Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Best Running Gags On The Office

Like "Friends," "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," and "Seinfeld" before it, NBC's "The Office" is just about as popular now as it was during its initial run from 2005-2013. And who can blame audiences for refusing to let go? It's one of the most rewatchable shows ever made, largely because the characters in this side-splitting comedy are just so well developed, and the writing is so sharp. Watching Michael Scott cluelessly annoy his workers with his antics or Jim and Pam fall in love or get one over on Dwight — who never saw it coming — just never gets old.

And like any other sitcom worth its weight in gold, "The Office" is a masterclass in the art of the running gag. But of course, that means competition is stiff for the title of best recurring joke ever. So which ones are in the running? Get ready to laugh. We've assembled a (definitely non-exhaustive) list of the best running gags on "The Office."

'Bob Vance, Vance Refrigeration'

Whenever Phyllis' husband, Bob Vance, is seen throughout the run of the show, he's doing one of three things — putting Michael in his place ("If you lay a finger on Phyllis, I'll kill you"), getting way too handsy with his partner in public to the point of grossing everyone out (who can forget their double date with Jim and Pam, when they went at it in the bathroom?), and introducing himself to everyone not simply by his name, like a normal person, but as "Bob Vance, Vance Refrigeration." We get that a small business owner should take every opportunity to market their company, but come on, Bob. Don't be that guy. 

He first, and most memorably, does this when Phyllis introduces him as her boyfriend to Kevin, Stanley, and Ryan during an office Christmas party. After those three introduce themselves by their actual names, Bob responds to each one with a handshake and, "Bob Vance, Vance Refrigeration," as if they weren't standing right there when he said it two seconds ago. When he's done, Ryan asks what is quite possibly the most Jim line ever not spoken by Jim: "What line of work you in, Bob?" It's unclear if Bob gets the joke.

Mose and Schrute Farms

Dwight Schrute is one of the weirdest characters on the show, and that's saying a lot. Much of his bizarre behavior can be traced back to his upbringing. Rather than growing up in the suburbs of Philly or Scranton, he was raised almost like the Amish, on a beet farm on the outskirts of town, which he now runs with his cousin Mose (played hilariously by Michael Schur, who produced/wrote "The Office" and is responsible for shows like "Parks and Recreation," "The Good Place," and "Brooklyn Nine-Nine").

Most of what we know about Schrute Farms and the Schrute family comes from Dwight himself, who drops little family tidbits into conversations like they're the most normal things in the world. Among many other things, we learn that Dwight was shunned for years for not saving the excess grease from a tuna can, that the youngest Schrute child actually raises their siblings, that Dwight's grandfather fought for the Nazis in World War II, and that it's family custom to invite people to funerals by throwing dirt in their face. You get the point.

And if you think Dwight is strange, at least he gets away from the farm. His cousin Mose, who's there 24/7, looks and acts like he lives in the 1600s. We mainly see him when we see the farm itself, like when Jim and Pam spend a night there after finding out it doubles as a bed and breakfast. Every time, Mose creeps everyone out. Except us. We're laughing too hard.

Andy went to Cornell

When he was first introduced, Andy "the Nard Dog" Bernard — played tremendously by Ed Helms — was icing on the cake of the already stellar third season. The inept salesman was loud, rude, constantly distracting his coworkers with obnoxiously mediocre a cappella, prone to angry outbursts, and lacking self-awareness to the degree that even Michael Scott, the undisputed king of having no self-awareness, was grossed out. As Dwight put it later on, Andy was a "preppy freak" and the "office pariah" that nobody liked. In his defense, though, did you know that he went to Cornell?

It's a fact he never fails to bring up, even long after the character was rewritten to be more tolerable so they could keep him around for the long haul without him exhausting audiences and sucking all the narrative air out of the room with his antics. And we got more background on Andy's time at the Ivy League school as the show went on since it was such a huge part of his identity. In one hilarious scene, he arranged to interview Dwight, who was trying to get into the school to spite Andy. In another, Andy almost blew a potential sale by angrily demanding the target remove the sweater of a rival school before realizing he went too far and (unconvincingly) announcing it was a joke. It's cringey stuff, but it never fails to be funny. Also, hey, did you know that Andy went to Cornell?

Michael keeps trashing the warehouse

"I can and I have," Michael says proudly in one Season 3 episode ... to a chorus of jeers and exasperated sighs after warehouse foreman Darryl Philbin asks him if he's allowed to run the dangerous heavy warehouse equipment despite having no training and lacking the proper licenses. It's proof Michael hasn't been paying attention at all to the warehouse safety seminar that Darryl is hosting.

The unspoken but obvious truth here, of course, is that Darryl is only hosting this seminar in the first place because rather than working, Michael is constantly going downstairs and wreaking havoc, using big vehicles to knock over shelves filled with supplies and gear and making messes and leaving them to the warehouse crew to sort out. And when he's not doing that, he's hosting elaborate events down there (like auctions, roasts, garage sales, casino nights, and even a bachelor party), and in many cases, he's actively endangering the safety of the crew. In that very episode, Darryl is on crutches because Michael knocked the ladder out from underneath him, causing him to fall and hurt his leg. 

But no matter how many times Darryl and his team demand Michael stop his antics and treat them and their rules with respect, he blows them off. It's all just a bit of fun at the end of the day, right? Especially when other people have to clean up after you? It's a hilarious bit that keeps on giving. But seriously kids, don't try this stuff at home. 

Ryan's business schemes

Perhaps no character on "The Office" has gone through quite as much of an evolution as Ryan Howard. Jim's monopoly on the role of audience stand-in/everyman meant that Ryan, introduced in the pilot as a seemingly normal temp and straight man character, doesn't last very long in that capacity. He eventually becomes a business school grad, then a douchebag (and criminal) VP, then a washed-up, lazy loser whose mom drives him to work, then an obnoxious hipster who — when he's not cruelly stringing Kelly Kapoor along — is always roping marks (mainly Michael) into various, going-nowhere business ideas to try to recapture the glory of being a top dog in the corporate world. None of them pan out.

In one episode, when Pam asks him to just donate money to her and Jim in lieu of a wedding present, he tricks her into giving him money instead, saying that he has a guaranteed way of predicting the outcomes of college basketball games and can multiply her investment. It's never brought up again, but we're guessing he doesn't deliver. Later on, Ryan invents WUPHF, a program that delivers messages via every conceivable electronic medium, including faxes, emails, home phones, cellphones, and all your social media accounts. Doesn't sound annoying at all. He's eventually forced to sell the company when all the coworkers he scammed into investing demand their money back.

Assistant to the regional manager

If Dwight Schrute has one defining characteristic, other than being a socially clueless moron who thinks he's a badass, it's his unquenchable lust for power. Well, to a point. It's not like he's after the presidency. Instead, he defines himself by his pursuit of the office manager's position. Shoot for the stars, we guess.

At one point, he betrays Michael — who he usually adores — by asking Jan to fire the boss and give him the job instead. At other points throughout the show, he actually achieves his goal, only to have it snatched away after a few short days on the job, like when Michael returns at the end of Season 3 or when he fires a gun by mistake, nearly deafening Andy and forcing Jo Bennett to take the job away from him yet again.

In between these cruelly brief glimpses of true might, Dwight has to make do with whatever scraps of authority Michael tosses his way, like arranging a holiday work schedule or selecting a healthcare plan (both assignments are taken away from him when he fails). But most notably, it's his position title. In reality, he's a salesperson. But he'd never introduce himself that way, instead boasting that he's Dwight Schrute, assistant regional manager. Unfortunately for him, if Michael or Jim are around, they'll be the first to point out that he's forgetting some important words. Sadly, "assistant to the regional manager" just doesn't have the same ring to it.

Michael's man-crush on Ryan

One of the hallmarks of a great show is that the main characters all have unique relationships with each other that deepen their own identities and individual narratives. Jim and Pam are best friends in love. Jim and Dwight are frenemies whose relationship revolves around pranks. Kelly and Ryan have a relationship every bit as dysfunctional as that of Michael and Jan, his former boss.

But maybe the strangest pairing here, as well as one of the funniest, is Michael's inexplicable, one-sided man crush on Ryan Howard. Michael frequently makes inappropriate remarks in public about being attracted to Ryan and clearly thinks the kid is something beyond special (which ... no, he isn't). It's never made clear if there's any kind of sexual undertone, but it's sometimes implied. Ryan never reciprocates any of this, instead shaping his relationship with Michael around whatever is most advantageous to him. He puts up with Michael while working as a temp, struggles to control him when he becomes VP and thus Michael's boss, and takes advantage of him later on when he's disgraced and Michael is the only person foolish enough to give him a second chance. He later exploits Michael's love for him by roping him into various harebrained business schemes, like WUPHF, that never pan out.

It's sad on paper, but watching Ryan cringe as Michael comes onto him, heaps undeserved praise in his direction, and stares at him through the blinds of his office is never not funny.

'That's what she said'

For some reason, and despite his own employees rolling their eyes whenever they see him, Michael seems to think he's a one-of-a-kind comedic genius who lights up whatever room he walks into with sharp wit and brilliant, biting humor. Usually, though, his idea of a joke is just forwarding inappropriate emails to his staff, bullying people, making sexist or racist remarks, or reacting to everything anyone says that could be conceivably twisted into a sex joke with his infamous catchphrase: "That's what she said."

It's not funny on the face of it. It's a lazy, hackneyed one-liner that's been around forever and makes people groan. After all, roughly half of all speech is vulnerable to this if you're dealing with someone as childish as Michael Scott. 

But that's why it works. The joke isn't that it takes some kind of deep talent for observational comedy to say "that's what she said" in response to such benign lines as "why did you get it so big" or "no, thanks, I'm good." It's that Michael is an immature buffoon who thinks he has to fill every moment of silence with bad jokes and who will never understand why this inappropriate, unfunny behavior keeps getting him into trouble at work. It'd be annoying in real life. But it's hilarious to watch everyone's reactions from our side of the screen.

The Jim face

Breaking the fourth wall is par for the course for mockumentaries since the characters are constantly being interviewed and thus have to acknowledge being filmed. "The Office" popularized the tactic (although they admittedly took it way too far later on, with the regrettable, immersion-shattering reveal that Pam and Jim had been friends the boom mic guy for years). But for most of the show, they perfected the narrative device, especially with the iconic "Jim Face."

You know the one. Someone does or says something ridiculous, and Jim shoots the camera a sly, tight-lipped look from the back of the room, as if to remind the audience that he's right there with you and fully realizes how absurd this all is, even if nobody else in the room does. He's the everyman, after all, even more than his partner-in-crime turned wife Pam or early versions of Ryan, and therefore, it's his noble duty to take advantage of the mockumentary format with this endlessly memeable camera glance.

Michael hates Toby

Michael might be a rude, cringey moron, but he always means well. He genuinely loves his employees, so none of the offensive, selfish things he does to them comes from a truly mean-spirited place.

Well, almost none. As he makes abundantly clear multiple times, he does not consider Toby Flenderson — the branch's corporate HR liaison who always rains on Michael's stupid and dangerous parades with a cold dose of reality — to be a member of the Scranton "family."

His treatment of the red-headed office sad sack often goes way past rude or passive aggressive and is generally downright cruel. In one episode, he tells the whole office that if he had two bullets and was in a room with Toby, Hitler, and Osama bin Laden, he would shoot Toby twice and let Hitler and bin Laden live. In another, he's so upset that Toby's returned after a brief stay in Costa Rica that he tries to frame him for drug possession and have him arrested. In yet another, he accidentally bonds with Toby during a mandated therapy session (after Michael publicly spanks his rude nephew, who was interning for the branch) before realizing they're getting along and viciously sabotaging the rest of their time.

You can't help but feel bad for Toby, especially because nobody in the office ever seems to stick up for him. But man, is it funny to watch Michael see his archenemy return and react unforgettably with, "No, God! No, God, please no. No. Noooooo!"


Creed Bratton, who shares a name with the very real singer-songwriter who plays him, is rarely seen or heard. And while minor background characters like Meredith, Angela, Oscar, and Phyllis are all eventually fleshed out and have whole storylines centered around them, Creed never gets this treatment. Instead, aside from that brief moment where he becomes regional manager, he's permanently condemned to the background.

And that's exactly why he works. To humanize this bizarre man, who simultaneously doesn't appear to know what's going on and who seems to be expertly scamming everyone in the room, would be to ruin one of sitcom history's greatest and most effectively used secret weapons.

Rather than driving the story forward, Creed is used to simply season an episode with lines or behavior so hilariously insane that you don't even have time to realize how offensive it sometimes is. In one episode, it's revealed he has a side hustle making fake IDs for underage drinkers. In another, Jim catches him on the roof with a remote control helicopter for reasons that are never explained. Whenever cops show up, he runs. He's simultaneously a confused old man, a criminal with a never defined but seemingly serious and extensive rap sheet (that definitely involves drugs and very possibly murder), and some kind of bizarre, possibly homeless stoner who seems to think he's living in a blissful dream. What he is more than anything else, though, is hilarious.

Jim's pranks on Dwight

The pranks started simple (for Jim anyway). He put Dwight's stapler in Jell-O, convinced him it was Friday when it was Thursday, impersonated Dwight, and locked him in the conference room when he was being annoying. But like anyone addicted to anything, Jim stopped being satisfied by the easy stuff, like paying everyone in the office to call Dwight "Dwayne" for a day, and instead, he got increasingly sophisticated with his practical jokes.

He hid Dwight's entire desk and hooked it all back up in the men's bathroom. He dragged a spool of useless red wire outside and into the power lines, knowing Dwight would go to any lengths to find out where it led. And he wrote an entire book full of fake tips for garden party etiquette, fully aware that Dwight would buy and read it and then embarrass himself at the company's upcoming garden event. Jim even once recruited an actor to play him and went to outrageous lengths to make it seem like the actor had been him all along, making Dwight question his own sanity. If anyone's losing their grip on reality, though, it's probably the guy who shows up to the office well before dawn and works for hours to make these pranks a reality.

Regardless, they always left us satisfied and smiling. Even when the show's quality arguably dipped in the later seasons, Jim's pranks on Dwight remained a dependably hilarious highlight. It's one of the best running gags in sitcom history.