Talking to Aziz Ansari About His New Special, ‘Parks and Rec’, and Why He Prefers Standup to Films
Beloved by many as the stylish Tom Haverford on Parks and Recreation, Aziz Ansari has been amassing an impressive standup catalog for a young comic. At only 26, his first hour special, Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening, debuted on Comedy Central in 2009. In the spring of 2012, he self-released his next special Dangerously Delicious, and tomorrow, his new hour, Buried Alive, premieres on Netflix.
His new material, which delves deep into the world of dating, romance, and children, shows a more introspective side to his personality. But he’s not just talking about himself; talking to audience members and questioning them about their own romantic journeys is now a central part of his live shows. I got the chance to talk with him recently about putting out so much standup, the evolution of his material, and looking at love from an academic perspective.
You waited about three years between your first two specials, but it’s only been 18 months since you released Dangerously Delicious. Why release another special so soon?
I don’t know. I think to most people it doesn’t seem that soon. People are so used to things coming out quickly. For me, I like to put out new stuff. I get very frustrated with movies and things of that regard, because you know, most movies, comedy movies, are pretty bad. And to have a big part in a movie that works, that whoever, Seth Rogen or Jonah Hill, has turned down, it’s a pretty small chance, right? So, I made a choice. I’m not gonna do some movie that I’m not into just to do it. Because you end up having to live in some other city for a long time, in Michigan or Louisiana or Canada or wherever they’re filming. You have to shoot the movie, and then you have to do all this press for the movie, and then it comes out, and it was a lot of time. And what if you’re not really fired up about something? It’s not worth it to me to do that. So I was like, I’m just gonna put my time into standup, and that’ll be what I release that has my voice and has what I’m talking about, and it’s something that everyone can see. And so that’s why I really devote a lot of time to standup.
Truth be told, I have another one already written that I’m like getting ready to tour next year. It was the same thing. I have my hiatus from Parks and Rec, and there’s no movie thing I really want to do. The things that I was getting offered didn’t really excite me, didn’t feel like I would put it out and be super excited to get it out there. So I was like, I’m just gonna invest my time in standup again, and so I have another hour now that I’m really excited about, that I’ll be happy to tour and probably put out another special next year or the year after. I just find standup to be an outlet for me to put out stuff that’s my voice and has my comedic take on things. The only other way to to do that is to do your own show, and I’m doing Parks, so I can’t do my own show at the moment. And developing movies is a slow, arduous process and standup is so easy in that regard. You can think of something today and try it out that night. So, I guess my answer, if I had to sum up this long [laughs] rant I went on, I would say, it’s just that I really love doing standup.
That’s fair. And since now all of your specials are on Netflix, people can do I what I did last night, which was watch all three of them in a row.
Oh my God! What was that like, seeing all three?
Well you really see the difference when you put them all together. I think I’d forgotten just how different, especially that first special is. The pace and everything, it’s almost a totally different performer.
Yeah. I mean, I think you just become way better. I think people don’t realize how young I was when I did Intimate Moments. That was material that I had written when I was in my early to mid 20s. People definitely become better comedians. I think it’s good, I still stand by it, but I definitely think I’m a much better comedian than I was when I did those other speicals, and I hope that I continue to get better. I’m only 30 years old now and now I have three specials. That’s not really super common to have that many specials and to have them still being seen. You don’t really see most comedians’ hour [from] when they were however old I was when I did Intimate Moments. So it’s cool. I’m glad I’ve been able to keep producing them and mature as a comedian and get better.
In watching them all, I was wondering if there was a point where you decided to start talking about more personal things, or did it just evolve? Because especially between the first two hours, there’s such a turn in what you’re talking about and what you’re interested in.
I’ve always got to talk about whatsever going on in my life. So when you look at Buried Alive, what’s really starting to become a big thing in my life is, you know, seeing friends get married and have children and facing this whole fear of adulthood. Thinking like, “Oh man, is this what I’m supposed to be doing right now? What if I’m not ready to do it?” And that was kind of the germ that led to all the material. I think it’s just, you get the things going on in your life. I think when you’re a younger comedian, when you’re writing material, you’re just figuring out to write, you have a lot of fun stuff that kills. It would just be kind of a grab bag full of stuff. And then when I wrote Buried Alive, I was like, it seems like I’m just dealing with like three themes, so let me just write to this and to say something interesting about these idea. And so then, if something funny happened to me while I was going to get a pizza, I’d be like, this doesn’t really have a place in [this special].
And in your newer stuff, audience participation is such a big part of what you’re doing. Do you find that the things people tell you actually end up impacting your comedy, or do you find yourself learning things in real life from what you’ve heard on stage?
Talking to audience members has been a huge part of the writing process for Buried Alive and the new one that I’m doing. It’s just a way to kind of interview people and learn about different things about life that I don’t have experience with. For example, in Buried Alive, it’s not in the special, but there were a lot of shows when I was working on material where I would drop into small clubs and talk to people about their experiences with online dating. And I learned a lot about what it. I’d never done online dating before, so I didn’t have any first hand experience, so talking to other people was how I learned about it. I would talk to audience members about different things, like where they met their spouse and things like that, and just kind of learned a lot about people. That’s definitely been super interesting to me, to find out where someone met the person they ended up spending their life with. Like, what was the random series of events that came together to bring them together with this person that they want to spend the rest of their life. And it’s always an interesting thing to me, so I think it’s helped me learn about these different topics and it’s interesting peeking in all these people’s lives.
And what can you tell me about the book you’re writing?
It’ll be kind of a companion to the show. It’s about love in the modern age. The book idea is to take the topics I discuss in the show, but look at them more in the lens of, what if I someone like Malcolm Gladwell or the guys who wrote the Freakonomics book, took on the same subject? Do actual research about these different topics. So I’ve been meeting with all these different academics. It’ll be a funny book but it’ll also hopefully be very interesting. There’ll be some interesting original research and stuff. My goal is to make it a really interesting book that’s also funny.
And I have to ask – do you have any thoughts about the Parks and Rec hiatus?
Oh, yeah. I don’t know. I think there’s all these alarmist articles, but I don’t think it’s really that big a deal. People are forgetting that the show’s usually off for a few weeks here and there anyway for reruns and stuff, so it hasn’t been something that really struck me as a big deal. They’re moving the schedule around and we’re not on for a couple weeks that we would have been on, but I don’t think it’s a drastic thing. It’s not like that one season when we didn’t have episodes the first half of the year. That was like, oh man, what’s happening? But this, I don’t think anyone is really worried about. I mean, it’s a bummer they’re not on all the time, but I don’t think it’s a cause for alarm.
Aziz Ansari’s Bured Alive is available on Netflix starting tomorrow, November 1. He’s on twitter at @AzizAnsari.