Lenny Clarke steals doughnuts from co-workers' desks, sleeps in the office when his sister in law is visiting and would rather nap than watch for crooks.

At least that's the case when he's playing detective Frank Harrigan on the new comedy, The Job, that debuts Wednesday, March 14 at 9:30 p.m. on ABC.

In real life, Mr. Clarke drinks tea, enjoys a daily swim in the summer and is a year-round Chilmark resident.

But somewhere between the program and real life rests one funny guy who has spent years making people laugh.

So during a conversation Tuesday afternoon, it's sometimes hard to tell when he's serious. Like when he mentions that he ran for mayor. "And I would have won if I'd just drank a little bit more," he says.

Even the way he began his career in show business -  he started as a stand-up comedian - borders on the surreal.

He was working his way through college as a janitor in Cambridge City Hall. One night he went to a Chinese restaurant and watched some comedians perform.

The next week he returned and told the owners that he had lots of experience. They believed him, or at least they let him go onstage, and his career began.

"Stand-up comedy is without a doubt the hardest thing I've ever done in my entire life. You can turn the whole audience on you if you say one wrong thing," Mr. Clarke says.

But the humor might be in his genes. Just look at his seven siblings. "All of my brothers and sisters are very funny. I think they're all funnier than me. They just didn't have the nerve to get up onstage," he says.

Mr. Clarke's not one of those actors who swears he knew this was his calling from the time he could operate a television. "I never thought I'd be able to do this," he says. "My dad's not Martin Sheen. I'm just a guy from a working-class family.

"I couldn't even dream of it, because it was just too far out of reach."

He was a television addict growing up, but he is quick to criticize what's on the air today. He dismisses so-called reality shows like Temptation Island - where couples are encouraged to cheat on each other - with an expletive, and he admits he'd watch the second Survivor - the hit where people are placed on an island and then vote one person off each week - if the cast all got eaten by wild animals.

It's feelings like these that attracted him to The Job, a show starring Denis Leary that's being billed as cutting-edge comedy.

The half-hour program isn't your average situation comedy. There's no laugh track or one-liners, and it's peppered with rough language.

Although billed as a comedy, the show presents serious issues as well. Denis Leary's character - detective Mike McNeil - cheats on his wife, it's implied he abuses drugs and alcohol, and he smokes.

"We're not promoting or condoning anything. We're showing you how it is," says Mr. Clarke, whose character is nearing retirement on the show. "It's real life. It's what is actually happening around you … do you want the same cookie-cutter mold of Joanie Loves Chachi?"

In creating the show, the writers and actors have relied heavily on advice from actual detectives and police groups.

It's no surprise that Mr. Clarke can analyze television today, since he has had plenty of experience in the field. After 15 years of stand-up, his television career was launched when he was discovered at the Montreal Comedy Festival. His time on the tube has included his own show, Lenny, which ran for 18 episodes. He also appeared as officer Adam Hampton on The John Larroquette Show and hosted The Sunday Comics.

He landed the spot on The Job in part because of a 20-year friendship with Mr. Leary, who is also the show's producer. The friendship started on the stand-up circuit in Boston. So when Mr. Leary asked him a few years ago if he was interested in a cop show, he thought he'd landed a job.

Soon, he found out they'd auditioned hundreds of people for the part.

"So I went and I beat all these guys out. [Mr. Leary] said, ‘Don't you feel better?' I said, ‘Absolutely not,'" Mr. Clarke recalls, laughing.

All his audition adventures aside, the experience of doing this comedy has been a fun one. In part that's thanks to writer Peter Tolan's openness to improvising - something Mr. Clarke is used to from his stand-up career. "This guy is a bona fide, certified genius. I love him. And he's very open to you playing around," Mr. Clarke says.

So he'll memorize the lines, "but then they'll say, ‘How would you do it, Lenny?'"

The filming took place on location in New York city and New Jersey. Although the experience was intense - they filmed five episodes in 21 days - it gave the cast and crew the chance to enjoy the hospitality of the city.

"The city was fantastic. It's like, I love New York, I really, really do. I still hate the Yankees, though," he says.

But as much as he loves the Big Apple, when he's not working, Mr. Clarke can be found in the Chilmark home that he and his wife, Jennifer, a charter fishing boat captain, bought five years ago.

"We love everything about the Vineyard. We love being a member of the community year-round, we love giving back in our way, but one of the most exciting things was when my wife won the striped bass and bluefish derby," Mr. Clarke says.

That happened in 1998, and they continue to enjoy the outdoors; this summer Mr. Clarke says he plans to take up surfing.

He also supports charities and recently helped to raise $100,000 for the Genesis Fund, an organization that helps children with birth defects, at the First Annual Lenny Clarke Celebrity Ski Classic. Last year he played in 36 celebrity golf tournaments.

While they wait for warmer weather, Mr. Clarke and the cast are crossing their fingers and hoping The Job makes a splash. "TV itself is such a huge challenge. Even though we have a bona fide star in Denis Leary, that doesn't guarantee us anything," Mr. Clarke says. "It's a crapshoot." He explains that a show's success depends upon many factors beyond content including the program that precedes it, the competition and the slot in which it airs.

Even critical acclaim, as Mr. Clarke learned with his own show, doesn't guarantee success. "The critics said, ‘We love your show, how does it feel to be critically acclaimed?' And I said, ‘I'll be honest. I'd prefer a hit.' "

He's also waiting for the June release of a movie he did with Martin Lawrence and Danny DeVito, in which he plays a street magician who's a part-time crook on the side. "That would be nice, to have the show be a hit and have a blockbuster summer movie and have Jen win the derby again. That would be a triple-header."