Written by A, by Mark Olvey, CNN
B.J. Novak is a comedic actor with something of a cult following. He’s had a recurring role on “The Office” since its debut in 2005, and his roles range from the well-known (as Max Headroom in “Metamorphosis,” and actually ever since his breakout in the part of Rob on “Freaks and Geeks”) to the as-yet-unseen. He doesn’t hide behind a name that has become too ingrained in popular culture, while also appreciating the power of social media as a marketing and crafty actor’s tool.
Novak recently joined the judging panel of the 2018 NYU Sculpture Center Competition , which, he says, “made me an artist.” He’s also co-written a collection of short stories under the name Robert Muldoon for Modern Library, a “new line of long, deliberate, smoky poems, great love poems,” inspired by his time in Los Angeles.
On Instagram , Novak has 300,000 followers who will — no doubt — rejoice to know that a slightly-mysterious product chain has put his face on something, but why exactly?
Why do we like Novak so much?
“He is not your typical pop cultural A-lister,” said the author and University of Iowa English professor David Lindsay. “That’s why people like him.”
Video by Randee St. Nicholas. Production by Steffalina Addison.
She said what may have appealed to her was his comedy-acting chops and his unremitting mirth. “It’s endearing, his sense of humor, his ability to seem cool but not too cool,” she said. “And his place in pop culture has broadened out from ‘The Office’ to things like ‘the way you talked about fashion at any point in your career is the least fun’ and those kinds of things.
“It’s quirky, it’s very thoughtful, it’s funny, and it’s a lot of things. It’s his style.”
Making it up as he goes along
The inspiration for Novak’s new love poems often comes from conversations he had in his apartment.
“I didn’t know they were going to be published,” he says. “I was amazed. It was something I’d never done before, and the best thing is that people are sharing them.”
And, it seems, his followers have been sharing them as well.
“Something else I love, which is not surprising, is that I’ve gotten a bunch of letters from collectors who’ve been really thrilled to learn that Robert Muldoon’s poems are now available to buy,” he added.
“People send me gifts all the time in return for all these different things, like T-shirts, t-shirts,” he said. “I literally have a lot of other stuff I could say I’d really like to make a living off of.”
He describes his approach to working with a company as “total indifference.”
“People get so attached to products because of their reputations and personalities that that might make it harder for them to move on from their feelings toward you,” he said. “You can’t ever get too attached. It’s too much of a burden. I like to feel like just anyone can buy anything, but that doesn’t mean that anything good is no longer going to have value.”
More photos of Novak on Instagram
Novak’s gratitude to the people and companies who have helped him build his brand is clear. He said that the latest advertising partnership has been with wine bottler Flatiron, which markets some of his choice, special and beautiful finds for fans.
“I love their labels,” he said. “They’re a nice way to take something that is otherwise unattainable and keep it affordable for people that are like, ‘What do I have that’s really unique to me?’ So, it’s definitely something that I’d want people to love, but that you really wouldn’t ever feel pressure to have it. That was pretty cool to get involved with.”
And his long-running interest in fine arts has won him recognition from the likes of museums, galleries and other art galleries. He recently appeared in a show at New York’s David Zwirner Gallery called “The Last Emperor: A Biography of Amedeo Modigliani.”
“You know what else is great about that show? That the museum all gets lost in the artwork.”