no spoilers here.

Let’s just say Martin Freeman’s character allowed even the most initially bland characters to be a modern day romantic hero.

13. It took British comedy worldwide

We’ve already mentioned Gervais’ upward trajectory of a career following The Office‘s debut, but the show itself became a franchise in its own right.

Aside from the US version, there’s been French versions, a German version, and even an Isreali version, as part of an ‘international Office franchise’.

14. It launched a corporate brand in its own right

Microsoft commissioned two 20-minute corporate videos featuring Brent being interviewed by employee Jeff (played by Stephen Merchant).

Brent believes he has what it takes to become the next managing director of Microsoft and continually drops hints to that effect. The clips were leaked in 2006, though Microsoft said they “were never intended to be viewed by the public”.

15. It made real world office comedy that bit funnier

the office jelly in stapler gif

Let’s be honest, who hasn’t been ‘influenced’ by Tim’s constant pranking of co-worker Gareth Keenan?

Real world office life became all the more funnier (or annoying if you were on the receiving end of it) in the years following The Office‘s height.


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