Great musical theater talents often come in pairs: Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, George and Ira Gershwin, John Kander and Fred Ebb . . . the list goes on. In the running to join this esteemed lineup of prodigious pairs are Tobly McSmith and Bob McSmith, co-creators, writers, and producers of a slew of musical spoofs, including “The Office! A Musical Parody,” coming to the Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts, for a four-week run beginning Tuesday.
The two McSmiths (they are not related) wrote their first musical parody, “Bayside! The Saved by the Bell Musical,” 15 years ago. They had met as strangers — Tobly was from Austin, Texas, and Bob from Greene, Maine — when they rented an apartment together in New York City.
“Our first iteration of ‘Saved by the Bell’ was at a nightclub called the Apocalypse Lounge that seated about 40 people. We charged nothing, we paid the actors nothing, and we were the band,” recalls Tobly, laughing. “We then took it to [another venue], and three years later I put all my savings into a fall run at Theater 80 in the East Village and it was a New York Times theater critic pick. We kind of took off from there.”
The pair, whose hit shows have also included “Friends! The Musical Parody” and “Kardashians! The Musical,” are busy putting the finishing touches on their newest creation, “Love Actually? The Unauthorized Musical Parody,” opening in New York City this month.
We caught up with the McSmiths, both 39, in a recent phone call from the East Village.
Q. Why parodies?
TM. We loved “Saved by the Bell” and watched it growing up. We weren’t the cool kids in high school. We weren’t Mario Lopez or Zack. We were Screech, so I think there was some commentary we wanted to look at with these series that really were formative for us, and look at them through our own lens and find out what was so funny and wrong and different and really grow those moments.
BM. I think we both grew up obsessed with comedy as well. We both lost our fathers at a very formative age [Bob was 13 and Tobly was 11] and we just kind of turned to comedy — like Comedy Central — and obsessed over it.
TM. Comedy was a coping mechanism for us for sure — and a way for us to express ourselves later.
Q. What is your process for writing songs?
BM. Basically, we just sit in a room and we try and make each other laugh. That’s pretty much the gist of our writing. And I stomp around and throw things a lot.
TM. We both have different senses of humor and different things make us laugh. But if it makes us both laugh, we know that it’s gotta be good, and that’s been working for us.
Q. What brought you both to New York?
BM. I came here to go to NYU. There was a sketch group called The State in the ’90s that I was obsessed with, and they all went to NYU, so I was like yup, that’s the one for me.
TM. I just always wanted to move to New York. I loved “Saturday Night Live,” but I also think there was a lot going on with needing to find a place where I could be safe enough to figure out that I needed to transition — especially after going to college in Lubbock, Texas [at Texas Tech University]. The word “transgender” wasn’t spoken in 2001/2002, and I felt like New York was where I needed to be — plus it had such a great comedy scene and that was really, really appealing to me.
Q. What is it about “The Office” that resonates with you?
BM. One of the great things about the show is the writing of it. But it’s also the characters. It’s all about very human stories at the end of the day — stories about love, about friendship, about family.
TM. “The Office” was comfort food for us. When we were writing our seven other musicals, we would always watch “The Office” to just kind of decompress. We both worked in offices, so the characters in the show are just so relatable and the comedy is just so funny.
Q. How does “The Office” lend itself to musical parody?
TM. There are things that you can bring to life and kind of poke fun at. Look at Michael Scott’s character — especially now after everything that’s changed in society. His jokes can be a little more offensive now, so it’s interesting that we have a woman playing that role and making kind of inappropriate jokes to Pam.
BM. It’s set in a dark, gray office, so it’s kind of the opposite of what you think a musical will be, but there’s something about the format of musicals that really does lend itself to when a character’s suddenly in a confessional. That’s a lot like what a musical is: Suddenly a character is singing and talking right to the camera about their inner thoughts. So it’s really fun to juxtapose these two ideas that shouldn’t work but really do work well together.
Q. What can fans expect when they come to see this show?
BM. We take all nine seasons of “The Office” and we cram it into two hours. It all takes place over one single day, so it’s a rapid-fire, loving homage. We cover basically anything you’d want to see in an “Office” parody — from Pam and Jim’s love story to obscure characters that you had kind of forgotten about until they come onstage.
Q. Do you have to be familiar with “The Office” to get the show?
BM. It helps to get those deep references, but we’ve had people come who’ve never seen the show and they all get it because we’ve all worked in an office. These are human stories at the end of the day.
TM. Comedy was an escape for us, and it made us feel better when times were bad. And right now, times aren’t that great, so it’s wonderful to have this two-hour escape where we’re not talking about politics. It’s reminiscent, it’s funny, and it takes you back to a world that feels safe. And that, I feel, is what we’re all looking for right now.
Interview was edited and condensed. Juliet Pennington can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE OFFICE! A MUSICAL PARODY
At the Wimberly Theatre, Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts, Nov. 5-Dec. 1. Tickets $25-$85, www.bostontheatrescene.com