Every fan of NBC’s American adaptation of The Office has a favorite Michael Scott moment, or Pam and Jim moment, or Dwight Schrute moment, but one top character is often overlooked. Yet, there is evidence to support that B.J. Novak as Ryan Howard has provided some of the funniest moments in the mockumentary series.
The temp-turned-corporate-douchebag-turned-bowling-alley-attendant-turned-salesman has seen an intriguing arc during his time at Dunder Mifflin from his incendiary kitchen mishap to his office romance with Kelly Kapoor. Ryan Howard may not have the oafish likability of Michael Scott or the endearingly misconstrued confidence of Dwight Schrute, yet that is part of the secret to his comedic appeal. The aura of pathetic desperation and cold social skills in B.J. Novak’s performance help you laugh harder at his pain.
So, as you begin your latest Netflix binge of The Office (you know you are) before it passes over to NBC’s streaming service Peacock, keep a lookout for B.J. Novak’s most painful (and, by that, I mean “funniest”) moments. The following is a helpful guide to the best episodes featuring Ryan Howard.
Pilot (Season 1, Episode 1)
In the moment that started it all, B.J. Novak’s Ryan Howard walked into Dunder Mifflin, not savvy to the fact that this paper company would become his life. Acting as a sort of audience vehicle into the world of the series, the new temp is excitedly introduced to the office culture of the Scranton branch by regional manager Michael Scott (Steve Carell).
His first scene in the pilot episode of The Office also marks, supposedly, the peak of Ryan’s likability in the series, as he meekly attempts to fit in by capitalizing on the dessert-related comedic opportunity sparked by Jim Halpert’s (John Krasinski) stapler-in-gelatin prank on Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson) by telling Michael that he should have put Jim in “custardy.” Michael’s laugh could also be interpreted as the beginning of his man-crush on Ryan.
The Fire (Season 2, Episode 4)
This is a kind of a reverse take on the typical “bottle episode” that sees the Office cast spending the unusual majority of the episode outside the main office setting. Dundler Mifflin’s Scranton branch is forced to evacuate the premises when a fire breaks out in the kitchen, leading to a questioning of who is responsible for the emergency and a series of revealing ice breaker party games, courtesy of Jim.
One of the funniest answers to the gang’s “Who Would You Do?” game is Michael admitting he would “definitely have sex with Ryan ‘cause he’s gonna own his own business,” inciting a masterful expression of awkward discomfort from B.J. Novak. But the crown jewel of this episode is Dwight Schrute’s Ryan-damning rewrite of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” upon discovery that Ryan Howard putting pita on the oven setting in the toaster-oven led to the fire.
Take Your Daughter To Work Day (Season 2, Episode 18)
It was clear to any viewer of NBC’s The Office in its prime that Dundler Mifflin’s Scranton branch was no place to bring children, which is exactly why the Season 2 episode in which the employees bring their children to work. The parents of the office endure their offsprings’ misbehaving while the then-childless ones struggle to appeal to the young ones, except Michael who unexpectedly hits it off with the daughter of his enemy, Toby Flenderson (Paul Lieberstein).
Easily the funniest scene in the episode, however, is when Ryan Howard finds himself to be an unwanted object of affection for Stanley Hudson’s (Leslie David Baker) flirtatious teenage daughter. Jealous Kelly Kapoor (Mindy Kaling) informs Stanley, who gives him a furious lecture, which a visibly shaken Ryan later describes to the camera crew as one of the most frightening moments of his life.
Initiation (Season 3, Episode 5)
In one of the few episodes of The Office that sees B.J. Novak as the central star, Ryan Howard has recently been hired as a salesman at Dunder Mifflin. As part of his titular "initiation," Dwight takes the new full-timer on what Ryan believes is a sales call, only to find himself at Dwight's family beet farm.
B.J. Novak wrote this episode, which also features Office writer and future Parks and Recreation creator Michael Schur as Dwight's cousin Mose, whom Dwight forces Ryan to wrestle as part of his initiation. Eventually, after Ryan angrily refusing to put up with Dwight's unnecessary lessons, Dwight finally takes Ryan to his first actual sales call, which does not go well. But Dwight inspires him to retaliate in the form of egging the building, making a rare bonding moment for the unlikely pair.
Launch Party (Season 4, Episode 3)
After being promoted at the end of The Office’s previous season, Ryan Howard is pumped to launch Dunder Mifflin Infinity, the company’s new website of which he oversaw the development. However, Michael is bitter that Ryan did not invite him to the New York launch party, inspiring Dwight to compete with the website in paper sales, which also inspires a new prank from Jim and Pam.
The “Launch Party” episode is a treat with Michael taking a young pizza delivery guy hostage and new couple Jim and Pam Beesly (Jenna Fisher) reminiscing about when they first knew they liked each other as key moments. Not to mention, it sees corporate Ryan Howard at the absolute peak of his douchebaggery, from putting his feet up on a colleague’s desk for an interview with the documentary crew to him checking himself out in the camera live-streaming the launch party. It gives you reason to earnestly root for Dwight to outwit the machine.
Weight Loss (Season 5, Episode 1)
The one-hour Season 5 premiere of The Office sees Michael trying to motivate the team to get fit for an interoffice weight-loss competition. The most memorable moment of the episode, however, has nothing to do with weight loss, but is when Jim and Pam, now star-crossed lovers after Pam’s leaves for a New York art school, finally get engaged.
Of course, we cannot forget our man of the hour, Ryan Howard, who, following his arrest for fraud that epically ended his employment with Dunder Mifflin in disgrace, is back working as a temp. Michael hires Ryan to take Pam’s place at the receptionist desk as a charitable effort, but probably more as an excuse to show off his new goatee, which looks much like his own.
Dream Team (Season 5, Episode 20)
Having walked away from Dunder Mifflin after 15 years of service with questionable intentions to start his own new paper company, Michael is joined by Pam to put together the staff, considering no one else from the Scranton branch was willing to join. They decide to recruit a former colleague of theirs with a new career that is a dramatic departure in paper sales.
It appears that things have not worked out at the temp agency for Ryan Howard, now a blond-haired bowling alley attendant. When Michael and Pam offer him at a position at Michael Scott Paper Company, not only does he seize the opportunity, he leaves the establishment on the spot, but not without nabbing a few pairs of bowling shoes on his way out, proving that he has still failed to learn his lesson.
You may not watch The Office just to see B.J. Novak as Ryan Howard. At least now when you do, you may have more appreciation for the character’s most memorable moments.
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Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children's story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in almost any article about Batman.