From Staples to Dunder Mifflin: Paul Lieberstein ’85’s Path to Primetime

Toby Flenderson
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Most students know him as Toby Flenderson from “The Office,” but the road that took Paul Lieberstein ’85 from the halls of Staples High School to primetime on Thursday nights was not as smooth as it may seem. In fact, Lieberstein’s career aspirations after attending Staples was similar to his characters own rocky relationship with Michael Scott on the show— a work in progress.

“I literally had no idea what I was going to do after Staples,” Lieberstein said. “Between Staples and the show, I went to Hamilton College and took a few jobs in New York that I didn’t really like. Then, I obviously ended up here and it’s a great time.”

Lieberstein, who currently acts, writes, and produces for “The Office,” had produced and written for television since his start in the business in 1994. Though much of his notability is due to his acting on the show, it is but a small role he plays on the set of the popular NBC show. Writing, Lieberstein says, is his first love.

“I like and hate writing the most. It’s hard because you go into an episode with nothing in your head and it can be frustrating. But when things click, it’s great,” Lieberstein said.

And how about working with the other writers on the show? Let’s just call it a glorified school project.

“With the writers, it’s just like sitting and hanging with a group of people who are really good friends,” Lieberstein said. “All of the writers surround a table and throw out ideas. When we come up with a good episode it’s just so much fun.”

This sense of camaraderie does not have to come from a professional setting, either. More than anything else, Lieberstein encourages Staples students to get out and practice what they love doing. In the age of modern technology, you don’t have to be “in the business” to make a movie.

“[Making videos now] is so cheap,” Lieberstein said. “You just need a DSLR and there are so many options. Have your friends act and share it with people. The same goes for actors and writers. Just practice and have fun.”

Lieberstein himself was not a prolific actor, writer, or producer when he was at Staples. Though he was a member of Staples’ literary magazine, Lieberstein was candid in his memories of high school.

“I don’t really remember much [about Staples] because it was a long time ago and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I remember that I was the editor of Soundings and definitely remember a few very good teachers,” Lieberstein said.

Though his passion was realized relatively late, Lieberstein has made his living as “The Office”’s jack-of-all-trades, functioning in every role possible for the show. Formally an undecided Staples student, Lieberstein is now a recognizable television personality and Emmy Award-winning producer.