And he wasted no time before addressing the recent media storm he caused when he shared during an interview with Bill Maher on his Club Random podcast that he felt “mostly unhappy” while starring as Dwight Schrute on the NBC sitcom for nine seasons. “I literally made dozens and dozens of headlines when I revealed on Bill Maher’s drunken, smoky, rambling podcast… that I had been deeply unsatisfied at times while working on The Office,” Wilson recalled during a keynote address in Montreal on Friday.
Wilson, it turns out, did a redo at the comedy festival after appearing to be ungrateful and unfulfilled after his success on the popular sitcom. “Dozens and dozens of outrage-inducing clickbait articles for digital surfing pleasure: ‘Wait. What? That weird guy from The Office was making millions and getting nominated for the Emmys and was unhappy?’” he recounted.
Wilson added the podcast appearance came in the context of his just-released book, Soul Boom: Why We Need a Spiritual Revolution, and his Peacock show, Rainn Wilson and the Geography of Bliss, where he “traverses the globe searching for the secrets to the happiest societies on Earth,” according to the synopsis.
“The point I was making to Bill, which was in context filled with nuance and vulnerability, was, just like all human beings, I was never really satisfied. Whatever success I had as an actor was never enough. When I was on The Office, I went through periods of time when all I could focus on was the things that were not happening in terms of my career: money, fame, envy and prestige,” he told the Just For Laughs ComedyPro conference.
Wilson even took shots at comedic actors in Hollywood who he feels have shunned him for talking about spirituality and God. “Here’s the catch: In comedy circles in Hollywood, the cool kids all pretend they’re nerds and losers and alienated outcasts. But really, that’s just an act. And there’s no greater way to estrange yourself even further from the apex of the comedy industry as when you discuss God, the soul and spirituality,” he disclosed.
But far from being consumed by greed or ingratitude, Wilson went on to argue that, in hindsight, he now sees he was filled with Duḥkka, which he translated as “anxious discontent” and is what Buddhists often refer to as sorry, suffering and unhappiness.
He argued, “Everyone in the comedy world, especially, are quite literally fleshy manifestations of anxious discontent,” as actors look for laughs from sitcom audiences, stand-up comedians look for the approval of live audiences in clubs, and comedy artists take to YouTube or TikTok to portray bizarre characters or storylines for likes and fan bases.
“However, it must be said you are also familiar with this idea if you work in insurance, solar panels sales, Uber-driving, or agriculture, or the manicure and pedicure industry, because Duḥkka is everywhere these days,” he added about ordinary people far from Hollywood fame being wired to feel anxious discontent over their own lives.
Wilson recalled his difficult childhood and not fitting in with the cool kids in school and seeking out vices and therapy as an adult, and all with little ability to heal his emotional wounds. That is, until he set about to learn spiritual and psychological lessons in life, beginning with gratitude for the impact his comedy via The Office had on audiences.
“Comedy is an act of service. The thing that surprised me over the year around the success of The Office was how much it meant to people, the role the show played in soothing folks during difficult times, providing healing laughter, bringing families together and healing anxiety,” he told the Just For Laughs audience. Here, Wilson underlined the healing powers of laughter. “Humor is the best of all possible medicines,” he insisted.
The sitcom star also took issue with notions that negative energy needs to be banished from people’s lives to live positive ones. “This isn’t helpful or true,” Wilson argued, as he urged young people especially to learn to live with suffering and to manage it. “It’s why psychotic comedians and comic actors continue to mine the depths of our pain, so we can create laughter for service, for medicine, to relieve suffering and to counteract pain,” he concluded.
Wilson’s keynote came ahead of the Hollywood actor receiving the Comedy Impact Award at Just For Laughs on Friday.