Talking to Chelsea Peretti About ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’, ‘Parks and Rec’, and the Differences Between NY and LA Standup
Springing from the creative minds behind sitcom golden child Parks and Recreation and boasting an ensemble that would make any comedy nerd and/or diehard Terry Crews fan salivate, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is, unsurprisingly, one of this year’s most promising new series. Contributing to the ridiculously high hopes is the show’s inclusion of longtime comic and current Twitter hero Chelsea Peretti, who plays Gina, the fictional precinct’s sardonic office administrator. Peretti has steadily gained a reputation as a comedian on the verge of breaking out, her silly and sarcastic style having led to writing gigs on the The Sarah Silverman Program and the aforementioned Parks and Recreation, roles on shows like Louie and Kroll Show, and a practically nonstop touring schedule.
I recently talked to Chelsea about her role on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, her standup career, and the universal act of deleting mediocre tweets.
We last talked to you a few months ago, right before the Brooklyn Nine-Nine pilot got picked up. How did you react when you heard that the show was ordered to series?
Well, it was definitely – I would say exciting. You know, it’s the kind of thing where you’re waiting. We heard a lot of positive feedback about it, but until you have that final answer you never feel certain, so it was just nice to have that certainty. To know that we were gonna get to make more, move on, and that people were gonna see it.
It’s probably the most anticipated comedy that’s premiering this year.
Yeah, I’ve read a lot of scripts and I definitely, personally, have a good feeling about it where you’re in the middle of a scene and you’re like, “This is funny.” I feel like I would wanna see this, and so I think that’s such a great feeling. And also weirdly rare in LA, I think.
What initially interested you about your character Gina Linetti, the department’s office administrator?
Well, Mike [Schur] and Dan [Goor] wrote in my voice really well so it was just obviously very appealing for me to get this rare opportunity where people know your voice. And I just love that she’s able to, because she’s not a detective, she’s able to say things that no one else could really say because she doesn’t have – also that’s her personality – she doesn’t have a ton of fear of personal ramifications or losing her job. I mean, when it comes down to it, she is scared of that, but she gets to kind of really say all her thoughts without much of a filter so that’s fun to play comedically.
Have you been able to call upon your experience living in New York for the show at all?
Yeah, I think that that’s definitely ingrained in my personality and attitude. Even before I moved to New York, I grew up in the Bay Area, and people were like, “You should move to New York.” So my personality already had New York-ish qualities but then obviously living there for over ten years — I went to school there and everything — I think that definitely cemented whatever was already there.
Do you plan on contributing any writing to the series or will you strictly be acting?
At this time, no. I’m just acting in the show, but they definitely let us do some fun takes once we’ve filmed what’s scripted, and so you get to kind of improvise and add your own little flair here and there and that’s fun.
Is there anything you learned during your time writing for Parks and Recreation that you hope to apply to Brooklyn Nine-Nine?
Sure. For example, if you’re improvising, if something is gonna hurt the story in any way or conflict with the story then you can’t set it up. You can’t do something that isn’t gonna have a follow through. These are the kind of things that come from being on the writing side. Or even if things get cut when the editing happens — I feel like I understand why things are cut better than if I had just been acting.
Co-creators Michael Schur and Dan Goor worked on shows like The Office and Parks and Recreation, which were both workplace comedies that were funny but also had some dramatic and emotional weight. Will Brooklyn Nine-Nine be in the same vein?
Yeah, I think one of the things that makes both guys so good is that they’re just really good at building characters and building relationships between those characters. So yeah, I think that they’re never gonna go for a joke that is gonna compromise the story or the character.
One of the things mentioned in early reviews is that there’s an instant chemistry between the cast. Did you guys feel that when you were filming
Yeah, I mean, on the pilot everyone’s a little nervous and wanting it to get picked up and wanting it to be good. And pilots are just notoriously hard to do, but even that was just really smooth. And I think that once we got picked up and moved into future episodes, it feels like a show that’s already been on the air for a while in the sense that people just come in and they just feel like, yeah, you get who the characters are and you get what the story is and what the vibe is. And similarly the ensemble chemistry has just kind of been there, you know? I think that we have people that just — in part because the writing is so refined — people know what their thing is in the show and it helps knowing how to relate to everyone and things like that.
Can you give us an estimate of how often we’ll see Terry Crews shirtless on the show?
[Laughs] I mean, I think it’s… I’m trying to think now, actually. I don’t have an exact stat for you but definitely his pecs have come into play. His physique — I think you’re gonna get it. If you’re looking for it, you will get it.
I was curious about you signing on to Brooklyn Nine-Nine because of your decision to leave Parks and Recreation to focus more on your standup.
Well, I left to focus more on the performing side and it felt like standup and acting were things that were coming together in ways where I just didn’t want to put a pin in that and then leave it and get deeper and deeper into writing until the standup or the acting had become underdeveloped, you know?
So Brooklyn Nine-Nine is allowing you to devote time to what you want to focus on?
Yeah, 100 percent. It’s given me a chance to really develop as an actor.
You’ve been working your ass off in standup since 2000. How does it feel to be in that part of your career where all that time you spent is beginning to pay off?
You know, it’s crazy and I’m really, really happy it didn’t happen right out of college for me, because I feel like I know who I am so much more now than I did then. And I feel like I’m equipped to deal with a big crew and actors that are really experienced. And I feel like I have a certain confidence that comes from working really hard over the years and it feels great. It just feels surreal and it’s almost like — I think a lot of people relate to this in entertainment — that you almost don’t want to fully indulge in how good it feels. [Laughs] Because it always feels like you never know what’s gonna come around the corner. But at the moment, I’m really enjoying it.
Like a lot of comedians, you initially started as a standup in New York, and then moved to LA to make it big. Speaking from your personal experience, why do you think that’s such a common track for comedians? Is it just a rite of passage, or is it because of the opportunities in those places?
Well, I think that New York is – New York crowds are tougher, I would say. Or maybe tough in different ways. You can be pretty edgy and you can be pretty dark in New York and audiences will go there with you. I think LA has a little more sheen on it, so for standup, which is frequently something where you’re really raw and honest – in an ideal case – I think New York is just such a good place to work on that. Also there are just so many really incredibly solid veterans in New York that are doing sets all the time that you can watch and see them work. You know, in LA there tends to be more people who don’t necessarily even love standup in the same way as New York comedians. It’s just like their agent told them to do it or something like that. So you get people on stage who don’t have a certain heart.
You’ve always been heavily involved with online comedy. When you were just beginning, you were behind websites like blackpeopleloveus.com, and now you’ve got a really big Twitter presence and your podcast Call Chelsea Peretti. I was wondering, do you see the Internet as just the way comedians can get their comedy out now or are you really interested in that medium?
I’ve actually always been interested in the medium because I’ve done all kinds of different stuff on the Internet, and I just think that more and more it is just the world that we live in. It’s not some special weird place that is special interest. It’s kind of just a place. And I feel like when me and my brother [Jonah Peretti] did our early websites that went viral I would think it was way less saturated even at that time. But what has always drawn me to the Internet is the immediacy of it. In the same way as standup, you can write a joke and do it that night onstage and get instant reactions. You know, the Internet, you can have an idea and put it out instantly and it’s just so gratifying, especially in entertainment where so many people have so many different middlemen controlling what you do and what you say and when it happens and how it happens. But the Internet is just so free of that, that I think people love that.
There’s no real editing process, but I have read before that you’ll occasionally delete tweets, which I think is something everyone does.
Oh, I delete tweets all the time. The problem is that really there’s no such thing as deleting on the Internet. But there’ll be times where I’ll read a tweet and I’m like “Eh, I don’t know. That’s not that funny,” and I’ll just delete it later. Or if someone will say, “Were you making fun of me or was that mean?” I’ll just delete it if I feel like it came across meaner than I wanted it to or if it just came across wrong. I don’t know. Sometimes I do it and it’s almost like spring cleaning. I’ll just go through and delete tweets I don’t think are up to snuff. Because it’s a medium where you just kind of have a thought and you share it – but that cuts both ways. So sometimes I’m like, “Eh, I didn’t need to share that one.” But I figure I’ll clean it up for someone who’s browsing through all of them later – they don’t have to see the mediocre ones.
So you’ll go back a little while and do it?
Yeah, sometimes when I have downtime and I’m bored I’ll go through and just delete lesser tweets so that someone who’s scrolling through, trying to read all of them or read a bunch of them at once doesn’t have to see – like, I’ll delete @ replies usually a lot, and just clean it up so if someone wants to just read through it for entertainment, then they can.