In his stand-up act, B. J. Novak has questioned the showbiz definition of a triple threat. "That is a term for somebody who can act and sing and dance," he observes. "To me that sounds like the least threatening guy alive."
Novak knows whereof he speaks. He is, by any measure, a genuine triple threat.
He's best known as an actor from the NBC sitcom The Office, on which he plays Ryan Howard, the guy whose professional rises and falls have been so cataclysmic, they make the Roman Empire seem stable.
Novak also has written some of the series' classic episodes, including "Diversity Day" and "Sexual Harassment."
Then there's his wry work as a comic, which brings him to the Music Box at the Borgata in Atlantic City June 20.
Novak's stand-up act, which he's been honing since he arrived in Los Angeles right out of college at 21, really jump-started his acting career.
It certainly made an impression on Greg Daniels, a former Simpsons writer who was then adapting Ricky Gervais' quirky British comedy, The Office, for American TV.
"He started off with this joke where he said, 'I just graduated from college, but I didn't learn much. I had a double major: psychology and reverse psychology,' " Daniels has said. "I immediately knew I wanted to do something with him."
"I had been bombing at coffeehouses for 18 months," says Novak, 29. "That was the night that changed things."
While developing the Ryan character - temp turned executive turned convict turned living-with-Mom loser - Novak has become one of The Office's most prolific writers. (He coined The Office catchphrase "That's what she said.")
"He's one of the most consistently, daringly funny guys that I've ever worked with," says Paul Lieberstein, the executive producer who also plays Toby on the show. "He can come up with these jokes that are so strong, we'll want to build episodes around them."
Many of Novak's stand-up gags come to him while he's working in the writers' room at The Office.
"You end up with all these ideas that don't quite fit into the characters' lives," he says. "So I'll jot them down on a pad, or enter them on my phone or write them on script margins and then I'll tear off little pieces of paper."
He's not tied to his material. In fact, one of his bits consists of reading new jokes off index cards and, based on audience reaction, tossing the rejects into a garbage can he brings on stage.
"If [the joke] fails spectacularly, it may stay in the act. If it's just a waste of everybody's time, it will go in the trash can," he says.
"Lately fans have been rifling through the cans after the act and getting me to sign [the cards]. It's the comedy equivalent of The Basement Tapes.
A native of Newton, Mass., Novak is a Red Sox fan. But he's aware that being identified as Ryan Howard can only be an asset in Philadelphia.
"I'm hoping that will add to the ticket sales, thanks to confused fans," he says. Of the Phillies slugger, he jokes, "We do look a lot alike, which only adds to the confusion. And we both have bobbleheads."
By bizarre coincidence, The Office has reunited Novak with one of his Newton homeboys. He was a Little League teammate of John Krasinski, who plays Jim on the sitcom. In fact the two went all the way through high school together.
What are the odds?
"Sometimes when this feels too good to be true, I think that if this were all a dream, that would be what should have tipped me off," Novak says. "I'd wake up saying, 'I was in this incredible TV show and it was a big hit and the star was John Krasinski from high school. Isn't that weird?' "
Playing Ryan Howard has opened other doors for Novak, including being cast in Quentin Tarantino's World War II saga Inglourious Basterds, starring Brad Pitt.
"I got a phone call that Quentin Tarantino wanted to meet me and discuss a role in his new movie," he says. "I have the opposite of most people's superstition: As soon as something like this happens, I tell everyone. Then the meeting got postponed and I figured, 'Well, that was that.' "
Except that Novak was sent a script and Tarantino, a fan of The Office, particularly Ryan's awkward exchanges with Kelly, rescheduled.
"We talked for about 45 minutes, which at the speed Tarantino talks is about three hours with anyone else," he says.
Novak was eventually cast as Private Utivich.
"He's a Jewish American soldier from Manhattan who hasn't learned to drive and is nonetheless assigned the role of chauffeur in the big mission," Novak says. "I don't know how much of that backstory will make it into the final film. I may end up just being the soldier in the background who looks like Ryan from The Office."
At least he got to attend the premiere of Inglourious Basterds in Cannes last month, although he found the illustrious film festival to be a distillation of the most superficial and pretentious elements in the movie industry.
"It was great to see and I will name-drop it my whole life," he says. "But it was not the kind of thing I signed up to do."
He had a far more enjoyable time weeks earlier at the White House Correspondents dinner.
"Obama was very funny," he says. "He has a great sense of timing and how far to push things. If the presidential thing doesn't work out, I'm sure he has a future at the Borgata."
Novak is in the same enviable boat: If this acting thing doesn't work out, he has a lot of other options to fall back on.