Aziz Ansari appears to be one of the hardest-working comedians in show business. Between shooting the fifth season of NBC’s Parks and Recreation, he also filmed This Is the End (about what happens when the apocalypse hits during a James Franco house party), lent his voice to the animated movie Epic, toured his Buried Alive show while turning it into a video special, developed new standup material, and turned up in a short film directed by his friend Kanye West. But appearances, as they say, can be deceiving.
AZIZ ANSARI: Hey, so I kind of agreed to do this thing with BULLETT where I interview myself, and… the deadline is, uh, today.
LAZY AZIZ: What the fuck were you thinking, man? How many times do I have to say this? Just say no to everything.
It sounded fun at the time…
Remember this moment the next time something sounds “fun.” Now you actually have to write this thing. You could be napping, or snacking, or watching Homeland, but no. Instead, here we are.
Okay, well let’s just get this done and we’ll be good.
What do they usually ask when they interview you? “What was it like the first time you did standup?” “What made you first get into comedy?”
Can you just Google any other interview I’ve ever done for those answers? Can’t we dig a little deeper?
Hmm, were you a “class clown” as a kid?
You are the worst. I’m not answering that.
What are some other interview questions you hate?
I hate when people ask, “What’s it like being an Indian comedian?” Or similarly, when they ask female comedians what it’s like being a “female comedian.” I’ve never read anyone ask Jerry Seinfeld what it’s like being a “Caucasian comedian,” which is actually a great question.
Never thought it was that insulting.
Mindy Kaling put it best when she said something to the effect of, “I can go head-to-head with any white, male comedy writer. Don’t try to segment me into a smaller category.” I thought it was such a badass thing to say and articulated my frustration perfectly.
Okay, cool. We’re doing good. This is a lot of words. What are you working on now?
I’m filming Parks. I’m finishing my Buried Alive tour soon and am planning on recording it as a special. It’s the best standup hour I’ve done and I’m really excited to release it.
Are you writing new stuff?
Yes. It’s a scary and frustrating process, but, when you succeed, tremendously rewarding.
What makes you say that?
It’s so hard to throw out all of your big hits. It’s like Coldplay going, “Okay, we’re not doing ‘Yellow,’ ‘Clocks,’ or ‘Fix You’ on the next tour. Just the new stuff.” You need hits to anchor your set. So you build new hits, which is hard.
In a standup set, there are monster jokes—they’re very strong and can anchor a topic. In any set, no matter how good, there are certain monsters that rise to the top. Take Chris Rock: Bring the Pain. That is about as strong an hour of standup as I’ve ever seen, but still certain bits rise to the top, “N*ggas vs. Black People” being the prime example. You need several of these strong anchors interspersed throughout your set to make the hour flow, and rebuilding those anchors is tough. For a band, those anchors are the hits everyone loves, but for comedians, you need to build new hits.
What do you write about?
Buried Alive is about three things: babies, marriage, and love. I’m about to hit 30, people are settling down, and what do you do if the idea of changing your entire life and getting married and having kids still seems like a far-off thing? I’d been seeing all these people with babies and I thought, How are they not more terrified about bringing a life into the world and being solely responsible for raising it? How do all those dummies out there manage to raise children? It seems so hard. Marriage—again, I saw people from college getting married and it scared me. It seems so strange to think, I’m going to be with this person until I die. And then I thought deeper. Why am I so scared of it? And I think it’s because it’s really hard to meet people that you really, really connect with.
What’s the joke?
I hate typing out jokes, but I also hate doing what I just did because it doesn’t have the jokes so it doesn’t read as funny. But hopefully it reads as interesting and you can trust the jokes are strong in the act.
What’s all the new stuff about?
So far I’ve been more introspective. I’m still in the very early stages of writing, but it’s kind of about putting a lens on how stupid and frustrating my own tribulations are.
Give me an example.
I’m super-fascinated by how texting and modern technology have made the early stages of our romantic interactions frustrating—that roller coaster of emotions you go through when you text some girl you are into, asking about dinner. You don’t hear back for hours, and you are going crazy . Then you look on Instagram, and she’s, like, posting a photo of her dog and you’re like, What the fuck? Why are you Instagramming photos of your puppy, you rude piece of shit? Respond to my text! I started talking about stuff like that and was stunned by how much it seemed to resonate—such a specific, modern conundrum that has become almost universal. In a few hours of no texting, you can go from elation at meeting someone to total horror and anger.
Are you still crowdsourcing to create material? When writing Buried Alive, you would almost use the audience to conduct surveys and research.
Yes, during Buried Alive I’d take a topic like online dating, which I personally don’t have any experience with, and just talk to audience members about their experiences. It wasn’t like crowd work where I’d make fun of people in a mean way. I tried to come at it with genuine fascination. For the bit I mentioned about texting, I asked people to let me read their text exchanges.
And they let you?
If you’re clear that you’re not just shitting on them, yes.
What have you learned?
Yesterday, I read this girl’s phone. She meets a guy at a bar. She gets his number and has to leave for a concert. He texts her: “Hey, it’s Jim.” She writes back later: “Hey, you still at the bar?” He writes: “Yeah.” She writes: “Cool, I’ll come back for a drink.” Thirty minutes later he writes: “You close?” No response. Fifteen minutes later, he writes: “Okay, I’m leaving.” She just blew him off. Every guy has had some version of this mysterious blow-off. The guy has done nothing. How did he fuck this up? I asked the girl and she was like, “Oh, I just got too drunk and passed out.” This was interesting to me because that poor guy would have given anything to ask that same question, but he couldn’t. This is what I’m trying to write about—why do we do the dumb shit we do when we’re texting? What’s going on in everyone’s heads?
Whatever. This is BULLETT’s Surreal Issue. Anything surreal happen recently?
The Comedy Cellar is my favorite club in New York. Huge comics like Chappelle and Seinfeld just drop in unannounced to work on material. When I first decided to start doing standup in the summer of 2001, I went to the Cellar to watch the show, and Chris Rock dropped in. I couldn’t believe it. He was my favorite comic, an idol, and here he was working on stuff. Now it’s 10 years later, and I’m a dude who can drop in there. I never thought that would happen. Being able to drop in at the Cellar is, in some ways, as cool to me as when I played Carnegie Hall. To go from, Fuck! How do I get more stage time? to, “You can come by whenever you want, the audience will be excited to hear what you have to say”—it’s a dream. One night a while ago, I dropped in to work on material and I was there talking to Chris, who had also dropped in that same night, about writing material and developing bits. It was surreal to think about telling the Aziz of 10 years ago, One day you are going to get to drop in at the Cellar whenever, just like Chappelle and those guys, and some nights you’ll do it on the same show with Chris Rock, and then you guys are going to go up to the bar and talk shop about comedy. That’s some mind-blowing shit.
Photography by Kenneth Cappello