Interview: Aziz Ansari
Whether addressing the importance of thread count in a bit onstage or fixing a youth basketball game in his role as Tom Haverford on Parks and Recreation, Aziz Ansari has a one-of-a-kind comedic voice.
In addition to his role on the hit NBC comedy, Ansari is a regular on the stand-up scene. Since his days heading the cult MTV sketch show Human Giant, the South Carolinian comedian has gone onto host the 2010 MTV Movie Awards and appear in high-profile flicks like I Love You, Man and the upcoming 30 Minutes or Less. When we called him early in the morning about his upcoming stand-up show at the Wilbur, Ansari was laid-back as can be—newfound mega-fame or no.
TOB: You started in small rooms like the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York, and now you're playing huge theaters like the Wilbur. Have you had to change your material to adapt to the new venues?
Aziz Ansari: It's the same thing ultimately, because you develop the material in those smaller rooms. As I write new material, I do it there. I flesh it out, and I refine it until I'm comfortable enough to do a tour. I haven't changed what I do because of the venue size.
it seems like there's a lot of Aziz in your Parks and Rec character, like when you shout out Soulja Boy. How much control do you have over what comes out?
One thing that's great about Parks is that the guys in charge, Greg Daniels and Michael Schur, are very collaborative with the actors. Any ideas that we have, they're totally open to hearing. We don't always use all of them, but there are definitely ideas that come from the actors that have made it into the show.
For me, one thing that helps when I'm playing a character like Tom is to pick certain things in my head that I think define "Tom." For example, I decided that his hero is Jamie Foxx. So every now and then when we'd improvise scenes, I'd mention Jamie Foxx. So finally in one scene, we ended up doing joke about Jamie Foxx. So they are definitely open to ideas.
You're working with such a great ensemble cast. What's the highlight for you about doing that rather than carrying a show by yourself?
It just feels like a privilege to get to work with all those people. They're all so talented, and everyone really brings a lot to the table. And it's just a joy to get to work with all of them.
It seems like you're living the dream. Is that true? And if not, what could your dream possibly be?
I guess I'm pretty happy. I definitely feel lucky to get to work on all that stuff and I hope it won't fail miserably and everything won't go to shit next year.
Do fans still come up to you and talk about sketches from Human Giant?
Yeah, people still come up to me and mention it. Everyone has their favorite sketch. There are a certain number of them that come up more often. There's one where myself and Rob Huebel play these two guys that make viral videos. Rob plays a guy who cut his penis off, and I play a guy who just made funny faces, and Rob is really obsessed with getting famous. His clip has like, four million hits, where he cut his penis off. And my video where I make funny faces has like twenty six billion hits.
You have a well-documented Kanye fascination. How do you feel about his most recent album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and how do you think it stacks up against his previous work?
I think it's his best album. I really like it. I listen to it a lot. I'm a fan of it.
Are you jealous at all that Chris Rock got to do the comedy sketch part at the end of "Blame Game?"
Oh, I thought it was funny. But I'm sure we'll work on something at some point.
You bring a real exuberance to your stand-up that's not snarky or snide. It seems really genuine. Where does that attitude come from? Is it something that's natural, or do you have to manufacture it?
I find as I've developed material, that my style is more conducive to being excited about things rather than hating things and venting, being really cynical or whatever. It came up subconsciously, and I've stuck with it. For example, when I hosted the MTV Movie Awards and was talking about Twilight, I didn't start of from the vantage point of, "Twilight sucks and everyone who watches it is an idiot." I saw it and talked about what I thought was interesting.
So not exactly the Ricky Gervais mode of award show hosting?
I mean what I did on the movie awards was a totally different thing. But at the same time, they weren't talking about what I did for three weeks afterwards.
Parks and Recreation airs on Thursday nights at 9:30.