Why Hollywood won't cast B.J. Novak anymore

You probably recognize Benjamin Joseph Manaly Novak — known professionally as B.J. Novak — as Ryan from NBC's The Office. Maybe you also recognize him from some of his supporting roles and cameo appearances in popular films and television shows. Nevertheless, we haven't seen much of B.J. Novak in recent years… and you've probably been left wondering where the actor went.

Hollywood hasn't been casting Novak very much lately, but probably not for the reasons you think. In fact, he's been quite busy. Here's why you haven't seen much of everyone's favorite temp since The Office closed its doors. (Spoiler alert! It may or may not have something to do with a Hollywood ecstasy factory.)

He was always more stand-up comedian than actor

Before Novak flexed his acting chops as temp Ryan Howard on NBC's hit mockumentary series The Office, he was an up-and-coming stand-up comedian. 

After debuting at The Hollywood Youth Hostel in Los Angeles, Novak quickly moved on to making audiences laugh at noteworthy venues like The Improv, The Laugh Factory, Comedy & Magic Club and M Bar. In addition to his live stand-up, Novak performed on Late Night with Conan O'Brien and Comedy Central's Premium Blend, while also becoming even more well-known as Ashton Kutcher's sidekick on MTV's celebrity prank show Punk'd. In 2003, Variety named him one of its "Ten Comics to Watch."

Given his start in stand-up, it's no surprise that the acting bug's bite didn't have much lasting effect.

He was never a leading man

Though Novak has played significant roles on The Office, Pfc. Smithson Utivich in Inglourious Basterds, and Alistair Smythe in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, he's never really been a leading actor. Instead, his acting career has been primarily comprised of small-time supporting characters and brief cameos.

Some of Novak's smaller roles include playing an unnamed desk attendant in Unaccompanied Minors and a creepy young doctor in Knocked Up, in addition to voicing Baker in The Smurfs and The Smurfs 2. He also appeared in one episode each of Community, Arthur, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (where he purportedly runs a Hollywood ecstasy factory). He also appeared with a small but important role in 2013's period drama Saving Mr. Banks and acted alongside Michael Keaton in 2016's The Founder.

He transitioned into writing and producing

After graduating from Harvard, writing for the short-lived Bob Saget-sitcom Raising Dad, and pranking celebrities on MTV's Punk'd, Novak got his big break after being spotted by The Office's executive producer Greg Daniels during a stand-up routine. ”He started off with this joke," Daniels explained to The Boston Globe, "where he said, 'I just graduated from college, but I didn't learn much. I had a double major. Psychology and reverse psychology.' I immediately knew I wanted to do something with him." Of course, Novak went on to play temp Ryan Howard.

The Office actually marked both Novak's big breakthrough, as well as his transition from acting in front of the camera to working behind the scenes. Throughout the show's lifespan — and even more so during the show's later stages — he actually wrote and produced many episodes. When his long-time friend and co-star Mindy Kaling left The Office to star in The Mindy Project, Novak followed and took on the job as one of the series' producers… and he hasn't been as interested in acting since.

He's found success as an author

Outside of show business, Novak has found tremendous success as an author.

In 2013, Novak signed a lucrative two-book deal with Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group — to the tune of seven figures — around the same time his short "The Man Who Invented the Calendar" appeared in the Shouts & Murmurs section of The New Yorker's November 4, 2013 issue. His first book, a collection of short stories called One More Thing, received critical praise for its intelligent satire and "tender heart."

Novak hasn't just found success with an adult audience, however. The multi-talented writer has also penned the bestselling children's book The Book With No Pictures — a strange prospect for young readers. "I wanted to write a book that would introduce the youngest of kids to the idea that words can be their allies — that the right words can be as fun, exciting, and ridiculous as any pictures," Novak explained. "Also, I can't draw."

He's more interested in directing

After playing a supporting role in Quentin Tarantino's satirical war film Inglourious Basterds, Novak realized that, in addition to writing and producing, he's also interested in directing. "After I acted in his film," he told The Independent, "I knew I wanted to direct. It feels like a natural extension — to take something you've created all the way to the finishing line. That's why I visit schools now with my children's book. I get real joy when I take my work directly to the reader."

Novak already has more than a few directorial credits to his name, thanks to The Office and The Mindy Project, and we're excited to see what's next for him.

He's busy developing smartphone apps

Do you love lists? Of course do you — and so does Novak!

When he's not writing bestselling children's books or working on a production, Novak creates smartphone apps. In 2015, Novak and team launched "The List App" — a platform for creating and sharing…well…lists. Users could create virtually any list that came to mind, from ranking episodes of Deadwood to organizing essential travel tips to listing their favorite Looper features.

In 2016, they rebranded the app with an admittedly more trendy name, "li.st," before shutting it down in 2017. The team is currently working on a new app, so keep your eyes peeled.

He's busy investing in lab-grown meat

Novak isn't only investing in smartphone apps — he's also buying stock in what he hopes to be the sustainable food of the future: lab-grown meat. "This sounds sci-fi, but I think it's a real shot at changing everything," Novak explained to WWD. "They take the cells of animal meat in a petri dish and grow and grow and grow it. The same as you can graft one apple into a million different apple trees, you could just get one unlucky cow and feed the world forever."

He wants to be like Trump

Since he was a child, Novak has wanted to be like the now-45th President of the United States — which is to say, he wanted to be an ultra-successful real-estate developer like Donald Trump.

"Culturally, he's an icon," Novak explained to The Guardian. "I think a secret aspect of [his popularity] is how familiar he is. He's not a crazy man on the street, he's the crazy uncle that's been at your Thanksgiving for 30 f***ing years! He's been there forever. So I think people feel safe with him considering how outrageous he is…There is some subliminal comfort with him."

He wants to run for mayor someday

Though it's unlikely we'll ever see Novak hitting the campaign trail in the hopes of becoming the President of the United States, don't be surprised if you see him running for Mayor of Los Angeles someday. "I'm from Boston," Novak explained to The Independent, "but I live in the Hollywood Hills. I've come to love the local side of L.A. much more than the Hollywood side. I have dreams of running for mayor someday."

Unsurprisingly, the comedian, actor, writer, producer, and director isn't interested in politics as much as he is in giving back to his favorite neighborhood. "I'm not hugely political," he explained, "I just love my town."