Fans of ‘The Office' Meet Cast Members at Chicago's Navy Pier ‘Reunion'

Identity theft is not a joke! Fans met Rainn Wilson and dressed as Dwight Schrute at the fan convention for the hit sitcom

Rainn Wilson
Mike Gavin

Dwight Schrute once said people underestimate the power of nostalgia.

“Nostalgia is truly one of the greatest human weaknesses,” he said, “second only to the neck.”

Nostalgia reopened the doors of Dunder Mifflin Paper Company this weekend in Chicago, a decade after the final episode of the “The Office” aired on NBC. Fans from near and far walked through those doors to see the familiar faces of nearly 30 cast members from the hit sitcom who attended “The Reunion” on Saturday and Sunday at Navy Pier.

There, the power of nostalgia, and of Dwight Schrute, was on full display as the line for Rainn Wilson twisted and turned around the venue as if it were the halls of Scranton Business Park on Pretzel Day.

At the very end of the line to meet Wilson was 31-year-old Danielle Johnson and 13-year-old Thea Constantin of Logan Square, who were prepared to wait it out.

“As long as it takes,” Constantin said. “I’m going to tell him that I grew up watching him and he basically was like my life.”

Many got to meet Wilson, who powered through a bout of laryngitis. He took selfies with fans, autographed Dwight Schrute bobblehead dolls and World’s Best Boss mugs and posed for photos alongside a maroon Pontiac Firebird Trans Am and bales of hay (if you know, you know).

Others who were still waiting in line when Wilson had to leave after his one-day appearance on Saturday will be issued refunds.

"Had some AMAZING connections at the Office Reunion convention!" Wilson wrote on social media Sunday. "Was feeling sick and had laryngitis and wasn't able to finish signing for about 487 people (so sorry!) but THE OFFICE FANS ARE THE GREATEST FANS ON EARTH!"

Even after Wilson's departure, Dwight was still well represented in many different incarnations by the cosplayers who dressed as him for the occasion. That included CPR Dwight, basketball Dwight, elf Dwight and a few toddler Dwights who wore the character’s trademark yellow button-down shirt and brown tie.

Best of all was 11-year-old Isaac Smith of Missouri, winner of Saturday's kids cosplay “Fundie Award” (not Dundie) for dressing as Belsnickel, who is portrayed by Dwight in a Christmas episode and described as a “dirty, worse Santa.”

“I’m sweating to death,” Smith said while wearing his fur-clad costume and lengthy beard.

It was his sister Katelyn, 19, who decided her little brother was “born to be Belsnickel” and made the costume.   

“It took over a week’s worth of work,” said Katelyn, dressed in a dinosaur costume as “Electoral College” Oscar. “Cutting the fabric, sewing them on there individually… [Winning] made sure that the work that went into it was definitely worth it.”

The reward was true of other participants who won a “Fundie Award” or took part in the convention’s other events related to the hit show, which aired on NBC from 2005 to 2013 and is now streaming on Peacock. There was a pretzel-eating contest hosted by Stanley (Leslie David Baker), sumo suit wrestling from the “Beach Games” episode and Q&A panels with cast members.

Fans take a photo op with actress Kate Flannery, recreating the scene from "The Office" where Michael Scott hits Meredith with his car. Credit: Mike Gavin

Vendors sold “The Office” merchandise that many fans got autographed by the celebrities in attendance - which included main cast members like Brian Baumgartner (Kevin Malone), Kate Flannery (Meredith Palmer), Creed Bratton (Creed Bratton), Paul Lieberstein (Toby Flenderson), Andy Buckley (David Wallace) and Leslie David Baker (Stanley).

The length of the meet-and-greet lines was not surprising to Baker because of the continued visibility and popularity of “The Office” on streaming and syndication. And because anyone with a job and colleagues can relate.  

“The personality types that you see on ‘The Office’ are prevalent in every church, university, whether you work in a hospital, department store, office building, you name it, you’re gonna see some of the personality types from ‘The Office’,” said Baker, who added that the most unique item he autographed this weekend was a plaster meatball wrapped around a stapler.

“So, in that sense we’re very familiar to people. We’ve helped people cope on their jobs when they can sit there and go, ‘OK, I want to throw a chair at this person. Oh, that’s a character from ‘The Office.’ And then suddenly that might help deescalate a little bit.”

The largest reunion of the show’s cast to date was organized by co-founders Arnold Cuervo, who runs the Instagram account @TheOfficeFunkoPops, and Jesse Cohen, owner of the True Believers Gaming & Collectibles stores in New Jersey and New York. The convention debuted last summer in New Jersey, where an 11-year-old’s Kevin Malone costume went viral.

In Chicago, there was a variety of impressive non-Dwight cosplay, as well, with fans dressed as Prison Mike, Nard Dog, Princess Unicorn, Three-Hole-Punch Jim and many others.    

Lisa Nguyen, a 27-year-old from Missouri, was dressed as Pam… with an office desk that was hanging around her neck on a fishing wire and supported at the neck by a piece of pool noodle. The desktop, compete with a computer and phone, had mementos representing each character like a teapot for Pam, M&M’s for Kevin and a drawer with mini liquor bottles for Meredith.

That earned Nguyen the adult cosplay Fundie Award on Saturday. She then dressed as a Dundie Award on Sunday and was named co-winner with a fan wearing Michael Scott's gift to Toby: a rock with a post-it note and special message attached.

Lisa Nguyen of Missouri won the adult cosplay contest on Saturday for her homemade desktop featuring mementos that represented characters from "The Office." On Sunday, she dressed as a Dundie Award. Credit: Mike Gavin

Her costumes made her a sought-after photo op among the stars of the show, which also included fan favorites like David Koechner (Todd Packer), Bobby Ray Shafer (Bob Vance, Vance Refrigeration) and Kelen Coleman (Isabel Poreba).

“Some of them took pictures of me, so I’m on their phone, which is an honor,” she said. “I feel blessed.”

Nguyen said the convention was “an amazing experience” that allowed her to meet likeminded fans of her favorite show. But like most people after a long day at the office, she was ready to step away from her desk.

“It’s pretty heavy,” she said. “My neck is kind of sore.”

The neck, after all, tops nostalgia as the greatest human weakness.  

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