Chelsea Peretti on Ego vs. Self-Esteem, Internet Comments, and Why Her Special Is on Netflix

Photo: Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

Eighteen months ago, Vulture included Chelsea Peretti in our list of 50 comics audiences should and would know in the near future. To steal a line from a certain exiled Hollywood gossip: Toldja! The club veteran and former writer for shows such as Parks and Recreation and The Sarah Silverman Program has seen her career explode over the past year. She’s now in her second scene-stealing season playing civilian administrator Gina Linetti on Fox’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine, the ensemble Fox comedy that has gotten a Nielsen boost with its move to Sundays at 8:30 p.m. And starting today, Netflix has begun streaming her very first hourlong comedy special, Chelsea Peretti: One of the Greats. Vulture caught up with Peretti to talk about putting her stamp on the stand-up special format, the difference between self-esteem and self-confidence, and whether the, er, “romance” between Brooklyn’s Gina and Boyle is really over.

You’ve done a couple shorter-format specials before, but this is your first full-length one. And since at least the 1970s, when HBO started doing them, hour-plus specials just seem to be this Big Deal in the stand-up world. It’s like a line of demarcation for how “big” the comic is.
I don’t even fully understand all the pomp and spectacle about it. I mean, in some ways I do, and some ways I don’t. When I did my first 15 minutes on
Live at Gotham for Comedy Central, I was like, I can’t believe I’m doing a TV set. Then it’s like a half-hour, and then an hour. I guess when [comics] have an hour, they just have much more of an identity. But that first 15-minute set seemed like an eternity for me at the time. Now I find myself cutting jokes out of an hour special.

You probably could have tried to land a special on HBO or Showtime, but you went with Netflix, which is newer to the stand-up space. Was there a process by which you and your “team,” if you have such a thing, opted to sign with Netflix?
There was no mandate from my “team.” [Laughs.] I just personally wanted to do it with Netflix. The appeal is, (a) I use it. So, on a self-interested level, it’s something I’m familiar with and I enjoy. But (b) on a more strategic level, as someone who’s come up in this time where everyone has social media as another tool to connect with their fans, Netflix just so perfectly meshes with that. I can tweet people who want to see it, and they can instantly access it. Whereas with traditional networks, they air it at whatever time they air it, and you don’t have that same access. It was so appealing to be able to talk about it on my podcast, or tweet about it, or Instagram a screenshot of it — and then people, if they’re sitting around at home, can just
watch it.

I don’t know if this qualifies as a “spoiler” for viewers — so anybody who wants to be totally surprised by every element of the special should skip this question  — but one of the fun things about One of the Greats is the staged audience-reaction shots that run throughout it. How did you decide to include them in the show?
There are gonna be people who love it, and there others who are more purists and will just want straight stand-up. For me, as someone who’s done comedy writing and things like that, I really wanted to have some shaping of the special, some thing that addresses the experience of doing stand-up. Also, when I watch comedy TV specials and appearances, you see these audience reactions shots where somebody’s not even looking at the stage, or they’re scratching their cheek, or they’re looking confused, or a couple is looking uncomfortable. It’s almost the height of comedy that those [shots] are actually inserted into people’s specials! You feel like, What is going on here? Who’s asleep at the wheel that these things that are distracting so much from the final product are just being inserted because of technical reasons — like, you want to cut from one show to another. I just loved the idea of, "Well, if we’re gonna have weird shit in the middle of the special, I want to have some creative involvement in it." I wanted it to be a reflection of all the different responses you see in audiences, and the fears that I feel onstage, and fantasies I have of what I wish the audience was.

And since the special is on Netflix, it could also be a great way to encourage people to watch again, just to pick up on the different characters.
I totally wanted to give [audiences] these little Easter eggs that maybe you want to watch that again and go, "What
was that thing?" I don’t want them to be too distracting from the stand-up. I want the stand-up to be really strong material that I stand behind and could’ve released as its own thing without these things. But I’m a huge fan of GIFs and Vine, and I’ve been very influenced by that part of the internet — where if you just look at that moment in isolation, it’s so enjoyable as a little stand-alone moment.

One of the issues you address is self-esteem and self-confidence. Is that a real thing in your own life, or is it just schtick? And has success at all changed that critical voice in your head?
Well, first of all, success is just more opportunity to fail, if you look at it right. You’re just failing on a bigger stage. [
Laughs.] I’m very fascinated by the distinction between ego and self-esteem. I think that my self-esteem has grown over the years. One reason I’m happy I didn’t immediately hit as a comedian when I was 20 is, I feel like I’ve really had time to build my voice and figure out who I am, what I think is funny, and what I want to do and don’t want to do. That’s an esteem-building path. But ego and grandiosity — I don’t always have that. With some [stand-ups], if they could ride in on a horse, they would. There’s a lot of people whose approach is, “I’m about to pacify this audience with my high-energy comedy stylings.” I’m not always in that mood.

You also talk about comment culture on the internet and how toxic it’s become. What would your message be to anyone reading this interview on Vulture who’s tempted to write something nasty in the comments?
We’re all children of God. [
Laughs.]  I remember once, before I was ever on television, I was talking to this friend of mine. And we were talking about this other friend of ours who had a problem with drinking. My friend was so sympathetic to her. And then Britney Spears came up, who was having the same sort of problems at the time. And my friend was like, “I have no sympathy for her! She’s rich. She’s famous. She has no reason to be depressed.” I think something happens where, if you’re at all in the public eye or making money, people’s sympathy just changes. You become an entity or an object instead of a person. There’s really nothing you can say to stop it. But most of the interactions I experience on the internet are funny or nice.

Let’s talk about Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Besides being an amazing dancer, what are five words that describe your character, Gina Linetti?
Passionate. Apathetic. Disinterested. Lonely. And, let’s see … outspoken.

In the last few weeks, the so-awful-it’s-awesome romance between Gina and Detective Boyle came to an end, or so it seems. Is it totally over for those two kids?
I’m really not privy to the writers’ master game-plan. But I think it’s still evolving. I did just read a script for an episode today, and while they remain separated, there are some very extenuating circumstances that are making their lives intertwined again. There’s gonna be some stuff to process, but it’s unclear what direction it’s gonna take. I will say this: They’re not free of each other.

You worked with Mike Schur and Dan Goor as a writer on Parks and Recreation before they cast you on Brooklyn. Do you ever think of doing double-duty and writing lines for Gina?
If I have a great, crazy idea, I might float it to the writers. But those guys are obviously incredibly respected comedy writers. They write stuff that sounds so conversational and so in the character’s voice, a lot of times, the scripted lines sound improvised. And what they’ve earned is incredible trust from the actors. I trust they know what they’re doing. I trust they have a game plan. I trust that they’re thoughtful, that they’re considerate, that they’re feminist, that they’re progressive — all these different things where you go, “I can relax and just think about this scene because I know the big picture is going to be take care of.” They always make well-rounded characters that people love, and they always have funny jokes.

I’m sure you saw that in the writers’ room when you were on Parks, too.
Mike doesn’t create a room in which where you feel scared to pitch. Even if you have a kind of dumb idea, he’ll giggle at it, and then you’ll keep thinking. He’s just a genuinely fun person, and Dan [Goor] is so ridiculous and silly as well. The vibe of those rooms is one of the things I miss the most about being a writer for
Parks. Those people are just incredibly smart. It was like you were in a fun grad school. Everyone was so driven and hardworking and smart. I just felt challenged to be be my best. We would have these ridiculous debates. Me and Harris Wittels had a nearly violent argument about what kind of cake is best. We were furiously ordering cakes to the office, doing tastes tests. It was ridiculous — but Dan and Mike let you do stuff like that. And some of it would become stories [on the show].

Now that you’ve crossed “hourlong special” off your stand-up-comic bucket list, what other career goals do you have? Will you continue to do both writing and performing?
People have asked me which I liked better, and the answer really is, I love both. I try not to make a hard promise to myself about the future because my opinions change so much. But I would definitely like to write a movie at some point. I’d like to write a TV show potentially.

And hopefully push the Brooklyn writers to let Gina and Dance-y Reagan show off their moves more.
There’s so much dancing on this show now. It’s like Ellen DeGeneres wrote it. There’s more dancing than you can shake a stick at!