Interview: Aziz Ansari Is Everywhere
Aziz Ansari has a lot going on this week: Parks and Recreation comes back for its critically acclaimed third season tonight, he’s doing reshoots for his first major movie role, and this Saturday, he comes to New York to play Carnegie Hall. Not a bad trio of things to be working on, especially when you’re only 27.
I talked to him about all of these projects as well as the scripts he’s working on for Judd Apatow, the free trip he got to Tokyo just by asking on Twitter, the future of Human Giant, and why he really didn’t want to invite his parents to Carnegie Hall.
Adam: So Parks and Rec is coming back tonight, finally. It’s been off for a long time. You guys shot the first two episodes like a year or more ago, right?
Aziz: Yeah, what happened was we finished season two and then we shot six episodes right away — we just kept going and shot six more episodes so we could come back on time in the fall and work around Amy’s pregnancy. So we worked hard and shot those six and then when we came back they were like, “Oh, we’re pushing it to mid-season.” And we were like, “Oh, OK, well I guess we shot those six already, whoops.” You know?
I guess the thing I’m trying to clear up is that a lot of times I still see people writing that, oh, you know, it’s because of Amy’s pregnancy and whatever. And no, it’s not. We shot those six episodes and we were all on schedule, but they wanted to push it to mid-season anyways and that’s what happened. But, you know, that’s all good now. I think what’s happened now is ideal. I think it’s the time slot that we’ve always wanted to have, and I feel like at this point with season three, I think it’s the best season for the show. So I think we’re really ready for the slot and I think we’ll come out guns a-blazin’.
Adam: Nice. So how do you feel about this new, six-episode, epic comedy block that NBC is doing now on Thursdays?
Aziz: Um, I don’t know. I don’t know anything about TV programming or anything like that. Especially, like, network TV. The only night that’s really even geared towards people like me is that Thursday night, with The Office and 30 Rock and stuff like that, and hopefully it works. I hope it’s a good idea. I mean, our show’s on NBC so let’s hope it works.
Adam: The reviews for Parks and Rec have gotten better and better as it’s gone on from season one to two, and now the reviews going into the third season have been great. What kind of changes do you think have been made over time, since the first season?
Aziz: Well I think any sitcom, the first season you’re kind of trying to figure it out. And then over time hopefully you kind of figure out what’s going on, usually. When you watch the first season of Seinfeld, it’s much different than the fourth or fifth season. They figured out, oh this is what this show is. I think over time, when you do a show like that, you figure you the characters more, and what stories work well for the show, and I think it’s just a kind of natural progress of the show getting better from experience.
As you do the show more you realize, OK, this is what’s funny about this character. I remember there was a scene with Jerry and he said something dumb and it just became, like, everyone became really mean to him, and then it became clear, oh OK, that’s one of Jerry’s things. That everyone rags on him all the time. And you pick up little things about the characters, like, there was an episode where Ron was eating bacon and then the writers are locked into this idea that, oh, that’s a thing about Ron, he’s really into pork. And it’s the same with all the characters. You just figure out these little aspects of their characters as you write for them more and have us, as actors, perform them more.
Adam: And in this season you guys have two new major characters Rob Lowe and Adam Scott joining the cast. It’s a pretty big change. How does adding those two guys in there change the dynamic of the cast and show?
Aziz: Well, it’s really pretty crazy how quickly they just jumped in and it didn’t really feel weird at all. They’re just such amazing actors and people that they just kind of jumped in and it never really felt weird to me, it never felt like, “Oh, there’s two new guys on the show?” They just jumped in right away and were able to gel with the cast right away. They’re both great and so funny and we’re really lucky to have them.
Adam: So are they going to be pretty much permanent cast members for the foreseeable future?
Aziz: As far as I know, yes.
Adam: So what’s happening with Tom Haverford this season?
Aziz: In the beginning of the season he’s kind of dealing with this love triangle where he’s dating this girl, Lucy, while Ron is dating his ex-wife, Wendy. And it’s kind of him grappling with that — he’s divorced from his wife, but still kind of in love with her, and he’s dating this new girl and it’s him kind of dealing with that.
And then later this season a lot of the Tom episodes become more about his overall dreams in his professional life. Because I think the funny thing about Tom is that he’s this guy who wants to own nightclubs and own his own cologne and do all these crazy things that no one in a small down like Pawnee ever thinks about doing. There’s no one else in Pawnee that’s thinking about starting their own cologne, that’s just Tom. And he probably should be in New York or LA, but for some reason I think he’s a little bit nervous about doing that, and he’s trying to do the best he can in Pawnee. And in season three I think he really goes for it, he really tries to make these things happen. He makes his own liquor called “Snake Juice,” he tries to develop a game, he tries to develop a salon, there’s a really funny episode later in the season where he tries to develop a game show to host called “Know Your Boob.” Which is like the Dating Game, except it’s called Know Your Boob. And I think a lot of it is kind of arc and building to that. Him figuring out, if this is what I really want, I have to make big moves to make it happen.
Adam: So you were recently in New York working on a script with Jason Woliner. Was it one of the movies that you’re working on for Apatow?
Aziz: Yeah, we’re working on — one of the ideas we sold Judd was this idea about me and another guy playing two astronauts that are disgraced, that have to go back to the moon to clear their names. And that’s the movie that we’re working on. We turned in a draft and now we’re working on our second draft, so we were trying to hole up and get that done. And also we would go out and eat delicious food whenever we could.
Adam: So is that the first — you have a three-script deal, right?
Aziz: Yeah, that was the first one we decided to go with is the astronaut one, that’s the one we wanted to do first.
Adam: In a perfect world, when do you think that would end up getting made?
Aziz: You know, who knows. We’re turning in the next draft now and I would love to try to shoot it — I have a few months off before I go back to Parks, so if we could shoot it during that hiatus I have that would be amazing. But with movie stuff it’s such a different ballgame, I really don’t know. Hopefully sooner rather than later.
Adam: So what’s your writing process when you and Jason are working together?
Aziz: It’s highly unproductive. 70% of the time is spent goofing off on the Internet and the other 30% is spent — no, I would say 50% of the time is spent going on the Internet and goofing around, and the other 50% is spent either deciding what to eat or going to eat, and the Internet time is really just to provide time for the food to digest. Otherwise we’d just continue eating if we didn’t need time to digest.
Adam: So how long have you guys been working on the script?
Aziz: I don’t know, we’ve been working on and off for a while now. It’s tough because Jason and I are both busy with random things, touring, Parks and Rec, and Jason is directing a bunch of stuff, so it’s kind of hard for us to sit down and focus for a long period of time. But we’ve been really trying to focus, and we’re really happy with the first draft we turned in, and Judd gave us some notes and stuff. So soon our second draft will be done and we’ll get it back to him as soon as possible.
Adam: What’s it like working with Judd on the script — the notes process and all that?
Aziz: He’s great. I mean, just as you’d think, he has really great ideas and I think we’re very humbled and quiet when we work with him and we try to just learn what we can and do what he says so he’ll make the movie. [laughs]
Adam: And you’ve got 30 Minutes or Less coming out this summer, right?
Aziz: Yeah, that’s coming out in August and I saw a cut of it and I was really happy with it. I think people are really going to like it. It’s a really cool movie, I thought Ruben [Fleischer] did a really good job. And on one side you have me and Jesse Eisenberg, and on the other side you have Danny McBride and Nick Swardson, and it’s such a unique chemistry between both sides that it just works well as a movie.
The premise of the movie is that Jesse plays a pizza delivery guy and Danny McBride and Nick Swardson are two, kind of, idiot criminals who strap a bomb onto him and tell him he has to rob a bank and get them one hundred thousand dollars. And I play Jesse Eisenberg’s best friend and I help him rob the bank. So it’s basically like Heat with two really dumb dudes. And I can’t really think of, like, a bank robbery comedy, which is surprising. You’d think someone would have done that. And it works, it’s good. You know, it’s the first, like, major role I’ve done in the movie, where I’m in the whole movie. As opposed to like a couple of minutes where I come in and talk about my dick and leave. You know? So I’m glad it’s good and I hope people will go see it and I can get to do more movies.
Adam: And you’re paired up with Jesse Eisenberg, who’s got so many accolades for The Social Network, it’s kind of crazy. They’re talking about Oscars and stuff for him.
Aziz: I know, I told Ruben the trailer should be like, “Academy Award Winner, or, Academy Award Nominee Jesse Eisenberg, Academy Award Telecast Viewer Aziz Ansari.”
Adam: And in addition to that coming out this summer, you’re doing Carnegie Hall on Saturday, right?
Adam: What’s it going to be like doing a venue like that?
Aziz: It’s pretty crazy for me because I started off doing comedy in New York, and to play that venue — I’m very privileged to get the chance to do it and hopefully it’ll be really fun. I invited my parents to come, they’ve never seen a full live show like that. They’ve seen the special on TV where it’s like heavily edited, you know, but they’ve never seen a live show that’s complete uncensored. I was kind of debating, should I invite them to this, is it going to be too filthy? But in the end I decided to invited them, and hopefully they won’t be too traumatized when they hear me talk about Harris sucking dick for cookies or whatever.
Adam: Yeah, I mean, you’re playing Carnegie Hall, you kind of have to invite the folks.
Aziz: Yeah, it’s kind of like, oh your son’s doing Carnegie Hall! But, he’s doing an imitation of a person blowing a hippo.
Adam: Hey, you know, I think that still counts.
Aziz: Yeah the positives outweigh the negatives hopefully.
Adam: Yeah, definitely. So do you have any plans to do more stuff with the Human Giant guys in the future? I know you guys did that thing for the VMAs a while back, so is that just a once-in-a-while, special occasion kind of thing at this point?
Aziz: Yeah, I think we’re all kind of so busy with individual things that it’s kind of hard to bring us together, but I still see those guys and we’re still good friends and every thing, but it’s hard, I don’t know if doing another season of Human Giant is in the cards right now. But Jason and I have worked together on scripts. Jason’s the director from Human Giant. Me and him still work together and hopefully we can keep popping up in each other’s projects. You know, like Paul did an episode of Parks and Recreation. And hopefully we can keep popping up in things in that kind of capacity.
Adam: It used to be, to become a successful comedian and get on TV you’d have to be a stand up. And now I feel like, more and more, people are going the route of doing web videos and UCB, improv stuff, and things like that. You kind of did both stand up and video sketch stuff. How do you see how people are breaking into TV and comedy now, how has it changed do you think?
Aziz: It’s hard for me to comment on it because I think I kind of came around as things were changing. For example, when we were making videos with Human Giant, I don’t think a lot of people were making videos. Whenever I did shows it would be rare that people would show videos, but we would show the Shutterbug videos, the Illusionators, and things like that. And then we got Human Giant and slowly, you know, while we were doing Human Giant stuff, it became more and more popular that sketch groups would make — I’m not saying it’s because of Human Giant, I’m just saying that I just noticed that more people were making videos. And now when I go to New York and do a show I feel like there’s always a video, it’s almost a guarantee. And I feel like now if you don’t make a video it’s like, what, what are you doing, you’re wasting your time.
It makes sense, it’s such an easy calling card to send that around and have people be like, oh, you’re funny. I look for people — for example when we were working on the MTV movie awards I was I trying to find people to write and someone told me, oh you should check out these guys, The Birthday Boys. And I just went on their page on YouTube or whatever and watched their videos and it was like, oh yeah these guys are hilarious, they really know what they’re doing. It’s just, that’s something you couldn’t do a while ago. Because a while ago it’d be like, you’d have to go catch one of their live shows or something, which is not always easy to do. And, so this is like a big help to people, to get their comedic voice out. But, to me, when I was making videos and stuff, it still wasn’t as popular as it is now, to do that. And I kind of was doing a lot of standup and stuff, so it kind of came together from a bunch of different stuff that I was doing. But, as far as how it’s changed now, I think it’s good. There are two ways of looking at it, like, oh it’s so saturated, everybody makes videos. But I still feel like the cream still rises to the top, I feel like I still watch a few things — I don’t watch a ton of things that I like, but I still see a few things that I really like, and I still find them.
Adam: So what do you have coming up, you said you have a break for the next few months, or what do you have coming up in the immediate future?
Aziz: Well, right now I finished Parks and Rec in December and I basically have now until whenever we would theoretically go back for Season Four, off. And I’m going to be touring. I’m pretty much going to be in New York most of the time. I just want to be back in New York and do stand-up a bunch and, like, last week I had so much fun, I was just in New York doing stand-up every night, dropping in on shows and stuff and going to Comedy Cellar, working on new material. And it’s so fun. Like, I love when I can just do stand up. It’s kind of fun, it’s a different chance of pace, you know, than acting in movies and TV stuff. It’s kind of fun to just focus on stand-up and be in New York, it’s always a blast.
So I have those few months off, so that’s my plan, and hopefully one of these movie opportunities will come together and I can shoot one of those movies I’ve been working on over the break, too. So that’s what I’d ideally like to do.
Adam: And you just got back, a few weeks ago, from Tokyo, right? Where you went with [Momofuku chef] David Chang and [LCD Soundsystem’s] James Murphy?
Aziz: Yeah, I did that over Christmas break, it was very fun.
Adam: That’s crazy, because I saw a while ago you tweeted, Hey somebody hook us up, we want to go on a food tour of Tokyo, and then it happened. What happened there?
Aziz: It was crazy. I was with those guys and we were hanging out, and James had just gotten back from Tokyo and we were just talking about how fun Tokyo is, how much we love Tokyo, and it was late at night and we had a few drinks and someone took a photo and I just put it online and was like, on my Twitter, and was like, Hey if anyone wants to send us to Tokyo to eat food we’d be totally down. And then a few days later, the very kind people at GQ magazine were like, We really want to do this. And we were like, What! And they were like, Yeah! So we somehow worked it out and went down there and did it, and it was so fun. And Tokyo is like, man, you gotta go to Tokyo. It’s the funnest city. Foodwise it’s the best and also it’s, like, the most fun too. But yeah we had a really good time.
Adam: Yeah, it seems like some sort of, like, a wet dream — for the guys that you went with, if you’re going to go party and eat food, to go with those two guys is kind of insane.
Aziz: Yeah, it’s totally like one of those things, like, man I hate myself. Things shouldn’t be this good. I feel very fortunate to have been able to do that, it was really fun.
Adam: Well now that you know you can just tweet something like that and have it happen you should push it, you know.
Aziz: I know, I should do stuff like that all the time.
Adam: I’m sure you could get a ride on, you know, the Virgin Galactic spaceship if you tweeted about it.
Aziz: Yeah, that’s a good idea. I probably have like a three-month window where people will actually care about me enough to do that. I’m always operating under the assumption that my time is running out. People are going to get tired of my schtick pretty soon, so I gotta get it while I can.