'Brooklyn Nine-Nine' creators Mike Schur and Dan Goor on following up 'Parks and Recreation'
Their new FOX comedy with Andy Samberg and Andre Braugher isn't a mockumentary
Dan Goor: The other defining thing is on a new show — and this will be happening here — little jokes that you put into an episode become like a little ball rolling and every episode they pick up a few more jokes and a few more jokes. And then it's in boulder and the boulder is Ron wants meat. And that boulder is…
Mike Schur: Jerry's a punching bag.
Dan Goor: Jerry's a punching bag; Leslie can't put enough sugar into her coffee; she loves sweets. It's so funny because they were just jokes in the first 12 episodes.
Mike Schur: And in retrospect they become massive character-defining things.
Dan Goor: So they become very helpful in breaking stories. And it's hard until that stuff starts happening. And some of that stuff we come up in the room and some of that is color that a writer will add because they don’t have a joke in this scene. I guess the joke in this scene is that Leslie is just pouring so much sugar into her drink. And it has nothing to do the scene but that's what we all remember from the scene.
Mike Schur: And then you say, “All right, she has a sweet tooth that fits with what we know about her so far.” And it's extending her character.
Dan Goor: The frustrating thing is you want those moments to already exist. And we have some of them; from the pilot we know a few things. We know Charles loves food and has this surprisingly refined palate.
Mike Schur: But also is a dude who just blurts things out about himself without a lot of shame. Like he talks about how he was constipated for three days and stuff. And doesn't seem to care that people are aware. There’s such a funny shot of Joe Lo Truglio saying, "I was constipated for three days." And Andy goes, "Wow, that's great, Charles. Thanks for sharing." And there's a shot of him just happily grinning and chuckling. For the episode we’re breaking, there’s a B-story where Chelsea Peretti's character has this friend who claims to be a psychic and who is always offering her help to the police to solve crimes and they don't want her to help them. And we couldn't break that story until we came up with the idea that Charles goes up to the psychic and says, "I know a lot of guys around here are making fun of you. My grandmother had certain abilities and she was touched. And I just want to say that I believe in you, I have respect for you.” And then the psychic thanks him and says, “By the way, that woman that you love doesn't love you back" and then just walks away. And so the one guy who believes in her is getting a lot of really shitty news over the course of this episode. But for a while we were fighting it, because Charles's personality in the pilot is that he's like a grinder — he's not super talented or intuitive but he just worked really hard. And that seemed to suggest that he would be the kind of person who wouldn't like what a psychic had to say. But the other things in the pilot are that he's Italian and he loves food and comes from a big family and stuff like that. And so we just went the other way with it and it's like, “Well that seems good.” And by the way between now and the time we write it or rewrite or read it it'll change 20 more times until we figure out what the right answer is.
Was there ever any thought to doing this mockumentary or was that never in the cards?
Dan Goor: It was never in the cards.
Mike Schur: No. We really wanted to do a different style of show. I've now been writing mokcumentary comedy for nine years on three different shows.
Dan Goor: We both love the format of mockumentary.
Mike Schur: And, by the way, it's such a pain in the ass not to have talking heads to explain things.
Dan Goor: Like we decided to use flashbacks because we needed another device to break up scenes and to do comedy. But talking heads are so useful. They're the ultimate cheat.
Mike Schur: Yeah, it's incredible. But we just wanted it to look different and feel different and I think it does.
Dan Goor: Right. We wanted to feel like a comedy version of a police drama. So the color palette and the way in which the camera's move and stuff should hopefully feel more like that. But that also is a little bit like a mockumentary because they seem like hand-held shaky cameras. But it's not as frenetic.
Mike Schur: It's not as whippy and crashy and frenetic and stuff. It's a little more traditionally shot.
Going back to discovering the characters at this point, is there anyone in the group where you feel like, having done the pilot and outlining these first few episodes, “Okay, we know exactly who this is”? Or is no one at this stage yet?
Dan Goor: No one’s at 100 percent of that stage.
But are you 90 percent there with anyone?
Mike Schur: I think we have a pretty good grasp in general on all the characters and what kind of people they are. But even if it's 90 percent, that last 10 percent is the difference between people feeling like that's a nice character and, “Oh my God, I am in love with April Ludgate” or Pam Beasley or whoever. The devil’s in the details I think. Chelsea Perretti, we just wanted to cast in the show because we knew her as a writer and as a uniquely talented and funny person. And part of her unique talents and uniquely funny aspects of her life and her personality are that she's impossible to pin down. Even people who have been friends with her for a long time will say, “You can't exactly describe what it is about her that's so funny.” And that means that her character is not going to be 100 percent known to any of us, including her, for a while. We're going to do a lot of figuring out what aspects of Chelsea's real life can we try and capture in this character. I mean, Nick Offerman and Ron Swanson have a substantial overlap. But Nick is not Ron Swanson and Ron Swanson is not Nick. And like some of those things, some of the qualities and ideas and philosophies that we've given Nick, given Ron are the opposite of what Nick believes.
Dan Goor: The hardest thing to do is figure out that 10 percent. And it's also the most satisfying. Not to keep talking about “Parks,” but it was a joke in an episode that Ron had two ex-wives: both bitches, both named Tammy. It was like a joke that seemed a little improbable that would even make it to the air.
Mike Schur: We were thinking it's really mean of him to use the word “bitches.” It's not a word we particularly like. But he was so funny saying it…
Dan Goor: And it was funny that he looked for the camera and he said it and the idea that they were both named Tammy was ridiculous but funny. And we've had four Tammy episodes that are based on that joke.
Mike Schur: But also the fact that the original line was that they were both bitches, which was a word that really stings. We had to design characters that justified the use of that word. That became like a goal: they have to be evil and diabolical. They can't just be like women that he doesn't like. They have to be actively trying to murder him.
Dan Goor: Isn't there a line about one of them crawling out of Satan's butt hole?
Mike Schur: He said, "What was it like to stare into the eye of Satan's butt hole?" It doesn't make any sense but which is really appropriate. But doing those things for characters – that's where the fun lies. That's why the endless hours that we're spending just knocking around ideas for the first episode after the pilot are worth it, because eventually in hour 72 someone will pitch something that is the magic skeleton key that unlocks the character. It might not happen in episode two or three or four, but it's the reason that everyone's favorite comedies hit their stride…
Dan Goor: In the second season.
Mike Schur: Or in episode seven. The wheels of comedy grind slowly. And once they start meshing…