Although Aziz Ansari is known for his high-baller-wannabe character, Tom Haverford on NBC’s Parks and Recreation, he is and has been primarily a stand-up guy. Really. The 29-year-old has been doing stand-up for over 10 years, saying, “Stand-up is the backbone of everything I do.” Ansari got his start in comedy doing open mics and clubs around his New York University, where he went to school. He went on to perform at the Upright Citizens Brigade in the city, eventually became part of the sketch troupe Human Giant (which, eventually became a hit show on MTV), along with Paul Scheer and Rob Huebel.
Ansari visited his improv and sketch alma mater, the Upright Citizens Brigade theater in New York City yesterday to chat with SiriusXM’s Ron Bennington in an “Unmasked” special that will air tomorrow (see airing schedule at the bottom of this post). The South Carolina native is currently in the midst of his Buried Alive tour. Although this is Ansari’s third major U.S. tour, the comedian showed no signs of any plans to slow down his rigorous stand-up regimen. When Bennington asks Ansari if he feels like he’s made it, Ansari replied that he doesn’t know. He calls the process of coming up with jokes “never ending.”
Here are 10 things we learned about the comedian from his interview last night.
1. Chris Rock and Louis C.K. have been doing stand-up for as long as Aziz Ansari has been alive.
Aziz recounts a conversation he had with Rock about Aziz reaching his 10-year mark of doing stand-up. Rock says to him, “Wait till you hit 25.” Aziz adds that thinking about his idols’ experience in comparison to his life is “very humbling.”
2. In stand-up, there are no slow-jams. Ansari relates it to a time he saw Sting perform. Sting plays “Every Breath You Take” and Ansari thinks, “Fuck you, Sting. I heard that song before! Do you have any new viewpoints on this woman?” Ansari’s point, of course, is that stand-up crucially different than a live rock show. When you perform stand-up, you have to have solid (NEW!) material that you know is going to work (or that you hope will work). You have to have substance or you’ll lose your audience. “There’s no filler,” he says.
3. He doesn’t want to be known as “the guy that talks about that thing.” And who could blame him? “I don’t want to talk about getting my dick sucked for an hour,” Aziz reveals, adding that there’s a certain kind of comedian who can focus on that. But even then, Aziz says, you still have to write minutes of that material, and that’s hard work.
Everyone wants to hear Louie do bag of dicks, and Patton Oswalt, KFC bowls. For Ansari it’s Raaaaaaaandy, a character he played in a movie approximately “40 billion years ago” or his bits on his cousin, Harris. In his second special he did an update on Harris but in his third special, he wants to get away from that.
4. He tries not to take stage time for granted. Friends have asked Aziz why he’ll drop in and do a set at a place like the Comedy Cellar when he’s in a city. They think that since he’s doing well as an actor and comedian, he doesn’t need to. But Aziz feels that as a successful comedian, he needs to be constantly sharpening his skills. “Stage time is valuable,” he says.
5. He believes fame will get you only a certain amount of laughs. Aziz talks about how when you go to a comedy club like the Comedy Cellar you never know who will pop in to work out new material. He says that people recognize him from Parks and Recreation and they’re psyched for the first couple minutes. After that wears off then “it’s just me reading from a notebook,” he says. The excitement from the audience will carry you for a bit. Once it wears off, Aziz tells us that you have to earn your laugh. Even though Ansari performed for President Obama and at Carnegie Hall, he says he’s still a guy in a club in the East Village trying to make 30 people laugh.
6. His biggest influences are Eddie Murphy’s comedy special Delirious and Chris Rock’s Bring the Pain.
7. He pursued stand-up simply because he wanted to become good at it. During his freshman year at NYU, he had multiple conversations with friends who enjoyed Aziz’s style of storytelling and thought he should try stand-up. He did, he bombed, but he loved it and decided this is what he wanted to be good at. Similarly in high school Aziz wanted to become a pro at Foosball. “But that gets you nowhere,” Aziz admits.
8. He had no acting experience before the Human Giant sketches. “The first day I came on set I smelled something and said, ‘Hm, something’s burning.’ A guy in the crew was like, ‘Those are the lights. Have you ever been on a set before?’ ‘Nope!’”
9. Is only on Kanye West’s “Cruel Summer” for like 10 seconds.
10. He works really freaking hard. “I didn’t do stand-up yesterday. I should’ve.”
Aziz Ansari’s full interview will air Friday, July 13 at 2:00 pm ET on The Opie & Anthony Channel (XM 105, Sirius 206 with Sirius Premier). Unmasked with Aziz Ansari will also air on Raw Dog Comedy, channel 99, on Saturday, July 21 at 8:00 pm ET; and UCB Radio, channel 406 online and through the SiriusXM Internet Radio App for smartphones and mobile devices, on Saturday, July 21 at 2:00 am ET.
photos by Jason Shaltz
UPDATE: Check out two videos from the interview below!