Andy Samberg and Co-Creator Michael Schur Talk BROOKLYN NINE-NINE, the Line Between Comedy and Parody, and Improv on Set

     August 9, 2013

Brooklyn Nine-Nine andy samberg

From Emmy Award-winning writer/producers Michael Schur and Dan Goor (Parks and Recreation), Brooklyn Nine-Nine (premiering on Fox on September 17th) is a new single-camera ensemble comedy about what happens when a talented, but carefree detective gets a new captain with a lot to prove.  Detective Jake Peralta (SNL‘s Andy Samberg) is a good enough cop that he has never had to work that hard or follow the rules too closely, until Captain Ray Holt (Andre Braugher) comes to the precinct and reminds the hotshot cop to respect the badge.

During the Fox portion of the TCA Press Tour, actor Andy Samberg and co-creator Michael Schur talked about the line between comedy and parody, how much improv they’re doing on the show, what attracted Samberg to this project, and whether familiar faces will show up, in the future.  Check out what they had to say after the jump.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine Michael Schur Dan Goor tcaQuestion:  This seems like subject matter that could be ripe for parody, but you’re doing a cop show that just happens to be a comedy.  What is that line between parodying cop shows and just doing one?

MICHAEL SCHUR:  Yeah, this is not Police Squad!  As big a fan as I am of Police Squad!, this is not Police Squad!  It’s a workplace comedy that happens to be set in a police precinct.  That’s the simplest way to put it.  And the idea is that they’re real cops, and the crimes they are investigating are real crimes.  They’re real human beings, doing real things.  We want it to seem like it’s a real police precinct.  That was the goal, the whole time.  It’s hard because Police Squad! and Naked Gun are formative to 38-year-old comedy writers.  It’s hard not to write those jokes sometimes.  But, when we were writing the pilot, the thing that we always knew, from the very beginning, was that Andy was going to solve a crime in the cold open.  That is intended to send the message that he’s a really good detective.  He’s the best detective in the squad.  So, that was a key component of trying to make it a real place.  This isn’t a goofy parody, so we wanted to make sure that people understood that these are very highly-skilled detectives. 

Andy, was it important to you that this character not just be a bumbling cop, but that he’s actually a good cop?

ANDY SAMBERG:  Yeah, definitely!  I think that’s also important for the show to work.  Otherwise, why do you care to track these stories, if he’s not actually good at it?  Then, when he’s being kind of a jackass, you can forgive him more and be on board with him more.  When we first talked about it, it was more like he was going to be kind of like McNulty from The Wire, but instead of drinking problems and philandering, he was doing gags in the office.

Did you do any training for how to hold a gun?

Brooklyn Nine-Nine Andy SambergSAMBERG:  Yeah.  There are two former police officers who are around set to advise, as we shoot.  But before we started shooting the pilot, we all went through the basic, “This is how you hold it.  This is how you’d come around a corner.  You would never put your finger there because it’s against the law,” and stuff like that.  You never have your finger on the trigger unless you are actually intending to fire, in that moment.  That stuff was definitely helpful.

Are you bringing a lot of improv to this?

SAMBERG:  It’s been a system that I really love because the writers are no joke.  They’re real quality comedy writers, so the scripts come in extremely funny.  So far, we do it a number of times exactly as scripted, or as close as I can with getting it memorized, and then, once we feel like we have exactly what everyone had in mind to begin with, we cut loose and try some stuff.  In those takes, there has been a lot of improv, and it’s been really fun. 

How often is that incorporated into the finished product?

SAMBERG:  Well, the only finished one that we’ve seen is the pilot, and there definitely was some improv stuff that everybody came up with on set and on the fly.  I think the spirit of the show is irreverent and silly, and that vibe is definitely in there when you’re doing improv.  I wouldn’t be surprised if that kind of stuff squeaks in through the cracks and gives it a little boost.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine cast andy sambergWhat’s it like being in a show like this where, improv opportunities notwithstanding, you’re essentially handed a script and you’re concentrating on performance, as opposed to the SNL model where you’re creating and writing everything, and then trying to perform it on top of that?  Is this liberating and freeing, or is it frustrating, at times?

SAMBERG:  It’s liberating and freeing.  It’s really nice.  Obviously, people wrote for me at SNL, but in general, it was me with my two buddies making the digital shorts, which we would conceive, write, shoot and edit, generally in about 48 hours.  So, to show up and just be handed 25 great jokes is the best feeling that you can have, as a comedian.  I would write jokes like this, except these are better and I get to look cool doing them.  So, it’s been awesome.

You already had a lot of things going on in your career, but you decided to sign on for a TV series.  What led you to that decision?

SAMBERG:  I don’t generally try to think about trajectory because every time I’ve tried that, it has backfired miserably for me.  So, I generally just go with whatever I have a good feeling about, or what I think is going to be funny because, with the exception of Celeste and Jesse Forever, everything I’ve done is geared towards comedy.  That’s what I love, and that’s what I feel like I have the skill at.  I was not looking to do a TV series, at all, but I was a huge fan of Parks, and I’d seen what these guys had done with Amy [Poehler], who is basically my hero and idol.  So, when they came to me and said, “How would you feel about doing a series?  This is the idea,” I said, “Give me a couple of days to think about it,” but I already knew I was going to say yes because it was just too good to pass up.

Did Celeste and Jesse Forever do what you wanted it to, in terms of showing what you could do, as a writer?

Andy-Samberg-Brooklyn-Nine-Nine-premiereSAMBERG:  Yeah.  I saw the film and thought it was as good as the script, which I thought was very good.  And I didn’t feel embarrassed to have been in it, which was my goal.  I recognize that there were serious moments in it, and that that would be something people hadn’t seen me do before, so that was the challenge of it for me.  I felt like it worked out okay.

Do you remember when, as a little boy, you first realized you were funny?

SAMBERG:  I’m told by my family that, as an infant, they were giving me a bath in a tub, and I relieved myself in the tub.  My sisters started squealing and laughing, and I started laughing hysterically, and my mom always goes, “That’s when we knew.”  I like to think that I haven’t really matured in my comedy, at all, since then.

Were you the class clown, in school?

SAMBERG:  I was literally voted class clown at Berkeley High School.  That’s a big school, too, so I was a real dumb-ass.
Will there be familiar faces popping up, in future episodes?

SCHUR:  That’s certainly the idea.  We were looking for a comedy set-up that we could put it in the pilot, that could be repeated multiple times, doing door duty of literally knocking on people’s doors, and then the door opens and there’s someone standing there, in a real and common aspect of their job.  It seemed like a really good way to grab some funny people that we are friends with, or that Andy is friends with, or anyone is friends with, and just have them show up.  It’s a great comedy setup because, every time the door opens, especially in New York City, you just never know who is going to be behind that door.  We don’t have anyone specific lined up yet.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine premieres on Fox on September 17th.

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