As the unseen prompt for Michael Scott’s long “NOOOOOOOO” that has endured to become one of the Internet’s favorite reaction GIFs, Paul Lieberstein – best known for playing Toby on The Office – has often done his best work under the radar. In addition to playing Dunder Mifflin’s favorite killjoy in front of the camera, Lieberstein was a key creative force behind production of The Office as well, serving as a writer, director and showrunner throughout the series’ run.

Since the show came to a close five years ago, Lieberstein has stayed mostly in the television world, lending his talents to both HBO’s The Newsroom and Fox’s Ghosted. But he’s begun to branch out into the world of indie film with his feature writing and directing debut Song of Back and Neck, which premiered at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Lieberstein also appears in the film as protagonist Fred Trolleycar, a middle-aged office drone who must come to terms with all the complications that stem from his chronic back and neck pain – an experience which came directly from the star’s own life.

I caught the film there back in April and reviewed it positively, writing that Lieberstein is adept at “handling some slightly morose material with equal parts sincerity and dry humor.” We were able to chat further about the film earlier this month and talked about how he made the leap from TV to movies. Our phone call was shortly after Steve Carell gathered a few former co-stars from The Office in his Saturday Night Live monologue, so naturally our conversation had to start with some discussion about a potential reunion or revival for the show. 

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Song of Back and Neck review

Do we really need another sad middle-age white guy comedy? Probably not, but if we have to have them, at least let them be more like Paul Lieberstein’s Song of Back and Neck. The artist best known to audiences as Toby from TV’s The Office makes his first step behind the camera for feature filmmaking to largely positive results, handling some slightly morose material with equal parts sincerity and dry humor.

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