‘The Office’ Star Rainn Wilson Talks About His Failed TV Projects on ‘WTF with Marc Maron’

The Set

Rainn Wilson, star of "The Office," was comic Marc Maron's guest on the podcast "WTF" yesterday, and while the interview was, as usual, somewhat marred by Maron's apparent refusal to research anyone he ever talks to (he follows Wilson on Twitter yet didn't know he grew up Bahá'í?) and passive-aggressiveness (Maron on "The Office," on which Wilson plays Dwight: "People love 'The Office' and they love the character"), it did actually teach me a few things about Wilson that I didn't know. Maybe you didn't either!

1. Maron and Wilson were both attached to a failed sitcom pilot. In 2002, Janeane Garofalo was attached to a sitcom, "Slice O'Life," which would have found her playing a producer of cheery human-interest stories on a TV newsmagazine. (Presumably, much of the humor would derive from the incongruity of someone with Garofalo's demeanor consigned to a job devoted to soft news segments.) Maron and Wilson were both members of the supporting cast — Wilson as a wacky sound guy, and Maron as Garofalo's character's assistant.

Maron: It was a pretty big cast, and we did that table read...and it went, I thought, well....
Wilson: It went terrible. Dude, your barometer for comedy is completely off. I don't know what you're thinking.
Maron: Hm. It went bad?
Wilson: It was terrible!

Sometime after this maybe good, maybe terrible table read, the project was shelved, possibly because of Garofalo's vociferous opposition to the Iraq war.

2. On his way to a "Slice O'Life" meeting, Wilson heard about the American adaptation of "The Office." "And I was such a huge fan of the British show, I was kind of bummed out. I was like, 'Aw, I would much rather do that than this Janeane Garofalo thing.' Which I liked, but I had a teeny tiny part."

3. Wilson almost starred in a sitcom based on his Lower East Side clown troupe. Wilson and Maron were both performing in New York in the mid-'90s, so their paths crossed on occasion, including when Wilson — a drama student who formally trained at NYU — was a member of The New Bozena, a "post-modern clown" troupe (or, as Wilson describes it to Maron, "a really f---ed-up Pee-wee Herman" or "slacker vaudeville on acid") that also included David Costabile, a.k.a. Gale on "Breaking Bad." The troupe came to Los Angeles to star together in a TV series based on the stage show, which didn't work out. As Wilson tells it:

We signed with 3Arts, and we actually got a TV deal at 20th [Century Fox Studios], and we wrote a really terrible comedy pilot, and we did a pilot presentation for Fox, that is terrible....It was about these weird, almost nonverbal clowns — a lot of physical comedy — they tried to turn it into 'ALF.' So they tried to take these weird, postmodern clowns and like [have them] live with a typical family. Like they're living in the closet.

The group also had interest from USA for them to do "a weirder single-camera" comedy: "But there was a vote taken in the group, and I was the dissenting voice in the group, and the group wanted to go with the big money." Which Wilson now has, thanks to "The Office," so I guess he won in the end.