Long before SNL made him famous, even before he could talk, Andy Samberg was getting a kick out of cracking people up. “I was told that as an infant, they were giving me a bath in a tub, and I relieved myself,” he recalls. “My sisters started squealing and laughing, and I started laughing hysterically. My mom says, ‘That’s when we knew.’ And I like to think I haven’t really matured in my comedy at all since then.” Anyone who has watched the hit new FOX cop comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine would likely agreed with that sentiment, as Samberg plays detective Jake Peralta, a rule-breaking smartass who’s not afraid to sport a Speedo. Hey, anything for a laugh, right?

I got kicked out of class a lot for not being able to keep my mouth shut. I was literally voted class clown at Berkeley High School. I was a real dumb‑ass.

Why did you decide to do a series?
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 toward comedy, and 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 they came to me, and they 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.

There’s a great, funny dynamic between you and Andre Braugher, who plays your no-nonsense boss.
When we were casting, his name came up and I thought that would be fantastic, and it has been fantastic. He’s so grounded and has so much gravitas and I’m goofing around, it’s like a poodle yipping around a giant. It makes everything funnier because he’s making it feel more real.

Is there a lot of improv?
On the pilot there definitely is some improv stuff, stuff that we came up with on set and on the fly. I think the spirit of the show is kind of irreverent and silly, and that vibe is definitely in there when you’re doing improv. So I wouldn’t be surprised if that kind of stuff squeaks in through the cracks and gives it kind of a little boost.

Does it remind you of Police Squad?
There’s nothing happening on our show that is genuinely outside the realm of reality, like Police Squad. But in terms of being in a police precinct and having things people laugh at, it’s a strong parallel.

How’s the workload?
On SNL, it was me with my two buddies making the digital shorts, which we would conceive and write and shoot and edit generally in about 48 hours. So to show up and just be handed 25 great jokes is the best feeling you can have as a comedian. It’s been awesome.

Just in case you thought we were kidding about the Speedo…

Jake gets away with a murder because he’s a good cop. Do you relate?
Yeah, then when he’s being kind of a jackass, you can forgive him more and be on board with him more. He goes into the crime scene acting like a maniac but he’s extremely serious when it comes to solving crimes. It’s his passion. It’s like sports—he’s the guy who was just born to play and gets a thrill from being good at it, catching bad guys. He’s like a kid in a classroom that’s smarter than everyone else and goofs off, and gets kicked out. But at the end of the year the teacher is like, ‘You’re my best student, but you gotta focus and be a team player because you’re being selfish and squandering your talent.’ I got kicked out of class a lot for not being able to keep my mouth shut. I was literally voted class clown at Berkeley High School. I was a real dumb‑ass.

Growing up, did you ever want to be a cop?
It’s never been a dream of mine. In fact, when we were shooting the pilot, all day long I was playing a detective and as I was driving home on the freeway a cop drove by and I was like, ‘Oh, shit!’

Have you shadowed any cops?
No, we did go to the shooting range with former cops and that’s been very informative. There are two advisors on set, and we had lessons on how to properly hold a gun. But I’m gonna do a ride-along at some point.

Do you miss SNL? Will you go back to host this year?
I’ll go back to host anytime they want me to. That’s something Lorne [Michaels] decides. Yeah, I miss it every day, mostly all my friends who are still there and that sort of environment of camaraderie and the intensity, coming up with something on a Thursday or Friday and have it be on television on Saturday. That rush.

Is cast change good for SNL?
I think it is. Traditionally if you look back on it, when there’s been a large group that goes out and a large group that comes in, it tends to reinvent itself and find a new tone.

Lead photo: Mary Ellen Matthews/FOX