The Untold Truth Of Paul Lieberstein

Paul Lieberstein's face is a recognizable one to viewers of "The Office," in which he portrayed universally loathed human resources manager Toby Flenderson at the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin. In addition to his onscreen role, fans may not have realized that Lieberstein was also one of the show's writers and producers, and eventually served as showrunner. 

In fact, prior to "The Office," Lieberstein had primarily been a writer. Yet as Deadline pointed out, Lieberstein didn't train to be a writer, graduating from college with a degree in economics. However, once he decided to try his hand at TV writing, his career path made a significant pivot. According to IMDb, Lieberstein's extensive list of writing credits, both before and after his experience on "The Office," have included such television series as "Dead Like Me," "The Drew Carey Show," "The Bernie Mac Show," "Ghosted," and "Space Force." Meanwhile, he's also expanded his acting credits since "The Office" ended its run, playing roles in the TV series "Bad Teacher," "Togetherness," "The Mindy Project," "The Newsroom," and "People of Earth," and did triple duty as writer, director and star of the 2018 indie feature "Song of Back and Neck." 

Despite being part of the ensemble cast of one of television's all-time most beloved sitcoms, there's a lot about this talented Hollywood multi-hyphenate that may have eluded even his most ardent fans. To learn more, read on to uncover the untold truth of Paul Lieberstein.

The Office marked his first time acting on camera

When Paul Lieberstein was first hired as a writer for an American adaptation of Ricky Gervais' acclaimed British TV comedy "The Office," he had no inkling the gig would also bring about his first screen credit as an actor. Lieberstein revealed how that came to happen during an appearance on the "Office Ladies" podcast, hosted by his former co-stars Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey. 

As he explained to his fellow "Office" alums, series creator Greg Daniels wanted to shake up a key structural element of television in relation to actors and writers. "So there's this, like, kind of a very traditional thing that writers and actors are separated on a TV show ... and they're kind of asked not to talk," Lieberstein said. "At this point, [Daniels] was questioning a lot of those rules." As a result, they discussed the possibility of Lieberstein and other writers jumping in front of the camera. "We had talked about just doing a little thing to kind of have the experience of being an actor, and hopefully it would inform our writing," he explained. That led to the creation of HR director Toby Flenderson. Given that Lieberstein had zero experience as an actor, the learning curve was immense and the transition took some getting used to.

Ultimately, Lieberstein told the "Box Angeles" podcast, he received a crash course in acting — while cameras rolled. "I went to, like, 'The Office' acting school," he said. "It was amazing."

How Steve Carell shaped Paul Lieberstein's character

Paul Lieberstein's acting debut didn't exactly come at a peak-performance moment for him. As Lieberstein recalled for the "Box Angeles" podcast, he'd pulled an all-nighter on a rewrite, managing just a few hours of sleep before he was scheduled to step in front of the camera for the first time. His scene was opposite Steve Carell, who famously portrayed Dunder Mifflin branch manager Michael Scott. "I got to set and all I was was just exhausted — barely memorizing my one line," he recalled. 

What Lieberstein hadn't considered was that his Second City-trained acting partner would throw him for a loop when Michael kicks Toby out of the conference room — something that, thanks to Carell's quick improvisation, was done with significantly more disdain than was scripted. Carell's momentary impulse for Michael to express out-of-the-blue hatred for Toby wound up defining the characters' future relationship. 

As Lieberstein told "Today," a particularly defining moment came about during the subsequent episode involving an office birthday party. After Michael had struggled for an entire day to think of something to write in a birthday card, he erupts in fury when Toby quickly jots down his greeting. "Steve told me afterwards that he just felt, during that time that it took me to write, so much hate swell up inside of him, that that became just a part of the Toby-Michael dynamic," Lieberstein said.

He said it was 'terrifying' to act opposite Steve Carell

As anyone who's laughed it up while watching "The Office," "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," or "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" will acknowledge, Steve Carell is one of the finest, funniest comedic actors in the business. For someone with no acting training whatsoever, sharing scenes with Carell was something of a fraught experience for fledgling thespian Paul Lieberstein. "It's terrifying acting with Steve. He misses nothing. If you slip in any way, he pounces — just in a fun way, but it's embarrassing," Lieberstein recalled in an interview with The Daily Beast

Of course, the flip side of that fun-infused terror was that Lieberstein learned the craft of acting from one of the best. "As Toby, I had a lot of scenes with Steve Carell and that was just a masterclass in acting,"  Liberstein told "Today." "I couldn't imagine a better teacher. He just kept me on my toes and I never knew what he was gonna do." 

Lieberstein pointed to an informative example, a scene in which Toby tries to console a heartbroken Michael during lunch in a cafeteria. Lieberstein recalled Carell delivering a hilariously subtle bit of physical improv as Toby spills his guts. "I was opening up about a story about my divorce that I thought would make him feel better, and he slowly just slides my tray right off the table. That was unscripted," he shared. And with that, a classic Michael vs. Toby moment was born.

He and Rainn Wilson were all set for a spinoff of The Office

One of the more memorable episodes of "The Office" took viewers from the cubicles of Dunder Mifflin to the wide-open expanse of Schrute Farm, ancestral home of Rainn Wilson's Dwight Schrute. What viewers who watched that episode might not have realized was that it was meant to be, in TV parlance, a "backdoor pilot" that would serve to set up a Dwight-centric spinoff of "The Office," to be called "The Farm." According to Deadline, the show would have followed Dwight's misadventures running a B&B in his family's beet farm.

As Lieberstein told The Daily Beast, he'd left "The Office" in order to be showrunner of "The Farm," which appeared to be a done deal — until a change of presidents at NBC resulted in the passing on the spinoff. "It was going to settle into a mockumentary about a small family farm, and trying to make it at a time when they're being squeezed out — just how rough it is," Lieberstein said of the aborted sitcom. "It would have old characters and new, and they'd have kept the B&B going. It would have been a lot of fun."

Appearing on "Off the Beat with Brian Baumgartner" podcast, Lieberstein lamented what could have been. "It would have been a really big hit," Lieberstein said. "I don't see how someone could not give 'The Farm' a chance. Not give the Dwight spinoff a chance."

He has a lot of familial connections with The Office

Actors on long-running TV series will often refer to their co-stars as being like family. When it came to Paul Lieberstein's time on "The Office," however, some of his co-workers on the show literally were family. 

Case in point: Paul worked alongside his younger brother, Warren Lieberstein, who served as a writer and producer on numerous episodes of "The Office." When the series first began, Warren was married to Angela Kinsey, who played Dunder Mifflin accountant Angela Martin. As a result, in Paul's scenes with Kinsey, he was actually acting opposite his real-life sister-in law (per TMZ, Kinsey and Warren got divorced in 2010). 

That wasn't all. As CNN recalled, the Lieberstein brothers have a sister, Susanne Daniels. She met comedy writer Greg Daniels while they were both working at "Saturday Night Live," where she was an assistant to head honcho Lorne Michaels and he was a member of the writing staff. In an interview with Suicide Girls, Paul confirmed that his sister, who had then risen to become head of the Lifetime network, was married to the creator of "The Office." That was why, at one point, Paul worked on "The Office" with his brother, his sister-in-law, and his brother-in-law.  

He got his start on a beloved Nickelodeon comedy

After graduating from college with a degree in economics at Hamilton College, Paul Lieberstein landed a job as an auditor at Peat Marwick. It was, however, not exactly his dream job. "I didn't last six months," he told his alma mater's alumni magazine. "It was like watching my soul drain out." What he really wanted to do was write for television, so he began drumming up scripts and comedy sketches on spec, hoping that what he'd written would open doors and land him a writing job. The first show on which he attempted to get hired as a writer, he revealed in an appearance on the "Box Angeles" podcast, was "Sesame Street." Unfortunately, he didn't get a job there, despite his dogged attempts. "I think I really annoyed them, and did not get it," he joked.

Undeterred, he kept hammering away, and finally got himself hired on a different children's show. "Eventually I moved to L.A. and got my first job as a staff writer on 'Clarissa Explains It All,'" he said. Looking back at the experience on writing for the Melissa Joan Hart-starring Nickelodeon comedy, Lieberstein recalled, "there was a feeling over there that you didn't really have to be original because the kids were watching it for the first time, so it was new to them ... we don't have to work that hard for an original story."

Paul Lieberstein also worked on King of the Hill

Following his stint on "Clarissa Explains It All," Paul Lieberstein told the Hamilton College alumni magazine, he landed further writing work on various TV shows before beginning a five-year stint on beloved Fox animated comedy "King of the Hill," co-created by Lieberstein's brother-in-law, Greg Daniels.

When Daniels and Lieberstein went on to "The Office," a fan-favorite episode in which the Dunder Mifflin crew competed in an office Olympiad was inspired by the real-life competition that the "King of the Hill" writing staff held for themselves. As Angela Kinsey (Angela) and Jenna Fischer (Pam) revealed on their "Office Ladies" podcast, the "King of the Hill" writers would go all out, creating an elaborate opening ceremony that included a mock torch lighting. "They marched through the hallways, they had like a banner that each team carried," Kinsey recalled. Events included guessing which of two elevators would open first (a game that made it into the "Office" episode) and a Twinkie-eating contest, in which Lieberstein once placed second.

As the annual "King of the Hill" games evolved, they became increasingly elaborate. Jazz trumpeter Chuck Mangione, who voiced an animated version of himself in the series, also became involved. "[Mangione] flew himself out on his own dime to play at the opening ceremonies — he plays the flugelhorn and the trumpet — because he in fact actually played at the Olympics in Lake Placid," Kinsey revealed.

Paul Lieberstein developed a work from home sitcom

When the COVID-19 pandemic sent employees out of their offices to their homes, the phenomenon gave Paul Lieberstein an idea for a new TV show. As Deadline reported in 2020, Lieberstein partnered with "The Office" producer Ben Silverman to develop a workplace comedy that reflected the new realities of working from home.

"So many of us are jumping on daily Zoom meetings — for work and beyond," Silverman said in a statement. "We are in a new normal and are personally navigating ways to remain connected and productive at work and in our home lives. With the brilliant Paul Lieberstein at the helm, we think we have a series that not only brings humor and comfort during this troubling time but will also be an inventive and enduring workplace comedy for years to come." In his companion statement, Lieberstein joked, "Start with the office comedy, lose the office and you're just left with comedy. The math works."

Two years later, plans for the show had shaped up considerably. According to a May 2022 Deadline report, the sitcom — tentatively titled "Out of Office" — had been picked up by Comedy Central, and had amassed a ridiculously impressive cast including Ken Jeong, Leslie Jones, Jason Alexander, Cheri Oteri, Jay Pharoah, Milana Vayntrub, Paul F. Tompkins, Jim Rash, Chris Gethard, and Lieberstein's one-time "Office" co-star Oscar Nuñez.

Paul Lieberstein almost did his own stunt on The Office

One of Paul Lieberstein's most memorable Toby Flenderson moments in "The Office" took place during an episode in which the Dunder Mifflin gang were forced to work late, and find themselves trapped inside when they realize the gate has been padlocked. As they all sit together, despondent, Toby makes an announcement: after much thought, he's decided to move to Costa Rica. But first, he adds, "I'm just gonna hop the fence and jog home." With that, he trots over to the chain-link fence, easily scales it and jumps over the other side, ninja-like, as his co-workers look on in stunned amazement. 

Mindy Kaling, who was the writer of that episode — titled "Night Out" — answered questions about it in 2008 for the "Office Tally" fan site, where she made an interesting revelation about Toby's big fence jump. "Paul is valiant and shows a quiet bravery in his day-to-day life, but no, he did not do his own stunt," Kaling said. 

While admitting they'd considered letting Lieberstein attempt the stunt, exec producer Greg Daniels dropped a reality bomb about the possible repercussions if the stunt were to go south. As Kaling explained, "Then our boss Greg Daniels weighed the pros and cons of having one of our senior-ist writers out on disability pay because he was in a coma, so we scrapped that idea completely."

Paul Lieberstein based a movie on his own pain

In 2018, Paul Lieberstein made the leap from television to movies with his indie film "Song of Back and Neck," in which he was star, screenwriter and director. Described by The New York Times in its review as a "self-help manual disguised as a comedy," the film chronicles how Lieberstein's character, paralegal Fred Trolleycar, comes to realize his debilitating neck and back pain is the result of psychological issues, not physical ones.

As it happened, "Song of Back and Neck" is a prime example of the "write what you know" philosophy, given that the plot was inspired by Lieberstein's own journey to wellness after years of unsuccessfully battling his own painful neck and back issues. "In hindsight, it was just so ridiculous how clear it was that it was psychological," Lieberstein told The Daily Beast. "I could even connect it to an event, where I couldn't get up from my chair for two or three hours — like getting script notes on a fax machine."

Healing his back pain by confronting his anxieties was a theme Lieberstein felt would make a great movie. As he told Slashfilm, "It also felt like everybody I knew either had back or neck pain themselves or was very close to someone who did. And no one was talking about it all, so I thought, let's go for it."

How he felt about trying to replace Steve Carell

When Steve Carell announced he'd be leaving "The Office," NBC worried the star's absence would further erode the show's already diminishing ratings. Appearing on "Off the Beat with Brian Baumgartner" — the podcast hosted by his former co-star, who played accountant Kevin Malone — Paul Lieberstein confirmed that while he was showrunner the network insisted on a well-known actor to fill the void. "Which we fought," Liberstein said. "All of TV was losing its ratings. ... We didn't know how much of a hit we would take with Steve going, but we took a pretty big one."

An array of A-list comedy talent was introduced, including Will Ferrell, Catherine Tate, Ray Romano, Will Arnett, James Spader, and, most intriguingly, Ricky Gervais, who reprised David Brent, the character in the original British iteration of "The Office" on whom Michael Scott is based. Ultimately, Spader's character, Robert California, became the new boss. However, not everyone in the cast was happy with the new hire. 

Appearing on Baumgartner's previous podcast, "An Oral History of The Office," Jenna Fischer said she wished the existing ensemble cast was trusted to carry the show, believing the decision to bring on guest stars as an unnecessary ratings-driven swing. Lieberstein was taken aback by her comments, telling Baumgartner during his appearance, "Even when people came in, they weren't the focus. ... So I'm a little surprised at Jenna's comment." In his signature deadpan, he added, I'm not mad, just really, really, really hurt."

Paul Lieberstein wrote an audio-only sci-fi comedy

Beyond television and film, Paul Lieberstein has also adapted his talents for the burgeoning genre of audio-only entertainment. The result was "Middlespace," an amalgam of comedy and sci-fi that he created for Audible. 

In an Audible podcast interview, Lieberstein said it all started when he came up with an idea on a whim during a theater festival. "I just started writing little snippets of dialogue on an envelope ... and I just thought, 'This is a fun character.'" As the years progressed, he'd occasionally come back to that character, writing more. Eventually, he realized he'd written about 80 pages. "I was like, 'Uh, this is something. Not sure what to do with it, but it's something,'" he recalled. As he honed what he'd written, it evolved into "Middlespace," the story of a starship captain (voiced by Will Forte), disenchanted with his job, who's unsuspectingly lured into a trap that forces him to become an unlikely hero. 

Not only is "Middlespace" a very different kind of project for Lieberstein, it's also one that's brought him immense pleasure. "It's had its own process, and it was driven solely by joy," he explained. "I sat there and would only write to tickle myself and just try to be amused and have fun writing. I had a rule that if I wasn't enjoying the scene, if I wasn't having fun writing it, people wouldn't have fun listening to it."

Paul Lieberstein's net worth may prove surprising

It's a pretty safe bet that Paul Lieberstein has never looked back with regret about leaving his job as an auditor in order to write for television. In fact, as he told the "Box Angeles" podcast, his very first paid TV writing job on Nickelodeon's "Clarissa Explains It All" gave him his first taste of the financial disparity between regular-job paychecks and inflated Hollywood salaries. That was particularly true, he explained, because "Clarissa" writers were hired under the auspices of the powerful Writers Guild of America union. "It was insane," Liebertein said. "In fact, I have never felt richer than when I went from, you know, basically nothing or a regular salary to the Writers Guild minimum."

Since then, Lieberstein has worked on bigger shows and carved out a niche for himself as a top comedy writer, director and producer — and been paid handsomely for it. Celebrity Net Worth estimated Lieberstein's wealth to be a respectable $14 million. 

One thing that would definitely add a few more million to Lieberstein's net worth would be a revival/reboot of "The Office." And while he's not completely averse to the notion, he does feel that if it were to happen, it should be within strictly defined parameters. "I think a one-off special would be the way to go," he told The Daily Beast. "Some event that brings everyone back together." Let's cross those fingers, because while we may not be superstitious, we, like Michael Scott, are a little stitious