Interview: Aziz Ansari


This interview was first published by MSN Canada on October 31, 2013

Aziz Ansari is just like the rest of us, trying to find love in the modern era of technology

Aziz Ansari’s latest comedy special, Buried Alive, is set to make its debut on Netflix on November 1. It follows his previous specials, Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening and Dangerously Delicious, both of which were first made available on his website for $5 before and then released on Netflix. “I noticed how much people watch my standup specials on Netflix, so it seemed like a good fit to do this one with them directly,” says Ansari on the phone from Los Angeles with international reporters. “[Netflix] presents content in the way that people want to consume it, they get to watch it wherever they want, right away.”

Filmed live at the Merriam Theater in Philadelphia, the comedy special sees Ansari, who recently turned 30, focus on his viewpoint of marriage, babies and finding love in the modern era – a topic completely different from his usual material on popular culture. Toronto fans were able to catch his show this past September when Ansari was one of the headliners for JFL42. While Ansari admitted that he hasn’t looked for love online like many in his age group, he did sign up on dating websites to understand the process – but it didn’t go any further. “I didn’t engage with anyone. I just looked at all the questions and things they asked on the different sites and tried to compare everything. I never messaged anyone,” he tells MSN Canada. “I just filled out the questions and then closed the account right away.”

Once the special is released, don’t expect Ansari to return to his pop culture material as he isn’t exactly done with the subject of modern love. Ansari has signed a book deal with Penguin where he’ll take a closer look at this new era for singles – who we met, how we met them and what happens next – all of which are altered by new technologies. “[The show] is mainly about finding love in this era of text messaging and online dating and how all that stuff has changed the way we treat people or how we interact with each other.” Fans can look at the book, which is scheduled to be published in September 2015, as a sort of companion piece to the next show he is preparing. “I’m just in the very early stages of working on the book. There might be some themes from Buried Alive in there, just kind of me investigating different ideas about marriage, but it’s mostly about the next show that I’m writing. It’s kind of a companion piece to that.”

“And yes, it’s definitely a funny book,” Ansari continues. “But, the goal is to kind of take these ideas and do original research and make it a very interesting read. [I’ll] take those topics that I‘ve been talking about in my standup and view them through the lens of say, Malcolm Gladwell or the Freakonomics guys, who would look and try to learn some interesting things.

Although he was born in South Carolina, Ansari’s family has an Indian background but you won’t find any reference to the Indian stereotypes or mannerisms that many of his colleagues like Russell Peters or Sugar Sammy rely on in their comedy acts. “It’s just something that’s never really interested me. I just found it more interesting to talk about other stuff, you know? Nothing against anyone that does that stuff, but yes, it’s just not my personal taste,” he tells MSN Canada.

Ansari is perhaps best known to television audiences for playing Tom Haverford on NBC’s Parks and Recreation. When it comes to standup and acting, Ansari feels that both don’t necessary influence each other. “Standup is a very solitary thing where I’m developing very personal viewpoints on things while most my acting so far has just been acting on other people’s [writers] shows and things like that. I’m really creating a character.”

The Netflix special arrives at a great time for Parks & Rec fans looking to get their fix as NBC recently benched the series a few weeks into its sixth season in hopes that new series Sean Saves the World, will gain more viewers by having The Voice and Saturday Night Live specials as a lead-in instead ofParks. “Just to be clear on that hiatus things, I think that got kind of blown up in the press, but you know, there are normally reruns that run during Thanksgiving and Christmas time. You’re pretty much getting the same number of episodes that we had [during this time] last year. They’re doing some back-to-back. So, I wouldn’t fret about the hiatus too much. It’s OK and we’ll be back.”

Ansari’s sitcom is currently scheduled to return on November 14 with Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany’s (Orphan Black) second guest episode. “I got into Orphan Black very quickly, it’s a great show,” he tells MSN Canada. Ansari reached out to Michael Schur, his show’s writer and producer, to arrange to have the actress appear on their show. “I talked to Mike about wanting to do this bit where I would have a British accent and we’d get someone who’s British to play a part as well. And then I found out she wasn’t British!” Regarding the next episode, Ansari teases: “It’s Ben’s birthday party and she’s my date for it and you see us hanging out and [Tom] dealing with the fact that he’s met this girl who he really likes but she’s going back to Doctors Without Borders [in Rwanda] and you kind of see how he has to deal with that.”

Also coming up on the show in January is the show’s 100th episode which they recently wrapped up filming. “Amy [Poehler] wrote it and Mike directed it – it’s great. We were all just still kind of in shock that we’ve done 100 episodes. That seems like so many and you feel really grateful that the show was able to get that many episodes. So yes, it’s a great episode and we’re really excited that we made it to 100,” says Ansari to MSN Canada about the milestone.

While Ansari originally thought that Maslany had a comedic background, he was surprised to learn thatParks & Rec was her first comedic turn. As for Ansari, he’s only taken on comedic roles but how comfortable would he be with a dramatic one? “I mean if the right part came along, I would love to do something dramatic. I think that it would be really fun depending on if it was right role. A lot of my favourite movies and TV shows are dramas. Most of the stuff I watch I dramatic,” he says. As for his current favourite drama? Netflix’s House of Cards.


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