LOS ANGELES —
The Chicago native has been a doctor, a cop, a submarine captain, a thief, a lawyer, and even a doomed, fugitive karaoke enthusiast.
But you’d have to make a fairly forensic dive into his repertoire to find Braugher in a comedy. Yes, Braugher has shown off his bright smile and sense of humor in previous roles but the actor is known for bringing the gravitas, not the giggles.
Ask Braugher if he thinks he’s funny and he replies, “I think I am,” without cracking a smile, in a manner so serious that it is, in fact, hilarious.
So perhaps it is not so surprising that the actor has finally found his way to a sitcom in Fox’s “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” premiering Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. One of the most buzzed-about new series, part of the reason it works is because Braugher is altering nothing about his approach, effectively working gravitas for giggles as Captain Ray Holt, the no-nonsense new leader of a Brooklyn precinct dominated by Detective Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg), a relentless joker who happens to be a great cop.
“Comedy is really about discovering a humane tone,” says Braugher, managing to create a stillness in the middle of the maelstrom that is the press event happening around him at the Soho House. (The room is crammed with every actor, producer, and writer from all of the new Fox series as well as many of the returning ones, plus hundreds of publicists and journalists, but the Juilliard-trained actor keeps a laser focus.)
He continues to muse about “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and doing comedy. “It could easily be a drama if we just simply turn it dark. I could reach across the desk and choke them, but once again I think the thing that brings out the comedy is the humaneness of the characters and the fact that they’re all trying to grow together.”
Braugher admits that he has never been a big consumer of television in general, the medium in which he has won the most acclaim, and hasn’t been a sitcom watcher specifically. “So it’s hard for me to point out a comedy that I think has that kind of feeling,” he says.
When asked if he happened to ever see the Charles S. Dutton comedy “Roc,” Braugher quips, “Not ‘Roc.’ Not ‘30 Rock.’ Not ‘3rd Rock From the Sun.’ I heard about them but haven’t seen them. I’m a student of the dramatic form. Consequently, I’m a little bit behind the curve on this show, but I’m catching up quickly. I’m a straight man and a straight man is very important, there’s an Abbott and there’s a Costello, and they both help to create the humor and define the world.”
One person who helped define his comedic world growing up was legendary TV writer-producer Norman Lear, and Braugher cites shows like “The Jeffersons” and “Maude” as favorites as well as their mothership show “All in the Family.”
“‘All in the Family’ is a wonderful model for what I consider a comedy that grows and matures over time. The Meathead son-in-law is always going to be the Meathead but the relationship grows and changes over time,” he says. “‘Roseanne’ was a little bit like that. I’ve watched episodes of that which I loved, it’s not a simple comedy, people grow and change over time.”
He has similar hopes for the development of Holt, who will also be seen outside of the precinct house. “Yeah,” he says with a smile. “I get a husband. I don’t know what he’s like but it ought to be interesting.”
One person who has faith that Braugher will make viewers laugh is “Men of a Certain Age” co-creator Mike Royce.
“I remember table reads and [costar] Ray [Romano] would jokingly say, ‘Son of a bitch! Andre’s getting all the laughs,’ ” says Royce with a chuckle of his own. “Andre’s great and he knows that role and how it plays off of what he’s done dramatically in the past. I’ve seen the trailer and I laughed my ass off.”
‘A straight man is very important, there’s an Abbott and there’s a Costello, and they both help to create the humor and define the world.’
And Braugher has faith in costar Samberg, whose digital shorts for “Saturday Night Live” were a favorite around Braugher’s house, particularly “Lazy Sunday.”
“I knew he was a smart guy, hardworking, diligent,” says Braugher. “He not only comes up with the ideas, he writes them, executes them, films them, edits them, and he does that every week so I know he knows how to work quickly. I know he understands the bottom line. I know he’s willing to think quickly, and if it’s not working he’ll make it work and he’ll stay late to make it happen. That’s a pretty admirable skill set.”
He has similar praise for producers Michael Schur and Dan Goor, who worked on “Parks and Recreation.” “When you look at their track record, we’re in good hands.”Sarah Rodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeRodman.