Joe Lo Truglio has a long history playing the law, as seen on “Reno 911!,” “Paul” and — as he reminds us — an episode of “Law and Order” where he was cast as Policeman #2. He also has a deep past playing in ensemble comedy, starting with The State and as a welcome participant in “Superbad,” “Role Models” and “Drunk History.” The new Fox show “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” allows him to do both, as Detective Charles Boyle, one of the bumbling (yet strangely competent) police precinct staffers, alongside Andy Samberg, Terry Crews and Andre Braugher.
How do you balance the detective side of the show with the comedy?
The characters are good at their jobs, so it was important it looked like we knew what we were doing. The detective work gives us an arena, but it's not the center ring. The relationships are what's under the big top. I want to talk about the elephant in the room, but I feel like my circus metaphor is running amok, so I'll stop there.
Can you talk about being a part of comedy groups, rather than as a solo performer?
It's way, way, WAY better than going solo. I've been very lucky. I've had the opportunity to work with an incredible amount of talented people, much more talented than myself. I believe it's why I do good work. I was learning how to collaborate way back when I started with my dear friends in The State. It was a lesson that I've carried into other projects, and I make decisions on jobs based on who I'll be working with. "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" wasn't any different.
How is developing a character over a TV show different than a one-off character in a TV episode or in a movie?
It's new, so I'm feeling it out, but I love it. You find new things as you go along. You have the foundation, the basic stuff, then it's kind of like just building wings onto your house. Before you know it, you're in debt, the pool's been untiled for months, the... This is a terrible metaphor. I should've went with the circus again.
Do you find you have to pace certain character aspects and do you keep finding new things about your character as the show goes on?
It's a little bit of both. You got to plant the big stuff right out of the gate: He's a grinder, he has a crush on Detectiv Diaz [Stephanie Beatriz], he's got no social filter. But then there's stuff that reveals why he has certain objectives, certain goals — romantically, professionally — that need to wait.
What is it like working with Andre Braugher, not only as a more "serious" actor doing comedy, but as a veteran of a major cop show?
He's everything you'd think: engaging, professional, deeply invested in the work. But he's funny as hell too. He's an absolute integral part of why I think the show works. And it's because he brings legitimacy to us clowns who are playing detectives. His presence alone helps sell the fact that we're believable as cops. It rubs off on the viewer, I think. If Andre Braugher speaks, you listen, and if he's listening to somebody as if it's important, then you probably will too.
Inevitable question: How much of the show is improv?
We have terrific writers. But as [showrunners] Mike [Schur] and Dan [Goor] have said, it’s crazy to have the type of funny people this show has and not improv. Most of it doesn’t get in, but a surprising amount does. As far as the vibe on set, the energy — it’s exactly like most of the successful comedy projects I’ve done. No divas, respect all around, kindness to the crew — it all adds up. It’s easier to put your neck out and act like a fool if you feel safe.