From Upright Citizens Brigade to VH1 to Premium Blend, this underground comic is speeding toward the surface
By Noah Fowle
Let’s get one thing straight: Aziz Ansari is no longer bored. The clever name for his Web site, azizisbored.com, is just that: a clever name. And lately, the 22-year-old is too busy to entertain any thoughts of idleness. Between writing a one-man show, popping in at Manhattan’s hottest clubs, and appearing on VH1′s Best Week Ever series, Ansari might be the hottest under-the-radar comedian in the game right now. And it’s certainly no case of beginner’s luck. Despite his youuth, Ansari has been mining the city’s comedy scene arriving at NYU as a freshman. He studied the comedians he admired and began to make his own name among them.
Ansari has put in time at open-mics, fulfilled his flier-show duty and dealt with raucous, drunken audiences. Four and a half years later, the South Carolina native has earned a business degree and is hosting his own weekly show, Crash Test, at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. “This isn’t just a hobby anymore; this is how I make my living,” he says. “People make a big deal because of my age, but I’ve been doing this for a while now.”
After the initial push from friends to get up on stage, Ansari enjoyed his early laughs and decided to study the careers of his favorite comedians. Impressed with the work of fellow New York comics Todd Barry and Eugene Mirman, he followed in their footsteps at some of the city’s more alternative rooms and continually pushed himself to create original material. Both comics have helped Ansari navigate his career. “Some of the older guys have really looked out for me and pointed me in the right direction,” says Ansari.
His material has managed to clear the first hurdle of any quick jump into the spotlight. His initial bits relied on wry political insights and the occasional Southern joke, but now most of his material is derived from personal experience. Whether he is striking out with girls, dealing with newfound fans or stomaching the entertainment industry, Ansari continues to view it all through a lens that spares no one, including him. “For me, a comedian becomes unfunny when he’s doing hackneyed material or stuff other people have done before,” he says.
“Early on, the political stuff was really easy, almost too easy. But after the election, I was pretty dejected. I just stopped reading the news.” He’s also happy to make himself the punch line, as when he tells a story about how he punched a wall in a drunken stupor because of a girl.
Over the summer, Ansari’s one-man show, Aziz Ansari Punched a Wall, brought stand-up fans back to the famous UCB Theatre and eventually triggered his current Monday-night Crash Test gig, which raises money for the theater. “We do it for the love, man,” Ansari says. While it’s obvious that his sense of humor is making him successful, he’s sure to point out that the variety of venues in the city certainly helps his career. “There are so many opportunities here. I found some alternative rooms that I really liked and saw what comedians were performing there and worked toward that as my goal,” he says.
Now that he’s taking off, he contends with small flashes of fame. He agrees that there are some comedian groupies, but laments that they’re not the same as the groupies for mainstream celebrities. “All of mine are crazy,” he confesses, “but don’t put that in there, otherwise they’ll stop coming up to me.” After a college tour out West, Ansari even inspired his first fan site, azizansariisafuckingbadass.blogspot.com.
He even takes his recurring appearances on VH1 in stride. “It’s not that big of a deal seeing myself on TV because I see a lot of my friends on there, too,” he says. “We’re all kind of desensitized to it. Now, if I ever see myself on Conan, then I’ll freak out. Well, not freak out, but you know.”
Still, it’s a wonder that Ansari still has time to flip channels. He was recently selected to appear on Comedy Central’s Premium Blend, and he is continuing to work on his short film series, Shutterbugs, with co-writer and star Rob Huebel. Even though the show is enjoying an extended run on Channel 102 ( a monthly screening contest for short films that is based in New York City), Ansari doesn’t envision the premise moving much past its three-minute spots.
That’s not to say that Ansari doesn’t aspire to work in film or television, but when the time comes, he’ll make sure it reflects his stand-up work. “You won’t see me in some sitcom with an Indian guy and a white guy living together,” he says. “I think what guys like Dave Chappelle and Larry David have done with their standup careers is much cooler.”
For more information, visit azizisbored.com.