‘SNL’ to ‘9-9’

Andy Samberg on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine’”s Return and Emmy Snubs

We chatted with the 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine' star about the stellar premiere, Billy Joel karaoke, getting skunked by the Emmys, and his most cherished 'SNL' memories. (Spoilers!)

Phil McCarten / Reuters

Jake’s back! (As if you thought he’d stay away.)

After leaving the precinct in the first season finale to work undercover, Andy Samberg’s man-child detective Jake Peralta—equal parts brilliant and buffoonish—returned home, ringing in Sunday night’s stellar Brooklyn Nine-Nine premiere.

Fox’s workplace-cop-com surprised critics and viewers last season with how effortlessly and quickly it found itself: a tricky balance of Samberg’s Saturday Night Live-honed goofy antics, interpersonal office comedy (perfected thanks to creators Michael Schur and Daniel Goor’s times in the Parks and Recreation and The Office writers’ rooms), and Law & Order-parody cop humor. Brooklyn Nine-Nine found itself so effortlessly and quickly, in fact, that though the show and Samberg won surprise Best Comedy Series and Best Actor Golden Globe Awards in January, both were looked over by Emmy voters come August—perhaps a side effect about how easy they made it look.

But fans of the show need not worry about a sophomore slump. Sunday’s episode opened with Samberg’s Peralta undercover in the mafia making nice with the wiseguys at a wedding (thanks to a charming toast and some Billy Joel karaoke), before landing his sting and returning to life at the precinct. And it was as madcap, sharp, and romantic as the series was when it left off in May. Yes, romantic, as it’s becoming ever clear that the relationship between Peralta and Melissa Fumero’s Detective Santiago will toe the notoriously tricky TV line of will-they/won’t-they status.

So will they, or won’t they, be an item? Why the hell was the show snubbed by the Emmys? And what’s in store for the next season? We chatted with Samberg about all of that, bad wedding toasts, Billy Joel karaoke, and more. Plus, with the 40th season of Saturday Night Live just now underway, we couldn’t resist asking him a few questions about his time there, too.

I love the opening minutes of the premiere where you’re undercover in the mafia, particularly the part where you’re giving a wedding toast. Now, Jake’s toast wasn’t that bad, but I live for awkward wedding toasts. Have you ever witnessed one that was particularly cringeworthy?

I was at a wedding where somebody gave a toast and it was like out of a bad movie, where someone who is a friend of the groom started telling a story about the groom hooking up with some random chick years ago. Everyone there was like, “What is happening right now? Why is this person doing this?” It was in front of the family and everything. It was like a speech for the bachelor party, at best. [Laughs]

That’s the classic mistake that guys do with wedding toasts. I don’t understand why! You’d think they’d have learned at this point that it’s a horrible idea.

What is that impulse? Whywould you ever think that is something appropriate to talk about? We were baffled.

Have you ever had to give the toast at a wedding?

Yes. I gave full-on toasts for both of my sisters, which was fun.

Any awkward jokes about their past relationships?

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No, there was no mention of their past relationships. It was definitely a little bit of a roast. [Laughs]

That’s a tricky thing to pull off!

It is. My father points to my wedding toast of my sister as the moment he felt that I was going to work in comedy because I got away with it. Everybody laughed. “That was pretty damned good.”

Given the risk of alienating your family for the rest of your life…

Yes. A small price to pay for confidence on stage.

The other mafia reference I loved was when Jake said he was bonded for life with the mafia guys because they sang Billy Joel karaoke together. Have you ever sang Billy Joel at karaoke?

I don’t think I’ve ever sang Billy Joel at karaoke! I’m much more into the new wave songs from the ’80s. I love a Talking Heads song at karaoke. If they have it, Alphaville.

Now you’re going to have to test this Brooklyn Nine-Nine theory and sing “Piano Man” with a group of people you hope to be bonded for life with.

Just name the time and the place and I’ll be there.

Maybe some mafia members.

I don’t discriminate. Whoever. I got no beef with the mafia.

That’s a good thing to be on record saying. [Samberg laughs.] So let’s talk about the will-they/won’t-they storyline between Santiago and Peralta. How much of a part of the next season will this be?

It’s something that will exist, but isn’t the focus of the show. Kind of the way that it is in real life, where there would be all these romantic things happening but then you go on assignment, or something. It’s out there now, because Jake said that. But it’s not ruling the storylines, or even the Jake-Amy relationship.

But you’re a TV fan, and surely know how great it can be to pair characters like this for a show, and also how disastrous it could be. So what was your reaction when the idea of actually getting them together was introduced?

I liked it. I liked how they handled it, too. It was very straightforward and felt very real to me. Part of what I love so much about Mike and Dan’s writing, and why I like working with them, and what I liked so much about Parks and Recreation, is that they do allow their characters to grow and to change and to learn and mature and regress. All these real-life things, even though the show is written so silly and funny.

But the idea that Jake would even just realize he likes Amy was not just the act of telling a girl that he likes her. It was more the realization that he was maturing, even though he might not realize that. In that way, it’s exciting. And it’s exciting any time you have an episode where something substantial happens, where there’s stakes and potential change.

You mentioned Jake maturing. How much do you think he has matured over the course of the first season, and going into the new one?

He’s definitely matured a little. Even just with the nice arc in “Tactical Village,” where he steps up and stops goofing around and the game of it goes away because he has an actual reason to care. You see him become a better friend to Boyle and be held accountable by Holt and Rosa and all sorts of people throughout the season. He realizes that he actually cares about the people around him, and that makes him care more about his actions. Which is the way it is in real life. [Laughs] Speaking from my own personal experience. You mature because you let people down and you don’t want to have that feeling.

But obviously we don’t want him to mature so much that he becomes boring. So much of the promise of the show is that you have a smart aleck detective who will never stop goofing around. That’s the joy of it. It’s an interesting line to walk, but I enjoy the moments where he does have to grow up.

Let’s talk more about walking that line. Throughout the course of the first season, was there any calibration going in to find the right balance between Jake being a man-child but also being credible and responsible enough to be believable as an employee of the NYPD?

Certainly, it’s something we’re always mindful of. I think there are things that all of the cast, we draw the line in terms of what our characters can or can’t do pertaining to the seriousness of the scenario. You can generally just kind of feel that. If there’s a crime scene that’s particularly dire, maybe you don’t want to push it too far in any one direction. We haven’t done a lot with guns, really. Just Boyle taking a bullet in the butt, which is funny and serious. And treated funny and serious by the show, which I think is the right thing to do, because it is a very serious thing to be dealing with guns.

Right. But this is a cop show, too, and not just a comedy. So is there any more violence that’s going to be worked into the show as it goes on in Season 2? Or is it something you’ll continue to shy away from?

In the end it’s a workplace comedy more than it is an action cop show. It’s about the characters more than anything else—it’s not produced by Michael Bay, or something. Not that I would mind that. One of the beautiful things about the premise of this show is that we can cycle through certain types of episodes. We can have a full-on case episode with action in it and is completely natural to the world. But then we can have one at Holt’s house where we go to a party with him and his husband and talking about The New Yorker and Gina being a weirdo, and all the highbrows being fascinated by her. It’s a luxury that we have, to do different types of episodes.

Last time I talked to you was last season right after you guys—and you—won the Golden Globe. I nerdily follow awards stuff, and pretty much everyone expected you to also get Emmy nominations, too. What was your reaction when you didn’t, because it really did seem like it was so in the cards for you guys?

I wasn’t surprised. I feel like everyone else was surprised, but we weren’t really. We’re still a new show, first off. And second, who knows how these things operate. Sometimes things get nominated for Emmys and I’m like, “Good, that’s what I like, too. I’m glad.” And sometimes I’m like, “That’s what got nominated?!” [Laughs] It’s all art, so it’s all completely subjective, so I can’t even begin to understand how it works. I will say that no one thought we would get nominated for a Golden Globe, and then we did. And then we won, and because of that everyone assumed we would then get nominated for an Emmy. But I always assumed neither. [Laughs] So for me it was just cool that we got nominated for the Globes.

And at least we got to see you do the King Joffrey bit at the Emmys with Weird Al.

Performing with Weird Al was as much as a dream come true as I think I could conjure.

How did that come about?

That was Seth Meyers and Mike Shoemaker’s idea. They thought to have Al come in and add lyrics to the theme songs, and they knew I’d be coming in one way, shape, or form, so they thought why not throw me in there with my hero. [Laughs] It was really fun. I got to hang out with Al for a couple of days. He’s somebody that I’ve known just a little bit through different things here and there. The Lonely Island are really huge fans of his and have been our whole lives, so any interaction with him is great.

The 40th season of SNL began this weekend. I would be remiss if I didn’t pick your brain for memories of being there.

Go for it.

So in 15, 20 years from now, when you’re waxing nostalgic about your time in Studio 8H, is there one story that’s so surreal that it’s the one you’ll be telling your children’s children?

Certainly shooting a Digital Short with Paul McCartney was pretty incredible. My final episode, being on stage at the end with Kristen Wiig and The Rolling Stones and Arcade Fire and the Foo Fighters and everybody was pretty crazy. Any episode where all of the legends show up. I’ve been standing on a stage with Steve Martin and Martin Short and Tom Hanks and Alec Baldwin, Chevy Chase, Paul Simon...all this crazy stuff where you’re like, “Oh, right. They’re the guys!” It’s a pretty special place, and continues to be.

Is there a sketch that you got on the show that you were extremely proud of and happy that it got on that the rest of us would be surprised that you take so much pride in? Maybe it bombed, maybe it wasn’t the funniest, but you just really loved it?

I was really happy I got this Digital Short on called “Roy Rules” about my brother-in-law, which is just incredible because it’s true. I mean the joke is that I wanted to have sex with him, which is not true, but it was awesome to get a song on national television about my actual brother-in-law. That one was as much for me I think as it was for the audience. And we did one towards the end of my time there that I don’t think was received poorly, but it was one that makes me personally laugh really hard. It was with Jonah Hill, this thing called “Tennis Balls,” where we run a science experiment and he gets slammed in the balls repeatedly. The particular way that it is edited together made me really happy. It was a momentum piece that made me laugh really hard.

Do you have a favorite sketch in the 40 years that anyone else has done?

Oh, wow. I have so many. Synchronized Swimmers. Matt Foley. All Sandler’s desk stuff, with the Halloween costumes and stuff. Mr. Tarkanian, Will Ferrell’s sketch, I was obsessed with. Loved that sketch. All the TV Funhouse stuff was mind-blowingly great. Everything Gilda did. There’s a million. All the Goulet stuff. That first Coconuts Bangers’ Ball Goulet sketch where he’s covering rap songs is another one of Ferrell’s that I just memorized front to back. “Ooh, look at this, it’s a big horn.” [Laughs] Yeah. Good stuff.