Aziz Ansari: Seriously F**kin’ Funny
Aziz Ansari had no idea Michelle Obama was on Twitter. While the rest of humanity was down in the trenches, retweeting a retweet that included a link to an article about the first lady firing up TweetDeck, the 28-year-old Parks and Recreation star was off somewhere filming another high-profile television commercial or preparing for the national comedy tour he’s kicking off in the coming months or engaging in some other productive, worthwhile activity. Which is great for the many, many people who enjoy his output, but less so for any magazine that sets out to fill an entire article with Ansari’s responses to various topical prompts. What follows is a Q&A with Ansari, along with some random thoughts on random subjects.
You have more than 3.9 million Twitter followers. Do you think of yourself as an influencer?
I don’t care about it, and I don’t think I am on top of stuff. It’s hard. I focus on my work a lot, so I fall behind on reading whatever websites you need to read to be up-to-date. Usually if something’s really good, enough people will tell me, and finally, it’s like, “Okay, I get it: I need to see Breaking Bad. I’m going to watch it. Stop shoving it in my face.”
Recently on your Tumblr (Aziz is Bored), you posted a picture of yourself and comedian Dan Levy at a Clippers game. What made you want to go see Lob City?
The week before, while getting ready for a show at the Comedy Cellar in New York, I found out some players from the Heat wanted to see my set. The Cellar is a small club in the West Village, and at a certain time, LeBron, Wade, and a couple other guys walked in and sat in the corner. It was these huge dudes towering over everyone. Since those guys came to my show, I felt like I should see their show when they came to L.A. to play the Clippers. It was a lot of fun. I love basketball games. Though sitting there, you realize that at any point, all those people in the front could go crazy and run on the court. No one’s watching to make sure no one runs out waving their dick around and screaming. How does that not happen at every basketball game?
Some comics pull from pop culture or politics for material. What are your influences for stand-up?
It’s whatever’s going on in my life. I turn 28 this year, and it has been a pivotal age. A lot of my friends are starting to get married and have children, and for me, that seems so insane. In my act, I talk about those fears and concerns and the oncoming train of life; how it approaches at a certain point and is like, “Oh, you should get married and have kids,” and you’re like, “What? Really? Me? Now?” I was talking to a married friend recently and asked if he was going to have kids. He said, “Yeah, probably in a couple years,” and I was like, “You still have a chain wallet. You can’t have a chain wallet and a baby!” All these people who were the jokers in your life while growing up, they start having kids, and you’re like, “That guy? He’s raising another human being?” It’s a crazy phenomenon.
This is going to be your third big stand-up tour. With all the TV and film work you’ve been doing over the past couple years, how are you feeling about your comedy?
This is my 10th year as a performer. I’ve always heard that when you hit 10 years you start figuring some things out, and I’m definitely experiencing that. I feel really good. When I was coming up in New York, I’d be at the Cellar and see Chris Rock or Dave Chappelle drop in anytime they wanted and get onstage. As a comedian, you work hard to find stage time. It’s really precious. Now I’ve reached a level where I can drop in like they do. When I’m in New York, I’ll drop in three or four times a night. That’s worth more than anything.
You look at someone like Donald Glover, who established himself as a writer-actor-stand-up, and now has an entirely separate music career as Childish Gambino. See yourself ever trying something different like that?
No. I’m very creatively fulfilled by stand-up and acting. I’ve been developing a couple movies with my friend Jason Woliner, a director, and Harris Wittels, a writer on Parks and Recreation. It can be hard to find movie roles if you’re a comedy actor. First you have to look at how few good comedies come out in a year. Then it’s, “Is there a part in that movie that’s right for me at all?” And if there is, do the people making that movie want me to be in it? It’s hard. That’s why I’m aggressively developing my own stuff — so I can write it in a way I think is funny and work with people I like and make something that fits me.
You’ve got a ton of momentum. How are you feeling about the likelihood of getting some of those film projects produced?
The thing I don’t think people realize about movies is that they take a long time. Bridesmaids took five years to figure out — Judd Apatow thought Kristen Wiig did a good job with her small part in Knocked Up and asked her to come up with some ideas. Then they developed Bridesmaids. The same thing happened after I worked with Judd in Funny People, and we’ve been working together trying to figure out some ideas. I just want to produce one movie that makes a mark — like Will Ferrell with Anchorman or Judd and Steve Carell with 40-Year-Old Virgin — so no matter what happens, I can say, “That really captured my voice. That’s the kind of comedy I was trying to do.”
(This article originally appeared in the Spring 2012 issue of ANTENNA.)