Aziz Ansari added to the chorus of comedians supplying their specials directly to the masses when he announced this week that he was selling his newest hour of stand-up, Dangerously Delicious, for five bucks online. The special is available for an easy and convenient download now on the comedian's website, azizansari.com.
It’s a big year for Ansari, not just because he's helping to pioneer this new method of releasing comedy to the people. He's also about to launch a big nationwide tour called “Buried Alive” and the sitcom he stars on, Parks and Rec, will round out its stellar current season starting next month. I recently had the chance to talk with Aziz Ansari about the benefits of releasing his new special himself, what's going on with Tom Haverford on Parks and Rec, the awesome movie projects he’s working on, and how it felt to have Barack Obama name check him during a recent speech.
So, what made you want to release your special online?
I recorded the special in June of last year, and I decided to pay for it myself so I could release it online. I saw how many people had seen the clips of my last special on YouTube, and I compared that with how many people were buying DVDs and stuff, and it just seemed like more people were way more inclined to watch stuff online for stand-up. I thought it'd be smart to try to break that and really try to release it in a way that embraced the way people were actually consuming it. So, I was like going through all these different ideas of what I could do and meeting with different people, trying to figure out a unique way I could do it.
And then, while I was editing it…Louie [C.K.] was in town, and I was hanging out with him while he was editing his special. And he told me what he was doing, and I was like, "Oh, that's interesting. I wonder if that'll work." I wondered if people would download that big a file, whether it would be able to kind of get out there without a traditional marketing system behind it. And I was really curious. It ended up working really well. As soon as he did it, so many people were asking if I was gonna do the same thing. It just seemed like people really liked it, the way he did it. Ever since I made the announcement early Tuesday, the response has been so positive. Everybody has overwhelmingly been like, “Oh, I'm so glad you're doing this too. I hope more people do it.” And people just really seem to be into the idea of “I pay five dollars, I get this video file. I'm paying it directly to the artist. It's exactly what they want me to see. It's not censored or anything.”
I think people just really appreciate it. I was never worried about people stealing it or anything because I think if you make it easy for people to buy something and you make it at a fair price, I think people will buy it and not bother to steal it. I remember reading a bunch of surveys that said the same thing. When they surveyed people that steal stuff online, they say, "If there was a convenient way to buy it and it was at a fair price, I would just buy it and not steal it." A lot of things aren't available that way, but if you fund your own special, you own the material, so you can kind of release it exactly how you want.
Do you think you’ll continue to put stuff out that way in the future?
I don't know. I'm going on a new tour called "Buried Alive," which is all new material not in the special. I'll probably tour that for a while. The last special, I released two years ago, so things have changed so much in that time. The next one I release is probably a couple years. I mean, who knows what the landscape'll be? I dunno what would make sense at that time, so I can't really say. Right now, it seems like this method is something that people really appreciate and like.
You mentioned Louis C.K. You used to open for him on the road, right?
No, I've done shows with him, but I never went on the road with him.
But I'm assuming he's amongst the comedians you look up to.
Sure, yeah, of course. I know him 'cause he did stuff on Parks and knew him a little bit here and there, but from doing Parks, I got to know him a little bit better. Occasionally, we'll drop in at the same comedy club, and we'll always chat. He's just such a smart guy, and he's so generous with all his wisdom. I just gotta glean whatever advice from him I can. He's someone I look up to, and I think he's really established himself as a good comic. We're both doing theatres and things like that, so it's interesting to talk to someone else who's doing that stuff and get their take on it. He's a little more experienced than I am, so I always try to talk to him whenever I can.
What can fans expect to hear you talk about in the new special?
I hate describing the jokes because it just sounds boring. The first special I did, I was in a relationship, and this special, I'm single, so you hear me talk about that a little bit. There's an update on my cousin Harris. I help him on his college essay, so I tell a story about that. And then, there're other random things. I talk about how frustrating it is wasting time on the Internet all the time. There's a story about how I found out that 50 Cent doesn't know what grapefruit is. There's a lot of stuff on there. You should just watch the special because it's kind of cool to go to a show and just see what they're gonna talk about. That's one thing I like about this too is it's not censored or anything. There are no commercials or anything, so once you start watching a special, it’s like being at a concert, you know?
On Parks and Rec, what was your reaction when you saw that the writers paired you up with Rashida Jones’s character?
They talked to us about it, and I thought it was a funny idea to do this kind of pure comedic relationship between these two, and I thought it would be a fun attitude for Tom to play and fun for Rashida. We just had fun with it.
How involved are you with the direction they take your character?
It’s pretty much dictated by the writers and producers, but they chat with us about stuff and get our take on things every now and then, but overall, the scripts and everything are guided by them.
What’s the status on the movies you’re writing for Judd Apatow?
We’re just working on rewrites of scripts and things like that and then [there are] a couple other movies I’ve been working on. There’s one I’ve been working on with Jason Woliner and this guy Harris Wittels, who’s a writer on Parks. I’m really excited about that. It’s called Big Time. The premise is me and another guy – these two guys who, we’re kind of losers, and one day, we’re walking home. We see this burning building and we save all these little black kids from a fire. Someone gets video of it, and it becomes this huge viral video. We become these huge national heroes, like Sully Sullenberger, one of these people. And it’s about us dealing with our 15 minutes of fame. It’s really funny. Harris did a really good job, and we’re working on that.
The thing with movie stuff is it takes forever. You saw 21 Jump Street last weekend; that took like five years to get from start to finish. To just get the script developed and all that stuff. It’s just so slow. What’s kind of rewarding about stand-up is [that] I can think of a joke, tell it that night, and then go do a tour. Movie stuff is kind of frustrating and slow sometimes, but I’m really excited about those projects, and I’m gonna try to fit one of them [in] next hiatus I have with Parks and Rec. This hiatus, I’m just doing the tour, and I’m doing a small part in the Apocalypse movie that Seth Rogen and them are doing.
Were you shocked when Barack Obama mentioned you in his speech a couple weeks ago?
Yeah, I was stunned. I didn’t know that was gonna happen. I spoke at that event before he spoke, and I was just thrilled to the do that, that he would be there. I didn’t think he would mention me in his speech. It was pretty crazy, and definitely one of the most insane things that has happened.
Have you been performing the Randy character on stage lately or have you put that to rest for a while?
No, I just did that character when I was doing Funny People, but I really haven’t done it since then. I did it in Funny People, and then I had that little bit of material, so I did it on my last special. That was like two years ago.
Do you ever find yourself accidentally slipping into mannerisms of that character on stage?
No, I made the Randy character, so wouldn’t it be the other way around? Wouldn’t the Randy character be adapting Aziz mannerisms?
Yeah, that makes more sense.
That character, all the jokes are about like getting his dick sucked, going down on girls, and fucking all the time. If you watch my stand-up, it’s not really about that as much.
Has there been anything new that you’ve found about stand-up that you love?
Stand-up’s always been really exciting for me, and I’ve been doing it for almost 11 years now. I’m really excited about the new tour. You always here there’s markers – when you hit seven years, when you hit 10 years, you feel there’s a leap in your ability. I hit 10 years when I started writing the material for this new tour, and I definitely felt much better as a performer and much more confident and everything. I’m really excited about the new tour [and] the material that I developed. I think it’s gonna be really good.
Okay, last question. Do you wanna take this time to send out a threat or a warning to people who want to pirate your special or steal it?
You know, I don’t really have any threat to anybody. From what I’ve seen so far, it’s like what I was saying: Since it’s easily available and it’s a fair price and it’s convenient, I’m not really worried about people going out and stealing it that much.
I did a Reddit thing today, and someone brought that up. I just told them, if people could make fake torrents [for the special] to have Jingle All the Way, the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, I’d appreciate that. Then, when people download a torrent, it would just be Jingle All the Way.
Download Aziz Ansari's new special Dangerously Delicious on his official website and keep an eye out for his nationwide stand-up tour "Buried Alive," which kicks off next month.
Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.