Little is known about Ryan's early life, but it is revealed in a deleted scene from Diversity Day that Ryan grew up in Scranton. At the beginning of the series, Ryan Howard is a temporary employee at the Scranton branch of the fictitious paper distributor Dunder Mifflin who joined the staff in the first episode, earning him the nickname "The Temp".
In early episodes, he is shown to be uncomfortable with his professional relationship with his boss, Michael Scott. Michael often forces Ryan to carry out menial tasks for him while at the same time, becoming obsessed with Ryan's personal life as well as gaining Ryan's friendship, to the point of buying him an iPod for Christmas.
As the series progresses, Ryan begins to display a great deal of contempt and disdain for both his coworkers and his job. This becomes more apparent when Ryan is promoted in "The Job" to work at Dunder Mifflin's corporate office in New York. This leads to Ryan becoming an egotistical braggart despite lackluster sales skills. At various times during season 4 coworkers of Ryan's mention their disdain for him. In the season 4 finale "Goodbye, Toby", Ryan is arrested for committing fraud. He is eventually released and required to work community service.
In the season 5 premiere, Ryan returns to the Scranton branch after Michael arranges for him to work Pam's job during her time at art school. However, his malevolent aspirations to climb back to the top of the corporate ladder are revealed in a talking head, when he adds Jim and Kevin to a list of people who "will be sorry" when he returns to the top. He was also called out (implicitly) when Holly Flax said that his fraudulent behavior was the reason the Scranton office needed to undergo ethics counseling.
Ryan was a member of a fraternity in college and holds an MBA from the University of Scranton's Kania School of Management, which he earned during the second and third seasons. His dream is to one day own his own business, which Michael quickly derided as "a terrible idea."
When Ryan is first introduced to the office, Michael immediately takes a liking to him.(Pilot) It develops into a man-crush, though Ryan quickly realizes how tactless and absent-minded his boss is. He is nicknamed "Temp", and, as a running joke, is almost always called such by Dwight, even after he becomes a full time employee.
Ryan isn't part of any major storyline. The large bag Ryan holds up during the opening credits contains his basketball clothes for the game against the warehouse guys. ("Basketball")
Ryan is still a temp and Michael seems to have developed a man crush on him. In "The Dundies", Michael names him 'The Hottest in the Office' and in 'The Fire' when playing "who would you do?" Michael names Ryan.
Ryan begins attending business school at night, identified in a fictitious press release as the Kania School of Management at the University of Scranton.
Ryan's goal in attending business school is to escape Dunder Mifflin and someday run a business of his own. He tries not to get involved in the goings-on at Dunder Mifflin Scranton, viewing his stint there as a temporary stop and not as a career. During Spring Cleaning (The Secret), Ryan notes that he could clean out his desk in five seconds and nobody would know he was ever there. "And I'd forget too."
Ryan inadvertently started the fire in the episode The Fire, leading to the nickname "Fire Guy" which would follow him for years.
Ryan winds up in a relationship with Kelly Kapoor against his better judgment. He would like to get out of it but for reasons unknown even to him he can't bring himself to put an end to it.
Most of Ryan’s shyness has diminished and he's a lot more assertive and often naughty. Ryan is now a junior sales rep and seems to be happy about the idea of the Scranton Branch closing since he now has an excuse to end his relationship with Kelly, and he is confident that Michael will write a letter of recommendation on his behalf to be one of the employees retained and transferred to Stamford. However, the Scranton branch stays open, and Ryan and Kelly's relationship drags on. The relationship eventually ends however, when Ryan is promoted to Corporate Manager (replacing Jan Levinson), making the former temp Michael's boss.
As a sales representative, Ryan tries to develop his sales skills but fails miserably at every opportunity. In Initiation, the client reportedly said that he did not like Ryan to his face. In Traveling Salesmen, Ryan is unable to say anything beyond "Hi."
Season 4Ryan is now Vice President of Regional Sales and Michael's direct superior. He has overseen a bottom-to-top streamlining of the entire company to help compete with other businesses. Among these is a new website called Dunder Mifflin Infinity.
Ryan is trying to be a "fun boss", as shown when he arrives to Scranton and energetically says "Hey, everyone! What's happening? How's my favorite branch doing?"
Ryan speaks in business cliches, talking about "convergence," "viral marketing" and "takin' it to the streets." He also uses other business platitudes, like responding to suggestions with empty phrases like "I can tell you thought about this a lot" and "That is a great observation."
Ryan is enamored of his new life in New York City, bragging about late night clubbing, meeting beautiful women, and getting a sandwich at 2am. He has let his meteoric rise go to his head, having bought a fancy sports car and fallen into cocaine use. Belying his attempt to maintain a hip facade, Ryan's apartment is a tiny unkempt studio. In the episode "Dunder Mifflin Infinity", he unsucessfully tries to flirt and ask out Pam. When Pam replies that she's dating Jim, he is is humiliated and slightly taken aback. Jim later says in a talking head interview, "Well, I guess he (Ryan) can't get ANY girl he wants."
Ryan's business efforts have met with disaster. The social networking section of Dunder Mifflin Infinity has been infiltrated by sexual predators, and the online paper sales are such a disappointment that he made the Scranton staff come to work on a Saturday to falsify data, entering their own sales into the computer system as an accounting trick to make the Web site appear more successful than it really is.
Ryan sees Jim as his rival and in the episode Did I Stutter? actively takes steps to discredit him with the intent of possibly firing him. However, his attempts backfire and Ryan is eventually arrested for fraud.
After getting arrested and promptly fired, Michael brings back Ryan and gives him his old job as a temp. Ryan pledges to climb back up the ladder and attempts to make amends with the co-workers who he alienated when he was at Corporate.
Ryan convinces Kelly to dump Darryl (which Darryl accepts quite easily) and gets back together with her (in "Business Trip") . This doesn't last long as Ryan suddenly announces his intentions to take a break and go to Thailand.
Ryan reappears in the episode "The Dream Team" , with bleached hair, working at a bowling alley. Michael convinces Ryan to join him and Pam at the Michael Scott Paper Company. Right before quitting, Ryan steals a pair of the rental bowling shoes, presumably to "stick it to the man". Initially, Pam and Ryan bicker back and forth when the Michael Scott Paper Company begins, but the situation gets better when the company begins to make sales and take clients away from Dunder Mifflin.
Ryan developed the financial model behind the Michael Scott Paper Company, according to which the company would be profitable with sufficient volume. A visit to a financial consultant in Broke exposes Ryan's model as flawed, not taking into account that expenses will increase as the company grows. As Michael, Pam, and Ryan ponder their future, Ryan admits that he went to Fort Lauderdale and not Thailand. Michael manages to negotiate a deal that would end the Michael Scott Paper Company and return Dunder Mifflin's clients (Dunder Mifflin unaware that their new rival is broke) and in return give Michael and Pam their jobs back. Ryan is also brought back as a Salesman.
After a tense feud amongst the Sales Team, Ryan loses his job as a Salesman and is instantly hired back as a temp again.
In the episode "The Meeting", he tells Pam that he will go to her wedding.
In the episode "The Promotion", Ryan tells Pam that she could either have one-hundred dollars now or five-thousand dollars later as a wedding gift. After great resistance, Pam takes the five-thousand dollars that Ryan claims he will have in one year's time. Pam reluctantly gives Ryan money to put towards a basketball betting scheme as part of the deal, because ryan claims to be able to determine the winner of any NCAA basketballl game using an algorithm.
In the episode "Niagara", Ryan comes to Pam and Jim's wedding and is seen dancing with Kelly at an office party in Andy's room. Later in the same episode, he questions Jim and Pam after they left for a while to be married on the "Maid of the Mist" in Niagara Falls.
In the episode "Double Date", Ryan seemed to be getting into photography and showed Erin pictures that he took, telling her about how he takes pictures of places where beauty is unlikely. He then shows her a nude picture of Kelly working at her desk in the annex, and Ryan tells her that he is working on a photography series called "Exposure in the Workplace."
In the episode, "Shareholder Meeting", a lazy Ryan is disciplined by Jim. When Ryan refuses to do any work, Jim puts him in a closet, and Ryan regrets and apologizes to Jim, but Jim still puts him in the closet while the office watches.
In "Scott's Tots", Ryan joins Dwight in his plan to overthrow Jim.
In "Secret Santa", Ryan gets Toby for Secret Santa, and is pinned down by Michael, who wants Ryan to sit on his lap.
In this season, Ryan appears to dress in a different style or theme of clothing in each episode.
- Ryan shares his name with Ryan Howard, first baseman of the Philadelphia Phillies. The similarity was intentional, as at the time, the baseball player was a slugging first baseman for the Scranton/ Wilkes-Barre Red Barons. The character Ryan Howard tries to exploit this coincidence in the episode Night Out, telling the club bouncer, "Check again. Ryan Howard, the baseball player." - though this might not be a wise name-drop in New York, given the fierce rivalry between the Phillies and the New York Mets.
- In the episode Christmas Party, Ryan was a member of the Party Planning Committee. He has not been a member since except in a deleted scene from Take Your Daughter to Work Day.
- Ryan considers Scranton his hometown. (Launch Party)
- In Night Out it is implied that Ryan has taken to using cocaine. This is evidenced by his hyper-activity, drastic personality change(he was glad to see Michael and Dwight), frequent use of the washroom and twitching fingers. Additionally, his co-worker Troy, when leaving the club, tells Dwight and Michael not to take Ryan to the hospital. At his apartment, Ryan asks Michael and Dwight what he should do if one of his friends has a drug problem. This is again referenced in the episode Did I Stutter?, when Ryan arrives at the Scranton Branch, he checks his nose in his car's make-up mirror.
- B.J. Novak notes that it is the incompetent people who use the most jargon. Ryan as an executive "is so far over his head, and he wears it so poorly." Novak concedes that he personally acts the most like a jerk when he's not confident, and he brings that trait to Ryan.
- Ryan returns in Weight Loss, and explains he helps the community. He writes down a "list" of people who he now hates, such as Jim and Kevin.
- In Diwali it is implied that Kelly's sisters think Ryan looks like Zach Braff.
- One of Ryan's quotes in the beginning of The Fire was, "I don't want to be 'a guy' here. Like Stanley's the crossword-puzzle guy, and Angela has cats. I don't want to have a thing here. You know, I don't want to be the 'something' guy." As it turns out later in the episode, he had started the fire in the office building, and is now named the "Fire Guy" by Dwight and Kevin.
- Ryan's birthday is also the same day that Michael holds Merdith's birthday party in The Alliance. Though, the date of the party or his birthday are never stated.
- Ryan has asked out 2 out of 3 of Jim's girlfriend's. He asks both Pam (During Dunder Mifflin Infinity) and Karen (In an Email), aswell as when Jim breaks up with Katy, Ryan asks if he could call her.
- Ryan started a fire ("The Fire").
- Kevin cautions Ryan from getting too close to the barbecue. "Not so fast... Fire Guy."("Email Surveillance")
- In Business School, Michael tells the class, "And he started a fire trying to make a cheesy pita."
- In Dunder Mifflin Infinity, Michael kids, "Don't start any fires, Ryan." Kevin and Andy join in the taunting. Kevin quickly reminds Andy that he was not present for that incident.
- In Launch Party, Dwight, mockingly pretending to be Ryan, says, "I started a fire with my cheese pita." Michael joins in the taunting.
- In Goodbye, Toby*, Jim complains that all Ryan ever did was start a fire and grow a beard.
- In Weight Loss*, Kevin calls Ryan Fire-d Guy.
- In "Business Ethics"*, Kevin calls Ryan Hire-d Guy.
- In his time as a sales representative, Ryan has never made a sale.
- In the episode "Initiation", Dwight mentions that Ryan hasn't made a sale yet. In the episode, Ryan goes on a sales call with Dwight and fails miserably. The client said that he didn't like Ryan. Dwight adds, "They didn't have to say it to your face."
- In the episode "Traveling Salesmen", Ryan goes on a sales call with Stanley, and Ryan can only manage to say, "Hi."
- In the episode "Business School", Michael tells the class, "Ryan has never made a sale."
- In the episode "Product Recall", Michael rejects Ryan's offer of help. "No, sweet cheeks. We need someone who's actually made a sale."
- In the episode "Local Ad", Ryan admits that he was a bad salesman. "Look, I wasn't good at sales, right?"
Nicknames for Ryan
|Episode - Season||Nickname||Given by||Remark(s)|
|Health Care - Season 1||Temp||Michael||"Oh, hey temp."|
|The Fire - Season 2||Temp||Dwight||"Was it worth it, Temp?"|
|Halloween - Season 2||The Temp||Devon||"... or The Temp."|
|The Fight - Season 2||Mr. Temp||Michael||"There he is, Mr. Temp."|
|Performance Review - Season 2||Temp||Dwight||"Hey, Temp."|
|Email Surveillance - Season 2||Temp / Fire Guy||Michael / Kevin||"Here ya go Temp, take my jacket." / "Not so fast... Fire Guy."|
|The Secret - Season 2||Temp (3x)||Dwight||"Listen, Temp." / "Temp, shouldn't you..." / "So, temp..."|
|NBC 2006 Fall Primetime Preview||The Tempinator||Michael|
|(Beginning in season 3, Ryan is no longer a temp.)|
|Initiation - Season 3||Temp (2x)||Dwight||"Do you know where we are, temp?" / "Temp! Temp! Temp!"|
|Diwali - Season 3||Temp||Dwight||"Temp! Temp!"|
|The Return - Season 3||Big Turkey||Andy||N/A|
|Beach Games - Season 3||Temp (2x)||Dwight||"OK, temp." / "Damn it, Temp!"|
|(Beginning in season 4, Ryan is the VP of Regional Sales.)|
|Fun Run - Season 4||Wunderkind||Corporate||"They call me a wunderkind."|
|Dunder Mifflin Infinity - Season 4||Sonny Crockett / Fire Guy||Michael||"Hello, Mr. Sonny Crockett. I'm Tubbs." / "Fire guy, don't start any fires!" / "Fire guy!"|
|(Beginning in season 5, Ryan is once again a temp.)|
|Weight Loss - Season 5||Fired Guy||Kevin||"Fire...d guy!"|
|Business Ethics - Season 5||Hired Guy||Kevin||"Oh check it out: 'Hired Guy'."|
|Dream Team - Season 5||Shoe Bitch||Bowling Alley Guy||"Get back to work shoe bitch!"|
|Shareholder Meeting - Season 6||Temp||Dwight||"What, temp?"|
Ryan appears and has lines in all episodes with the following exceptions:
|Characters of The Office|
Michael Scott | Dwight Schrute | Jim Halpert | Pam Beesly | Ryan Howard | Andy Bernard | Kevin Malone | Stanley Hudson | Angela Martin | Phyllis Vance | Meredith Palmer | Creed Bratton | Oscar Martinez | Kelly Kapoor | Toby Flenderson | Darryl Philbin | Erin Hannon | Gabe Lewis
Jan Levinson | Roy Anderson | David Wallace | Nellie Bertram | Karen Filippelli | Robert California | Holly Flax | Pete Miller | Clark Green | Bob Vance | Todd Packer | Mose Schrute | Hank Tate | Nate Nickerson | Val Johnson | Robert Lipton | Cathy Simms | Helene Beesly | Glenn | Hidetoshi Hasagawa | Madge Madsen | Esther Bruegger | Nick | Jo Bennett | Deangelo Vickers | Charles Miner