THE FICTIONAL Ryan Howard wants to make sure that there are no misunderstandings about where the real Ryan Howard will be tomorrow night.
"I don't want anyone to mistake us," insisted comic-actor B.J. Novak, who portrays the make-believe Howard on the hilarious NBC-TV sitcom "The Office," during a recent phone call. "I don't want to face the wrath of people at the Borgata!"
Of course, it would be pretty tough for anyone to mistake the 29-year-old Newton, Mass., native for the Phillies' slugging first baseman. While Novak probably can't hit a curveball, it's doubtful that Howard could have succeeded in show business the way Novak has since he first landed in Hollywood as a 21-year-old writing wunderkind, although he acknowledged it would "probably be easier for [Howard]" to do what he does than vice versa.
Or perhaps not.
Back in 2001, Novak, who headlines tomorrow at the Big B, was yet another in a seamlessly endless line of Harvard Lampoon staffers (including Conan O'Brien and a zillion TV writers) who were recruited by film and television producers to weave their comedic magic for big bucks.
Right out of the chute, he landed a gig on the writing staff of "Raising Dad," an utterly forgettable (and short-lived) sitcom starring Temple alum Bob Saget. His experience was less than fulfilling.
"Being a writer was not all that I hoped it would be," he recalled, noting the blandness of the scripts that the show's scribes created. "So I started writing in the margins of the scripts all the jokes I knew would never get on TV."
Ultimately, Novak realized that he'd written enough gags to comprise a stand-up comedy act. So he plunged into the Los Angeles comedy-club scene. "It was exhilarating," he said. "Even when I was bombing, it was exciting." It was also a way for him to keep working.
"I couldn't get another writing job; nobody was interested in a failed 'Raising Dad' writer," he said.
Ultimately, Novak, who identified such offbeat, cerebral comics as fellow Bostonian Steven Wright and the late Mitch Hedberg as being among his comedy influences, became a poster boy for the concept of "be careful what you wish for, you just might get it."
Had "Raising Dad" been a hit, he never would have been forced to pursue a stand-up career. And had he not gone that route, he would never have been discovered by TV honcho Greg Daniels who, at the time, was developing "The Office," a British series, for American television.
Daniels was floored by Novak's act and offered him the role of Ryan - who, Novak said, was not named for the Phils' superstar first baseman, regardless of what local legend holds.
For those who (inexplicably) are not fanatically devoted to "The Office," Novak's character is one of the most beleaguered figures in a cast full of fictional losers. His Ryan has gone from temporary worker to regional exec to accidental arsonist to drug abuser to convicted (for fraud) felon. So what could possibly be in store for Ryan when the new season kicks off in the fall?
"We were just discussing [the character's fate] five minutes before [this interview]," he said. He added that nothing has yet been decided, "but we can do anything we want to do."
Chances are, whatever fate and the show's writers, including Novak, have in store for Ryan, his future won't be nearly as bright as that of the guy who plays him. Besides the upcoming season of "The Office," Novak also has a fairly big role in Quentin Tarantino's "Inglorious Basterds," a World War II tale set for an August release.
He plays a chauffeur who doesn't know how to drive in the fictional film about a squad of Jewish soldiers who take bloody revenge on Nazis in France. It also stars Brad Pitt and Mike Myers, and it's one of the summer's most anticipated movies.
"That was an incredible experience, just to watch [Tarantino]" on the set, Ryan said. "Watching him moving things around, and editing on the spot and writing in his head. I had more fun standing in the background than being in the scenes."
Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa, 1 Borgata Way, 8 p.m. tomorrow, $40, 866-900-4849, www.theborgata.com.
The weather may be unseasonably cool, but AyCee's summer entertainment scene will heat up considerably as three production shows debut over the next five days.
Monday, the Tropicana raises the curtain on "Fame," the musical based on the iconic 1980 film about the students at a New York performing arts high school. It runs through Sept. 9.
Tuesday, the magical duo of Mark Kalin & Jinger returns to town for "Carnival of Wonders," which runs through Sept. 6 at Trump Plaza. And Wednesday, "Cirque Dreams" impresario Neil Goldberg introduces his latest spectacle, "Pandemonia," at Trump Taj Mahal. It, too, runs through Sept. 6. (See listings on this page for show details.) *
Chuck Darrow has covered Atlantic City and casinos for more than 20 years. Read his blog http://go.philly.com/casinotes.
E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And listen to his Atlantic City report Saturdays at 1:25 a.m. with Steve Trevelise on WIP (610-AM).