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Aziz Ansari started doing stand-up eight years ago, but wiggled his way into comedy-geek hearts via the sketch troupe Human Giant, whose often-hilarious MTV show ran for two seasons. More work came fast and furious after that: Ansari was the first actor cast in Parks And Recreation, on which he plays the loveably douchey Tom Haverford, a player with no game. Another breakthrough came via Judd Apatow, who cast Ansari as an obnoxious mainstream stand-up named RAAAAAAAANDY! [Subsequent mentions will refer to the character as Randy. —ed.] in the Adam Sandler movie Funny People, which led directly to Apatow forming a three-movie development deal with Ansari and his writing partner Jason Woliner. Not bad for a 26-year-old who was studying marketing at NYU (and interning for The Onion’s business department) just a few years ago. Ansari recently spoke with The A.V. Club about his hilarious new stand-up CD/DVD, Intimate Moments For A Sensual Evening, as well as his love of food, his upcoming movies, and why he doesn’t think Human Giant is coming back.
The A.V. Club: How big a deal is it for a comedian these days to get an hourlong stand-up special on TV? Twenty years ago, it seemed like a pretty big milestone.
Aziz Ansari: I was really excited to do it. I had never put out any of my stand-up officially, and I’d always been waiting for the right moment to put out an album and a special. I was lucky enough to pull it off. I knew that late last year would be a good time to do it, because I was doing a bunch of stand-up, so I figured I would be in good shape. And I was getting tired of doing some of those jokes, so I was happy to have the opportunity to record them, and then have it out there and start working on new stuff.
AVC: Is this the culmination of your best work, do you think, or is it just the most recent?
AA: I’ve been doing stand-up for about eight years, but this was mostly stuff I had been doing on the Glow In The Dark tour [last year]. There were a few jokes included that were older that I liked, and wanted to have a record of. Like that Cold Stone Creamery joke is older, and the joke about M.I.A. is older, but I liked those, so I wanted to put them on the special just to have them out there. For the DVD extras, I did a 30-minute set at UCB to get some older material that I retired—but still kind of liked—to put on the special. I just wanted to have that stuff out there in some form.
AVC: Do you feel obliged to have a totally new set now that this is recorded and people have seen it?
AA: I think so. It’s hard, because some people like hearing stuff they’ve heard before, and other people don’t. But I’ve decided to put out the special and then go tour with the whole new set. I’ve been working on material for the past few months, and I’ve got it up to around 40 minutes or so.
AVC: You mentioned the Cold Stone Creamery joke, which people saw in Funny People. But in the movie, it’s Randy being hacky, and on the special, it’s Aziz being funny. Where’s the line?
AA: That was another reason I wanted to put that joke on there. That was an older joke, and when we were first filming the Randy stuff, there was no material written yet—I had to write it. That was one of the first things we filmed, and I hadn’t written any material yet, so I was doing Aziz material and ramping it up. So I thought the Cold Stone joke would be good, because I could act like I’m tweaking and just spin around like an idiot a bunch and try to get a laugh. And then when I was doing the special, I wanted to do the original version of the joke so people could see that. So it was also a way to show that’s how I would do that joke, and that’s how Randy would do that joke. Randy’s version is just spinning around and saying, “I’m tweaking!” for 30 seconds, and Aziz’s version has a few more jokes in it.
AVC: While making the Randy documentary for Funny People, did you do full shows as Randy?
AA: There’s 10 or 15 minutes of Randy material, and I’ve done shows where I’ve done that much. When we filmed a big Funny People thing at the Orpheum Theater in L.A., I did a 15-minute chunk as Randy and the audience was really into it, so Judd was like, “Go out there and do some more!” I was like, “I don’t have any more material!” So I just had to Randy up some of my old material. I couldn’t come out as Aziz, because they’d be like, “Screw this guy! Bring out Randy!”
AVC: Did you ever consider just becoming Randy? Some of the people you’re making fun of with the character have gotten awfully rich.
AA: I couldn’t do that. After that long, it kind of becomes too dirty for me, and I get kind of tired of it. There’s only so many bits you can do about getting your dick sucked in a tree or whatever. But I’m going to try to write some Randy material to do on the next tour if I can, because I know so many people like it. People always yell it. Every now and then, I’ll be like, “Is there anything you want to talk about?” and someone invariably yells, “RAAAAAAAANDY!”
AVC: You Tweeted about Quentin Tarantino yelling “Randy” at you. Did that really happen?
AA: Yeah! That was one of the coolest things. I was at some party and he showed up and yelled “RAAAAAAAANDY!” I couldn’t believe it. I talked to him for a bit about it. One of the three movies we’re doing with Judd is a Randy movie; we’re not sure what order we’ll do them in. People on the Internet were like, “a Randy movie would be terrible!” How do you know? You think we just said “Randy movie” and didn’t think about it at all? But Quentin Tarantino was like, “Man, a Randy movie, I would love to see that!” So I just want to send a mass e-mail to all those Internet people who thought a Randy movie would be terrible: “You know who thinks it would be a great idea? Quentin Tarantino.”
AVC: Let’s start a rumor that he’s attached to direct.
AA: That’s what I told Jason [Woliner]. I was like, “Man, we gotta get Quentin Tarantino to guest-direct a segment of the Randy movie.” [Laughs.]
AVC: So how much time have you put into these three movies you’re developing?
AA: Me and Jason have been trying to do some early work on all three movies, and then once we get that planned, we’ll pick one and build a script on it. So we’re still in the early stages of trying to figure that out. We’re fleshing them out and then trying to pick one to move forward on.
AVC: So do you have basic sketches of the other two that you can talk about?
AA: I can’t really say more than what we’ve said. One of them is about two disgraced astronauts who have to go back to space to clear their names. Another one is a movie about Randy, and the other one is about working for a motivational-speaking company, called Let’s Do This.
AVC: What leads you to the enviable place of developing three movies for Judd Apatow? Was your breakthrough moment being on Parks And Recreation, or getting known for stand-up, or doing Funny People with Apatow?
AA: Judd and I had a good time working together on Funny People, and Jason and I wrote the Randy documentary, and Jason directed it. I really liked that, because it was kind of like we were making a mini-movie for Judd. We would send him cuts, and he would give us notes on the script. It was like a small version of making a movie for him. I think that experience really helped us. When we met with him after, he was like, “Hey, why don’t you guys pitch some movie ideas to me?” He talked about how when he worked with Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg that they wouldn’t just work on one idea, they would work on several: They wouldn’t just be working on Superbad, they would also be working on Pineapple Express. His thought was that it’s good to have a couple of irons in the fire. That seemed like a pretty smart strategy to us, so we jumped at the opportunity.
AVC: What can you say about the dining-out club you’ve started with Tim & Eric’s Eric Wareheim?
AA: Myself, Eric Wareheim, and Jason Woliner decided to start a Food Club where the three of us go to restaurants with a couple of other people. The three of us are the captains of the Food Club, so we have to wear the captains’ hats. We went to Sona, which is this very, very nice restaurant that has Michelin stars. The chef knew our stuff and was really excited for us to be there, and he made us this awesome stuff. But we’re in this really nice restaurant, and the whole time, we were wearing these goofy captain hats. [Laughs.] People are there for their wedding proposals, and they look over and there’s three goofballs wearing hats.
AVC: And the restaurant didn’t ask you to take them off?
AA: What are you going to do when the Michelin-star guy comes in, be like, “Hey get out of here, take off your shirt”? No, you’d be like, “Good thing the Michelin guy is here.” Same thing with Food Club. They were excited that the Food Club came down! We’re gonna send them a plaque.
AVC: Have you guys actually made these plaques yet?
AA: Eric is talking with a plaque-smith right now to get it engraved. We have two plaques to give out. We’ve only been to two different places that have been deemed plaque-worthy: Sona and this place The Gorbals, from Chef Ilan Hall. As we speak, there is a plaque-smith hard at work on a Food Club plaque to give to both of them.
AVC: Can you describe the plaque?
AA: We’ll probably have a plaque-unveiling online sometime in February or March. I wouldn’t want to spoil it for all the Food Club fans that are waiting to see it. If you can put “spoiler alert,” then I can give a brief description. You know what? I don’t even want to risk it. I don’t want to upset any of the followers of Food Club.
AVC: So how long have you been a foodie? Or do you hate that word?
AA: I guess it’s kind of a weird, annoying word, but there’s no other way to describe being really into food. I guess after college, I just got really into food. I also think going on the road doing stand-up makes you more into food. Because when you travel like that, one of the things to do is find really good places to eat.
AVC: There was a profile of you in the Wall Street Journal last year that made an interesting point about your acting career—that you generally play assholes. How did that strike you?
AA: Yeah, it’s kind of a groove I fit into with Tom [Haverford, Parks And Recreation] and Randy. I guess it’s just an attitude that I enjoy playing. Before I did Parks And Rec, they knew it was going to be me and they kind of wrote toward my attitude. But I’ve made an effort—and I think they’ve done so in the writing—to play some different attitudes. Like there’s the episode where Tom gets divorced. You get to see a different side there, and the episode where we make the mural and Tom gets really into the shapes. So I think it’s kind of fun to do different things. I’m definitely aware of it, and I try to do different types of things. Hopefully I’ll do some things that are totally different from that in the future.
AVC: Did that divorce episode in particular scare you at all?
AA: That was the most serious stuff I’ve had to do, playing sad like that, and it was fun. I definitely was a little nervous, but I think it turned out good. I think I looked pretty sad. [Laughs.] I just kind of frowned a little bit and thought of something sad, and then it was all good.
AVC: Do you recall what you thought about?
AA: I thought about a boy in a well and people going over to save him and instead of saving him, they just poured cement down it. And that just made me really sad. [Laughs.]
AVC: Was the boy named Aziz?
AA: The boy was named Josh Modell from Chicago!
AVC: Tell me about your Onion internship. I only realized you had worked for the company well after the fact.
AA: I interned there when I was a sophomore at NYU, and I just interned at the advertising department. I just hung around and played foosball, pretty much. Everyone was really nice, and I still keep in touch with a few people. It was a fun internship, but it wasn’t like I was in the writer’s room or anything like that. I was just going around and delivering checks and stuff.
AVC: And they didn’t realize they had a budding comic genius on their hands?
AA: That was just when I was starting to do stand-up, and I was too shy to tell anybody.
AVC: I saw you live-Tweeting the Human Giant marathon.
AA: Man, I hadn’t seen a lot of that in so long, I had forgotten about a lot of stuff. When I talked to Comedy Central about doing my special, I told them I definitely wanted them to air some Human Giant. I was really happy they did, because a lot of people hadn’t seen it. I think a lot of people who hadn’t seen it before got into it. People started to buy the DVD again. I looked on Amazon, and it jumped up a lot. I was like, “That’s what happens when you actually air the show!” I also get paid $300 million every time an episode gets aired, so I made a lot of money. No I’m kidding, it’s more like $3 million every time an episode airs. It’s kind of the same thing when a Seinfeld episode comes on, whatever Larry David makes whenever Seinfeld airs, I make double that every time an episode of Human Giant airs.
AVC: Do you ever consider reviving Human Giant?
AA: I think it’s honestly in the past. We’re all doing different things now. Jason is directing a bunch of different stuff. Paul [Scheer] is on The League. Rob [Huebel] is acting on a bunch of different stuff. I’m doing Parks And Rec. Another thing is, people think we got canceled. We never got canceled. They offered us a third season and we were like, “We could do a third season, or we could move on and do other things now, and pursue some other opportunities.” That was around the time I got the opportunity to do Parks And Rec.
AVC: The bit in the stand-up special about MTV wanting you to cut the “raped by a dinosaur” bit—is that true?
AA: We actually got that joke in. It’s in the sketch called “Paul’s Time Machine 2,” where Paul goes back in time and he’s raped by a dinosaur. They said it was offensive. And like I say in the sketch, the stuff in Next is way racier than being raped by a dinosaur.
AVC: Do you watch a lot of trashy TV? You seem to Tweet about all kinds of bad pop culture.
AA: Not really. I barely have the time to watch the shows I like, so it’d be kind of dumb for me to schedule in things I hate. [Laughs.]
AVC: Speaking of things you like, do you have any Lost theories for season six?
AA: My theory is that the whole show takes place inside Vincent’s liver, which is pretty out-there, but I think that’s what’s going on. I’m excited for it to come back.
AVC: What can you say about the mix-tape you’re working on with Dave Sitek from TV On The Radio?
AA: Dave Sitek is a friend of mine, and he was talking to me about how he’s doing some more hip-hop production, and just produced some beats for Wale’s record. I told him I’d been thinking about doing a Randy mix-tape. This was around when I put out that remix of that Jay-Z track, “Haters.” I told him I had that idea, and I was like, “What if you did all the beats and MCs, and I do skits in the middle and yell over songs and stuff like that?” So we started working on it, but I haven’t had a lot of time to put into it. He’s worked on it, making beats and working with MCs, stuff like that. I’m excited for it. I think it’ll be good. We’re trying to release it in February. Hopefully if not then, in classic rap-album form, it’ll get delayed. [Laughs.] It’ll come out the same day as Rebirth.
AVC: Have you had any further run-ins with R. Kelly or Kanye West since the special taped?
AA: I haven’t seen either of them since then. I don’t really know R. Kelly. I just met him that one time at the concert. I wonder if he knows I told that story on Jimmy Kimmel, whether he saw that. I hope he’s not upset. I don’t think I talk about him in a bad way. I was actually so bummed I missed the last R. Kelly concert. He came to L.A. and I was gonna go, and we were shooting on Parks And Rec too long, so I wasn’t able to go. Kanye, I haven’t talked to him in a while. I e-mail with him every now and then, but I haven’t hung out with him. Maybe he’ll come back and I can get brunch with him soon. Yeah, I’m gonna get brunch with Kanye and RZA.
AVC: Well I think we’ve got enough. Anything else you’d like to add?
AA: I think we have enough for this interview to go up and people to write in the comments, “Aziz sounds like a dick.” I think we’re fine. [Laughs.]
AVC: Do you ever comment on Internet boards yourself?
AA: No, and I don’t read any of that stuff, because if you do, you’d just go crazy. Years ago, I saw a post about the UK Office, the Ricky Gervais version. People were saying, “This thing sucks!” And it’s like my favorite thing in comedy, maybe ever. And people were saying it sucks, so that kind of shows you… I’m not gonna care what people say on these comments anymore. I’ve entertained some stuff like that, just for material every now and then. Sometimes I’ve responded to people to see what they would do, screw with them a little bit. If someone writes something shitty and you actually address them, most of the time they’re just like, “Oh, I’m sorry. I’m a big fan.” [Laughs.] And they’re really nice people. When you’re on the Internet, it’s people’s first instinct to just go after people.