by Lou Mancinelli
In the first episode of season four in mockumentary series “The Office,” Meredith Palmer, played by Mt. Airy native Kate Flannery, is hit by her boss’ car as he drives through the company parking lot while looking at a passenger seat camera and commending his sales team’s achievements.
Season four was where Meredith, the hard-drinking floozy, began to hit her stride, Flannery told the Local during a recent interview.
“The best trial by fire ever,” said Flannery about the show, which followed a cubicle gang of 9-to-5ers at a paper company housed in Scranton, Pa. Throughout its nine seasons, Meredith’s adventures included romps like her hair catching on fire and flashing her colleagues on casual Friday.
The NBC adaption of the show created by comedian Ricky Gervais that first aired on the BBC, concluded its final season on May 16 this year. During its run, the show won four Emmys and a Golden Globe.
“People’s reaction to the end of the show was so much more than I ever expected,” Flannery said.
Before starring as Meredith for nine seasons in “The Office,” Flannery, 49, worked as a waitress in an upscale Beverly Hills restaurant, where she often saw movie stars and producers like Billy Wilder, who co-wrote and directed “Sunset Boulevard.” Before that, she honed her chops as a member of The Second City’s National Touring Company comedy troupe in Chicago. There she worked alongside future co-star Steve Carell, who played her boss, Michael Scott, the show’s Madonna and leading star.
Flannery was one of seven children raised in a Catholic family in Mt. Airy and is three minutes younger than her twin sister, a social worker. When she was a young girl, her father, a church-going man, and before that her grandfather, owned Flannery’s Bar in Germantown, which later relocated to Center City before it closed. She attended St. Therese’s until second grade when the family moved to Ardmore.
Flannery always wanted to be an actress. When she was young, she wanted to be a child star, but her mother parented her away from such opportunities, something she’s grateful for now. She went to Archbishop John Carroll High School in Radnor and in 1987 graduated from the University of the Arts.
After that she played in a comedy group in Philadelphia for a year before moving to Chicago in 1989, where she joined the Second City Touring Company and became an original member of the Annoyance Theater, which includes notable alums like Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report” and Jeff Garlin, Larry David’s best friend in the HBO series “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”
In the mid-‘90s, Flannery moved to Los Angeles and appeared in the stage production of “Valley of the Dolls.” She played Neely O’Hara, and the show eventually moved to off-Broadway in Manhattan, where it ran from 1996 to ‘99. During that time, Flannery lived on the Lower East Side.
Before she was cast as divorced single-mother Meredith Palmer in 2000 at age 40, she appeared on the “Bernie Mac Show,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and performed a skit on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.”
She also performed in her comedy lounge act The Lampshades, which she created alongside Scott Robinson in the early ‘90s, and later was named New York Magazine’s L.A. Pick for 2006. It continues to run today in Hollywood.
Before “The Office,” Flannery led the actress waitress lifestyle, which she had made peace with. She continued waitressing through the first season of the show. At the time, no one knew whether there would be a second.
“Even though it was tough, I felt like I could live with doing my own thing,” said Flannery, who first auditioned for the part of Jan.
But the show took off, becoming as popular as water cooler banter at work. Flannery credits the quality of the show to the writers. It was their words and jokes, insights and scenarios that birthed the opportunities, which enabled the actors and actresses to play characters that captured the mainstream American imagination for almost a decade.
“They’re the ones shaping and molding this whole thing,” she said. “We spent time on the set five days a week for nearly 12 hours a day.” They shot one episode a week and enjoyed a few months off each year. There she was, seated at a desk in an office, a workplace environ she had only worked in before for short stints in high school and college.
“It’s such a relatable setup,” said Flannery about why she thinks the show found a home in the American psyche. “You’re stuck with these people who don’t necessarily care for you, but they have to put up with you.”
Flannery has described her role as Meredith Palmer as being like the onions of the dish. She served a function and contributed to the whole.
“The whole is what’s the most important thing … the show,” said Flannery. “Not just what you thought was funny in the moment.”
Flannery most recently returned to Philadelphia to star in “Love, Loss and What I Wore,” written by sisters Delia and the recently-deceased Nora Ephron, based on a book by Ilene Beckerman. The show ran from June 25 through July 7 at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre in Center City.
Her future plans point towards indie films. For now, she will deal with losing something like her family of nine years.