Philly’s Own Kate Flannery Reflects on The Office, 10 Years Later

We sat down at South Street dive bar Bob & Barbara’s with the woman who played Meredith.

kate flannery the office meredith

Kate Flannery, who played Meredith on The Office, at South Street dive bar Bob & Barbara’s / Photograph by Linette & Kyle Kielinski

The daughter of a Philadelphia bar owner, Kate Flannery went from flunking auditions for Philly TV shows Al Alberts Showcase and Chief Halftown and pretty much every theater in the city to being part of the workplace comedy juggernaut that was The Office. Now, ten years after the hit sitcom aired its last episode — on May 16, 2013 — Flannery talks about her big break, her fellow castmates, and why she likens herself to an onion.

Kate, welcome back to Philadelphia. I’m so happy to have a chance to sit down with you here at Bob & Barbara’s and have a beer. This bar contains some real history for me, because it’s where I met my wife. And I know you have bars in your life history as well.
I am a bar owner’s daughter. My grandfather had Flannery’s Tavern in Nicetown. My dad ran that bar from the ’50s through the ’90s. And then my brother had T.A. Flannery’s, on 21st Street between Market and Chestnut, until 2011.

I love neighborhood bars and dives like Bob & Barbara’s, and I imagine your family bars were similar.
I love them, too, and yes, they were. These bars were really communities. Support systems, where you could have a laugh and a chat but could also get tough love when you needed it. The real deal.

Did you live in Nicetown
No. I grew up in Mount Airy until I was seven and after that in Ardmore. My dad grew up in Germantown, and my mom grew up in North Philly, near Connie Mack Stadium. I went to Saint Therese’s and Saint Colman’s and then Archbishop Carroll.

Ah, the “better education” of Catholic schools.
Sure. Right. Allegedly. Allegedly.

Why leave Mount Airy for the Main Line?
We’re seven kids, and we just outgrew the house. My mom finally got her dream house in Ardmore.

What was it like being one of seven?
My sister and I — we’re twins — are the youngest. The inmates were running the asylum. And each kid grows out of the house and you realize all the chores they did, and then their chores get passed down when they leave.

That system must not have worked out too well for you and your sister.
Yeah, we were screwed. It was basically like a Communist country. Everybody has to do their work. Otherwise, it doesn’t function.

Are your twin and you very much alike?
We look nothing alike, and she’s a social worker. And I have to be honest with you: She’s actually a lot funnier than me.

Was your family very Catholic?
Oh yeah. My dad went to mass every single day. Now, he’s 99, so he watches it on the internet.

That’s commitment. And I should say that you’re in Philly right now, as you are pretty regularly, to visit your dad, who lives on the Main Line.
Yes, he’s unbelievable. A very happy human being. A great spirit. I want to be him when I get older.

How long have you lived in L.A.?
I’ve been there for 23 years. I went to the University of the Arts and got a BFA in acting. While I was in college here, I worked at Hunan in Ardmore, a place owned by the family of Susanna Foo. Then I worked at 16th Street Bar & Grill, which is now Monk’s. I catered for Frog Commissary, and we did lots of events at the Mütter Museum and the Franklin Institute. I tried to get a job and an internship at the Walnut Street Theatre; I auditioned for every theater in Philadelphia and
many in New York. Strangely, no one was interested in what I had to offer. But I’ve come to believe that rejection is protection. Then my aunt, who lived in Chicago, thought Second City would be a good fit for me, so I went and auditioned there and got in.

And just for the sake of the reader who might not know Second City by name …
It was the improv mecca and birthed everybody from Gilda Radner to John Belushi to Dan Aykroyd to Stephen Colbert. In 1991, Lorne Michaels came to Chicago to find women for SNL. I was interviewed and considered, but my friend got the job. And it took me 13 short years to get The Office after that.

Did you do stand-up in the meantime?
I had a comedic musical duo called the Lampshades. We would mash up ’70s and ’80s songs. That was a lot of fun. We hosted shows featuring Patton Oswalt, Sarah Silverman and Marc Maron.

Were you doing the whole starving-artist thing in those days, waiting tables and such?
Oh yeah. Over the years, I lived in Los Angeles and New York and waited tables in Beverly Hills and at this place across from Carnegie Hall. I waited on so many famous people, like Whitney Houston, Robert De Niro, Steve Martin. So I just kept on waiting tables and pursuing my dream. I actually kept my one restaurant job through the first season of The Office, because we had no idea what the future would be.

Am I correct that you didn’t audition for the role of Meredith initially?
I auditioned for Jan, Michael’s boss.

From left: Oscar Nuñez (Oscar), Kate Flannery (Meredith) and Jenna Fischer (Pam) in “Michael Scott Paper Company” on Season 5 of The Office. / Photograph via PictureLux/The Hollywood Archive/Alamy Stock Photo

Ah, the one in the topless photos that Michael winds up idiotically sending to the whole company.
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. [laughs] They hired somebody else to play Meredith, but that didn’t work out. So they needed to replace her, and I auditioned for the role of this lactose-intolerant, recently divorced woman who had just had a hysterectomy. Meredith wasn’t originally going to be an alcoholic, but the role changed a bit, and she becomes this drunken floozy. I’m not sure how they wrote that in. I probably talked with the writers about my days in my dad’s bar and my time bartending. Who knows? I love Meredith. She’s so loud and proud, completely unashamed and unapologetic. She knows who she is.

She’s just like, fuck it. So Philly.
Yeah. This is me. This is how it is. What you see is what you get. And we were told no makeup. I mean, we had some, but very little. We were representing the unpretty people. I remember my mom seeing an episode and saying, “Can’t they give you more makeup?!” [laughs]

Great actors make everything look so easy. Was The Office an easy job?
It really was fairly easy. I mean, we each had a place to sit. Those desks make all the difference. And I had the most comfortable wardrobe of anybody on the show. But I still had to be there at five in the morning.

The Office lasted nine seasons. Was there any moment where you got bored with it?
Oh, God no. Meredith was such a beautiful character to play. She could get a laugh without even having a line. I might just do something small in the background. I loved the subtlety of it. My mother would always say, “I wish Meredith talked more.” But I feel like when Meredith talked, it was worth the wait. This was a really smart show that treated the audience like they had a brain.

When did you realize you were famous?
One time I was on the Ocean City boardwalk and all these kids started running up to me. It’s fine. I do represent the show sometimes for people, and I really love that.

Is Ocean City your beach?
Oh yeah. Every year. We’d spend half the summer at my grandmother’s house there. I used to work summer jobs on the boardwalk. A t-shirt store where we’d print shirts. It was called — wait for it — Uranus. [laughs] Laura’s Fudge, where I’d pack the boxes.

Do you stay in touch with your Office castmates?
Absolutely. We have a text thread.

kate flannery, who played meredith on the office, with her castmates at the Screen Actors Guild awards

Kate Flannery and her Office castmates at the Screen Actors Guild awards in 2008 / Photograph via Getty Images

I’m guessing without Steve Carell and John Krasinski.
Oh, they’re on there. They stay in touch.

Not too highfalutin?
Busy, yes. Highfalutin, no. Big difference.

My son loves John as Jack Ryan in the Amazon series. I was a little worried I was just going to see him as Jim. But no, he was really Jack Ryan.
He’s so good. A force to be reckoned with.

He managed to avoid typecasting. What about you?
Sometimes on shows I’ve guest-starred on, people do want me to be a drunk. But the character of Meredith — she’s a really dark drunk, I think. The surface of Meredith was barely scratched in the show.

I wonder where Meredith is now. Did she go to rehab, turn her life around? Is she building wells in Africa?
No. I think Meredith is an absolute cockroach. She doesn’t change. Though in the last episode, we do learn that she got her PhD.

Spoiler alert!

Speaking of the last episode, you knew this wasn’t going to go on forever. How sad were you when you learned the end was nigh?
Oh. So sad. So extremely sad. If I could have done it for nine more seasons, I happily would have. No question.

Are the Lampshades still active?
My partner in the Lampshades just decided to retire and move to Oregon.

That was rude.
[Laughs] But I’ve been playing music with Jane Lynch from Glee and A Mighty Wind for several years. I’m also working on some solo tunes. When I was 13, I was obsessed with Annie on Broadway, which I found out starred the Philadelphia child actor Andrea McArdle. Some of the other orphans were from Philly, too. I read and saved articles about them all from the Daily News and Inquirer, and I learned that they studied with a local vocal coach. And that’s when I decided I wanted to study voice. I auditioned for Chief Halftown and the Al Alberts Showcase, and I was rejected from both.

I feel like when we try to censor comedy, it’s a disservice to the world. We’re smart people. When we try to control everyone’s experience, that’s not good. I don’t want to offend people. But I also don’t think we should instruct people to be offended.”

It’s 2023, and I feel like I can’t interview a comedian in 2023 without asking about the state of comedy. The Roots Picnic returns to Philly in June, and some people are a bit miffed that Dave Chappelle is involved, given the controversy over his jokes about trans people. Thoughts?
Hmm. I feel like when we try to censor comedy, it’s a disservice to the world. We’re smart people. When we try to control everyone’s experience, that’s not good. I don’t want to offend people. But I also don’t think we should instruct people to be offended. There’s a very thin skin in this world right now, and especially in comedy. It’s a hard world to be a comic in, especially if you don’t already have millions of followers. We’re asking everyone to walk on eggshells. I understand great change is in the air — and it should be — but I don’t know if it’s fair to suggest we can never laugh at things that make us uncomfortable.

I completely agree with you, but I’m a cisgender straight white male, and I recognize that others may not share my perspective. Are there certain scenes or episodes of The Office that wouldn’t be made today because of these issues we’re talking about?
[Laughs] Uh, so much. A lot. Everything is under a microscope, and it wasn’t that way when we did The Office. But one of the smartest things about The Office is that whenever Michael makes a comment that is completely ignorant or repugnant or insulting, it’s clear that he’s an idiot. There’s a magnifying glass with a beam of light that’s coming right to him. He’s trying to make a joke, but in the end, he is the joke.

My kids, huge Office fans, want to know: favorite episode?
“Moroccan Christmas.” And not just because it was about Meredith. There’s this scene where Michael literally drags Meredith into rehab, and there’s this part in the parking lot — a chase — that is completely improvised. Everything was very scripted in The Office, and this was one of the few examples of improv. And having one-on-one improv with an amazing actor like Steve is an experience I’ll never forget.

Do you ever wish you had a “bigger” part?
You know, everybody wants to be the main course or the side dish. I realized at The Office that I wasn’t the main course. Nor was I the side dish. You know what I realized I was?

What’s that?
I was the onion. And you know what? Most dishes are better with onion. It’s good to be the onion. You always need them. I spent nine years of my life being the onion. And they were the greatest nine years of my life.

Beyond The Office

We know what Kate Flannery aka “Meredith” is up to. But what about some of her co-workers? 

Steve Carell

steve carrell, a fellow Kate Flannery cast member on The Office

Played: Michael Scott

From voicing Gru in the Despicable Me franchise to playing such varied roles as local murderer John du Pont (Foxcatcher) and Donald Rumsfeld (Vice), it’s fair to say he’s kept busy. Upcoming: a Wes Anderson film with Tom Hanks, a dramedy directed by none other than John Krasinski, and yet another Despicable Me.

John Krasinski

John Krasinski, a cast member on The Office

Played: Jim Halpert

He starred in, co-wrote and directed the critically acclaimed post-apocalyptic film series A Quiet Place, which is reportedly spinning off into a 2024 prequel. And after Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck and Chris Pine all portrayed Tom Clancy’s most famous character, he made a big splash in the recent Amazon show Jack Ryan.

Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling, a fellow Kate Flannery cast member on The Office

Played: Kelly Kapoor

She wrote, directed and starred in The Mindy Project for six years, ending that run in 2017. Then she created the comedies Never Have I Ever and Champions and the HBO series The Sex Lives of College Girls. Last year, she landed a Tony as producer of the Pulitzer-winning drama A Strange Loop.

Craig Robinson

Craig Robinson, a fellow Kate Flannery cast member on The Office

Played: Darryl Philbin

In addition to maintaining a robust stand-up career (he’s about to embark on a four-month tour), he’s had memorable roles in Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Dolemite Is My Name. Plus, he’s now starring as a python hunter (yes, you read that right) in Peacock’s thoroughly enjoyable series Killing It.

But that’s not all, folks.

Jenna Fischer (Pam) and Angela Kinsey (Angela) co-host the weekly podcast Office Ladies, which just featured an interview with Carell. Rainn Wilson (Dwight), perhaps the most typecast of the group, played Dr. Demento in 2022’s Weird Al biopic. Oscar Nuñez (Oscar) has popped up in shows including Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Shameless and in the recently released Bob Odenkirk vehicle Lucky Hank on AMC. And should you need some chili, Brian Baumgartner (Kevin) recently released a cookbook of 177 recipes.

— Photographs via Getty Images


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Published as “Look, It’s Meredith!!!” from the May 2023 issue of Philadelphia magazine.