Chelsea Peretti on ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine,’ Writing for ‘SNL,’ and Her New Netflix Special
As an early adopter and prolific user of Twitter, Emojis, Instagram, you name it, actress and standup comedian Chelsea Peretti is somewhat of an authority on all things social media.
So when she says it’s time to move away from our internet-obsessed culture and get back to the basics, we should probably listen.
This is just one of the topics Peretti will be exploring in her upcoming one-hour standup special, One of the Greats, which premieres in November on Netflix.
In the meantime, Peretti is back for another season playing self-absorbed office manager Gina on Fox’s breakout hit Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which debuts in a new timeslot this Sunday.
I recently caught up with Peretti to talk about the new season, her special, and her brief stint writing for SNL.
I saw the show is moving to Sundays.
Yes. The show is moving to Sundays. As usual I have no idea what that means. I’m told it’s good.
I hope it’s good. I hope more people watch the show this season because we’re starting off with a real bang here.
Yeah, I think the cast has bonded. We went to the Montreal Comedy Festival, hung out, and did a panel and had a bunch of good dinners and stuff. I just feel like everyone got a lot closer and had fun chemistry. A lot of group improv kind of things. I don’t know, I think the stories are juicy. I’m just excited for people to see it. It’s crazy because I think we shot seven or eight episodes and none have aired yet, so it’s a weird thing where we haven’t seen it yet.
Are there any new characters this season? Any changes in your character?
Of course, you know Charles and Gina have their whole debacle and it definitely makes for interesting choices and how they handle their little tryst. That was fun to get to play some scenes with Joe where we had deeper things going on. Yeah, there’s lots of new characters—Eva Longoria is on the show, Kyra Sedgwick , Patton Oswalt is back, Ed Helms—there’s a bunch of great guests.
You used to be a staff writer on other shows. Is it a relief for you not to be writing scripts anymore—you obviously write standup and other things you do, but just the actual job of being a staff writer? Do you miss it?
You know, there are always pros and cons to every job. There are things that I really loved about writing that I miss sometimes. All those crazy debates we would get into and these tangents that would end up in scripts and things — that was really fun. On the other hand there is this frustrating circular thing and things that happen in writing and I definitely like the immediacy of getting a line and deciding how you’re going to say it and working through the physicality and that kind of stuff—just thinking on your feet a little more.
In the future would you have much of an adjustment working on a non-Mike Schur show? Have you been spoiled getting to work with him so much?
I’m sure I have. Those guys are pretty well known for creating a positive environment. I remember as a writer when actors would come in to Parks and Rec they were like, “Oh my god this is the nicest set.” And I think similarly people feel the same with Brooklyn Nine-Nine. There are certainly horror stories in Hollywood and I don’t want to experience that, but there’s also places like Kroll Show and Louie that are really fun too. I think there is a really good trend with comedy right now. But definitely Mike and Dan [Goor] have a magic touch.
You mentioned the Kroll Show. Are the people involved with that pretty much the crew you hang out with outside of work?
Well Kroll certainly. You know the problem is now my whole generation is working so much. There was a time we were all doing whatever our shitty jobs were and then doing standup at night, and you know, we had a lot of time to hang out. Now we didn’t see it as that at the time, because you’re thinking I got to figure out my career and blah, blah, blah. It’s kind of a magical time when you’re doing open mics and hanging out with your friends talking about comedy and you’re all in it together. Then you go on these different paths. It can be more isolating where people are always on the road or shooting, so when I do get to hang out, I do hang out with a lot of comedians still.
That’s interesting. I was gonna ask what’s the difference between working on a show where it’s people you hang out with and used to do open mics together versus working with people who are close acquaintances but maybe you don’t see outside of work on a regular basis.
There’s certainly a familiarity and shorthand that you have with people that you’ve hung out with for over a decade, but I think we were lucky to have pretty good chemistry on our show. But it’s something that grows with time as well.
So you have a new standup special coming out?
Yeah man, just putting the final touches on it here. It’s getting real.
Are you pretty involved with the editing?
Yeah, I’ve been sitting in on the edit for hours and hours. I’m very passionate about anything where I get to have some creative control. I definitely look at every shot and think about what jokes to cut and what to keep. I wrote this special to have some unique aspects to it. You know, you have dogs in the audience and things of that nature, and so it needed some extra attention and care throughout the whole process. It’s been a real passion project and I’m excited. I hope people like it.
Did you say there are dogs in the audience?
Yeah, there are some live dogs who wander into the audience.
Thank you. I was hoping it would be.
What does the name imply?
One of the Greats?
What do you think it implies? Like how I turned it around on ya?
My initial reaction was “Oh, she’s one of the greats.” But I don’t know? That’s pretty surface-level. I’m not a deep thinker so I’m going to throw it back to you.
Well I think there are a lot of themes about confidence and overconfidence, self-esteem, and ego in the special, so I think when you watch the special you’ll have more of a sense of what the title is about. I think it’s an overblown statement but at the same time I feel like women are frequently seen as guests in the comedy world — you know, a kid sister of the “real comedians.” I like the idea of positioning myself as legendary rather than trying to fit in. Now do I see myself like that every day? No, but I think it’s a funny attitude and maybe on some weird spiritual level maybe it’s a good attitude.
Positive reinforcement. How long have you been working on this special?
My whole life, man–my whole life. I don’t know. I did my half hour—I don’t know when that was—I was still writing for Parks and Rec. And then since then I’d been wanting to put together an hour. Some of it is extremely new and some of it’s older. I certainly wanted to make sure some of the material had a life on TV. I also wanted to have newer elements that would surprise people — a newer take on the standup hour. You know, not just trying to emulate what people did in the ’80s.
Having dogs in the audience is a good start. Any other themes in the special?
There are a lot of themes to it. You know like I said, there are themes of confidence (lacking it, desiring it), being reclusive, there’s social anxiety (peeing and eating in public), interviewing the audience, balancing animal instincts with civilized life, wanting to have a fun life but also wanting to be an adult that develops, grows, and matures, but to have a wild and fun life. And there’s social media stuff about living half your life online, and I talk about Halloween, I talk about dogs, and sweat issues.
Wow! You cover a lot of ground there.
Has the TV show helped you much with your standup career and finding new audiences? Because it seemed like you were on your way even before Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Well, you know, standups can have a huge following without television. Podcasts and Twitter changed the touring life of comedians, because now you don’t need to do morning radio in the same way since you have a following that’s attached to your voice. You can literally make announcements to them about when you’re coming to their specific city. It creates this relationship that you have where there’s no middle man. If you have a podcast or Twitter you can talk directly to your fans. They appreciate your specific sensibility. I think there was a time I wondered why all these people were coming to my shows and it was starting to be an increasingly surprising turnout to me, and I think it’s the power of different media. Brooklyn Nine-Nine certainly has added to it. It’s been huge to be on a TV show and be legitimized and have that opportunity.
You still tweet a ton right?
Oh yes I do. Some would say too much. I’m only waiting for the revolution where the new civil rights leader will come and lead us away from the world of the internet towards privacy and actual physical things.
That’s what I really think.
That we’re going to go backwards and get away from the internet?
Well look at it already. Podcasts are like radio. We’re moving away from fast food to farm food. There are a lot of ways in which people are craving a simpler time. They’re craving things that already were invented and were a part of life before. I’m obsessed and addicted to so many things and a lot of what drives that is my fear of missing out. So if there was some leader who was like (and I talked about this on my podcast): “Hey we’re going to have a campfire and 500 people are going to be there.” Okay 500 sounds like too much. But if they create a more appetizing physical world to participate in, I think that’s the next level. Look at all these iCloud leaks and all this stuff. I think things are starting to get really weird. Am I right? I know I sound like an elderly women but I feel like one. I used to buy music and have physical music but now it’s like, “Well I have this music but I can’t transfer it to this or that computer or on my phone even though I purchased it.” I feel like I’m in a world now where pop-up screens are constantly telling me something is not authorized. I think it’s just overkill. People’s attention spans are like whatever since the invention of TV but maybe they were right.
You’re making a whole lot of sense to me for sure.
But you’re like, I don’t believe a word of it, but I you’re a raving lunatic. [laughs]
No, enough is enough.
I think something is going to give. I don’t know what. Either everyone is just going to be holograms or people are going to turn away from this kind of life.
Was it last year you did the guest writing stint on Saturday Night Live?
Oh God, I have no sense of time but probably. It was before Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Can you just talk a little bit about that experience?
I was a teenager and I was watching Cheri Oteri and Will Ferrell and Chris Farley and David Spade. I interned there in college, so I had a big dose of SNL where I interned in Lorne’s office. It was my first hit of exposure where I got to see a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff, and then this writing stint came along and I wasn’t going to pass that up. It was cool. Justin Bieber was my first week and Colin Jost and I wrote his monologue, which was a lot about Black History Month. It was really fun and obviously Colin was a lot of fun to write with and was super experienced in that world. You’re basically thrown into this world that has all these social dynamics and you’re really just trying to piece it all together. It was definitely a lot to process. It’s a very exciting world. So much happens so fast there.
Would you ever want to go back as a cast member or anything like that?
I don’t know. I kind of feel like that time has moved on, but I would never say never. I love California and living here. I grew up in the Bay area and the California life is a little more of what I grew up with. I like it a lot.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s new season premieres at 8:30pm this Sunday on Fox.
Phil Davidson writes about, performs, and produces comedy.