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Rainn Wilson discusses The Office, spirituality in banter-filled lecture

Brown Lecture Board conversation followed by student Q&A

<p>Rainn Wilson was also asked about The Herald. He remarked that “BDH sounds like an underwear brand,” adding that he “hopes (the BDH) will list all the things (he) can get canceled for.”</p>

Rainn Wilson was also asked about The Herald. He remarked that “BDH sounds like an underwear brand,” adding that he “hopes (the BDH) will list all the things (he) can get canceled for.”

The Brown Lecture Board hosted Emmy-nominated actor and comedian Rainn Wilson Monday evening, an event which included a moderated conversation and a student question-and-answer session afterward.

In a wide-reaching interview, Wilson covered a lot of ground: The conversation included topics ranging from “The Office” to mental health and spirituality.

Wilson is best known for his role as Dwight Schrute on “The Office.” As he walked onto the stage, he called on the audience to “get their phones out” and “have an Instagram moment,” quickly seating himself and jokingly adding, “Thanks for having me, Yale.”

Wilson discussed the ways being Dwight had affected him. “In a meta sense, the role has greatly affected me, but not internally.” He said that he played dozens of roles before “The Office” and continues to do so after, but that series will be “the one that (he'll) always be known for.” He added that “when you play a character, it doesn’t seep in, affect, corrupt and congeal your personality.”


Later, Wilson transitioned to speaking about his book “Soul Boom: Why We Need a Spiritual Revolution,” which was released in April. He spoke about being raised in the Bahá'í Faith, reading diverse texts such as the Quran, Bhagavad Gita, Dhammapada and Bible during his childhood. “That broad Universalist context was very much a part of my DNA — pretty much a part of my upbringing.”

Jaehun Seo ’24 hadn’t “expected (Wilson) to be in the Bahá'í Faith,” as all Seo knew about Wilson “was from the character Dwight.” Other students shared similar sentiments in interviews with The Herald following the talk.

Kanayo Duru ’25 stated that he watched all of “The Office,” one of his “favorite sitcoms.” 

“I didn’t even really know how far he’d delve into spirituality — I’ve really only seen Rainn Wilson in the lens of TV and his role on ‘The Office,’” he added. “It was really, really engaging.”

“I couldn’t actually believe he wrote a whole book about spirituality,” Eduardo Adriano ’27 said.

Wilson said he often was asked, “Why the hell is the guy being Dwight writing a book about spirituality?” 

His response is that it is driven by his “depression, crippling anxiety and panic attacks, addiction and deeper despair and loneliness.”

“In the ’90s when I got out of school, we didn't really have a word for the mental health epidemic,” Wilson said. 

He said he “did the only thing that (he) knew to do — to turn to the holy books.”

He quoted Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, saying that “we are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” Originally, Wilson “didn’t want anything to do with religion or spirituality or God,” saying he only wanted to be “an actor living in NYC.” 


But throughout that journey, he “learned so much, that spiritual journey towards trying to find meaning, purpose, inspiration, vision and wholeness.”

Wilson added a lesson he learned from Arthur Brooks, who “has this great metaphor where he talks about you needing emotional caffeine — for instance, if you were really sad.” He mentioned that comedy, for many, might be “an antidote to trauma, a way of coping.”

Adriano and Hwang both found the metaphor compelling, reflecting on how everyday emotions might be blocked out by external factors.

After the moderated conversation, the floor was opened to questions from the audience. One attendee asked about the role of media in the world of spirituality, the recent commodification of spirituality and conflicting views. Another question included Wilson’s view on science, to which he responded that science and spirituality “are two sides of the same coin,” as they are “both incredibly beautiful and aspects of the divine.”

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Throughout the conversation, Wilson continued to make witty remarks. He asked Brown Lecture Board president Arvind Sridhar ’24, “Why do you ask all these conjecturing questions,” quickly following that statement by saying, “This is good since you guys are almost Ivy League, right? … You and Cornell are absolutely Ivy-adjacent.”

At the start of the lecture, Sridhar began by asking Wilson about what prank he would pull, if he were given the opportunity to. “Dwight really didn’t do the pranks … other than the snowmen in the parking lot,” Wilson said, referencing the “Classy Christmas” episode from “The Office.”

Wilson added that if he were to pull a prank, it would be “to, on, at and toward the Office Ladies,” referencing Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsley’s podcast about “The Office.” “They’re the worst there.” He would have a giant beet “jump from his chest with gore in the middle of the interview on the table in their podcast,” adding that “you pay me enough and I will do it.”

He also asked about The Herald, commenting that “BDH sounds like an underwear brand” and adding that he “hopes (the BDH) will list all the things (he) can get canceled for.”

“You know I got rejected from Brown. Screw you, Bears,” Wilson joked. “I would’ve donated so much money.”

Overall, students told The Herald they enjoyed hearing Wilson share his life experiences while laughing at his witty comments. “I was surprised by how insightful and funny he was,” Seo said. “He kept it real, and I respect that,” Hwang added.

“I’ve gained more respect for him, knowing the struggles that he had to overcome and seeing what he’s built for himself,” Duru said.

Kelvin Jiang

Kelvin Jiang is a section editor for University News and Science & Research at The Herald. Born in Illinois and raised in Palo Alto, CA, Kelvin is concentrating in math-computer science and applied math. He enjoys anything tech-related, being outdoors, and spending time with his cat.

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