It's been 10 years since his signature show debuted in Britain, and Ricky Gervais takes a moment to reflect on what made The Office, well, The Office. It was all about real people and the “dysfunctional” families we all have, Gervais writes in the Wall Street Journal. “My English teacher told me, ‘Always write about what you know.’” Boss David Brent (changed to Michael Scott in the US version) was an amalgam of people Gervais has known—the first scene of the show, for example, comes directly from a job interview Gervais had at age 17.
At the show’s core was humiliation, “the greatest English fear of them all.” We all get into awkward situations, but “add a film crew that captures every faux pas and you’ve got 10 times the embarrassment”—and thus 10 times the funny. “The fake documentary element was absolutely essential,” Gervais writes. “Brent being embarrassed is one thing, but as soon as he looked down the lens he brought us all into it. We felt his pain. And we liked it. Sort of.”