An ‘Office’ party for Scranton

Special to The Times

SCRANTON, Pa. -- A chilly rain fell on Scranton nearly all day Friday, which could only enhance the sometimes-desolate and drab Pennsylvania town we see as the setting for NBC’s “The Office.” But this is not TV! This is real life! And in real life, last weekend at least, Scranton was anything but desolate as it hosted the first of possibly many “Office” conventions to come.

The festivities kicked off on the “Today” show with Al Roker broadcasting from the University of Scranton. The throngs seemed delirious. Craig Robinson, who plays Darryl from the Dunder Mifflin warehouse, seemed completely tuned in to the brouhaha, whooping it up and egging on those in attendance. The locals were madly boasting about which actors they’d met.

Still, it’s a little strange to go to a fan convention that is not sci-fi or comic-book oriented. At the registration at the Scranton Radisson, those in line to receive their various passes ($25 for the “Intern” pass all the way up to the $100 “Regional Manager” and the $250 “Corporate”) seemed to fall into two categories: excited early-20s hipster-ish kids and older, somewhat more jaded fans, whom you could describe as Comic Book Guy from “The Simpsons” but with a social life.


“I wish Dwight was here,” sighed a young woman Saturday morning, during “The Office” Olympics. It’s unclear whether she meant Dwight Schrute, the character, or Rainn Wilson, the actor who plays him, as the coffee cup races, trash can H-O-R-S-E and other events going on around them would only have been enhanced by a stern taskmaster. There was entirely too much gaiety going on.

The rain was still falling Saturday in Scranton, but it would slow down no “Office” fans this day. The ribbon-cutting ceremony was moved indoors, and outside of a few cheers of “Dun-der Mif-flin!” the crowd was well-behaved. After about an hour of waiting, though, one young man walked to the front and reproduced Dwight’s convention speech from Season 2, complete with punctuating slams on the stage.

This seemed to summon the cast and town bigwigs, and the audience went, to put it mildly, buck wild. The dignitaries were out in force: Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty, U.S. Sen. Robert P. Casey and the University of Scranton’s president Rev. Scott R. Pilarz.

And then came the cast: Leslie David Baker (Stanley), Ed Helms (Andy), Angela Kinsey (Angela), Bobby Ray Shafer (Bob Vance), Andy Buckley (David Wallace from corporate), Robinson (Darryl) and Phyllis Smith (Phyllis). Each gave little tastes of their characters: Baker -- coming out to chants of “Stan-ley! Stanley!” -- deadpanned, “It’s too wet.” Shafer introduced himself (“Bob Vance, Vance Refrigeration”). Kinsey advised everyone not to be “whorish.” And Helms, who seemed dazed by the adulation, sang an a cappella version of ABBA’s “Take a Chance on Me” to Kinsey and the crowd. Robinson proudly brandished his University of Scranton sweat shirt and led a cheer: “Scranton what?” and the crowd screamed “The Electric City.”

At a news conference later, Helms called the fans’ adoration “absolutely, totally stunning” and said he and the other actors felt like the Beatles in Scranton.

“I’ve never had so many people ask if they could sign my cast,” said Kate Flannery (Meredith). “And to buy me a drink -- I think they were mad I wasn’t wasted!”


Excited fans packing a gymnasium had a question-and-answer session with the cast next. The actors really turned on the charm for fans, with Helms being liberal with the scatting, plenty of “That’s what she said” jokes and Robinson kissing Mindy Kaling (Kelly) with relish when asked about the future of the couple on the show. The cast’s willingness to give attendees what they wanted gave the convention lots of cred: Not only can you see the actors, you can communicate with them -- and they’re into it.

Scranton was then treated to an impressive fireworks show that hung low -- and incredibly loudly -- over the city. Then came an “Office” look-alike contest followed by a concert. “It was really hard,” a woman dressed as Pam said. “I had to figure out how to get the makeup just right -- not too much -- and how to make my hair ratty.” A man made to look like Jim kept his hands in his pockets and looked at the ceiling, still in character.

A handful of the cast members judged. Baker asked the look-alikes questions to judge their dedication to their characters, noting sadly that no one had dressed as him or Phyllis. Helms picked his favorite Andy out of three, based on who best sang a cappella. Only the Karen who proclaimed that she didn’t need Jim, that she was going to work on her career, was met with some applause.

Fans jammed enthusiastically to the band the Scrantones (featuring Flannery on keyboard) as it played the show’s theme song. People danced to the theme song and some screamed for an accordion solo.

Gerry Zaboski, associate vice president at the University of Scranton, asked a reporter, “Did you have fun?” As Flannery had shouted to the audience: “Let’s hear it for Scranton, huh?”