Aziz Ansari: The Funniest Tool In 'Parks' Utility Shed Comedian Aziz Ansari has appeared on HBO's Flight of the Conchords, ABC's Scrubs and MTV's Human Giant. Nowadays he stars opposite Amy Poehler on NBC's workplace comedy Parks and Recreation.
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Aziz Ansari: The Funniest Tool In 'Parks' Utility Shed

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Aziz Ansari: The Funniest Tool In 'Parks' Utility Shed

Aziz Ansari: The Funniest Tool In 'Parks' Utility Shed

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, comic and actor Aziz Ansari, is one of the stars of the NBC series "Parks and Recreation." In the Judd Apatow film "Funny People," he played a loud and self-satisfied comic named Randy, a character Aziz has revived in his own stand-up act.

Ansari has also been in the films "Observe and Report" and "I Love You, Man," and has made guest appearances on "Flight of the Conchords" and "Scrubs." He was a member of Human Giant, which had its own sketch comedy show on MTV. But if you want a full dose of Aziz Ansari, there's a new stand-up special he did for Comedy Central, which is now on DVD and CD. It's called "Intimate Moments for A Sensual Evening."

Ansari grew up in South Carolina, where he was the only person in his school who wasn't white. His parents are from India. Let's start with a short excerpt of "Intimate Moments for A Sensual Evening."

(Soundbite of video, "Intimate Moments for A Sensual Evening")

Mr.�AZIZ ANSARI (Comedian): I like living in L.A. One thing I don't like about living here is driving. I always get bored when I'm driving, and when I get bored, I go on the Internet on my Blackberry. So I'm going to die.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr.�ANSARI: And whenever they go through the wreckage, they'll find my phone and be like, whoa, that's what he looked up right before he died? It's going to be so sad. It'll be like: Comedian Aziz Ansari was killed in a car accident today. He was struck by another vehicle while using IMDB to see if Val Kilmer was, indeed, in the film "Willow." A representative for Mr.�Kilmer confirmed he was, indeed, in the film and hopes this will prevent future tragedies of this nature.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr.�ANSARI: This is the third "Willow"-related death this year.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr.�ANSARI: Comedian Aziz Ansari was killed in a car accident today. He was struck by another vehicle while checking show times for "Up" on Fandango. He just purchased a single ticket for a 4 o'clock show at a $2 theater in order to live out the saddest afternoon of all time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr.�ANSARI: Comedy bad boy Aziz Ansari, aka comedy heartthrob Aziz Ansari, was killed in an awful automobile accident today. He was struck by another vehicle while Googling his own name.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Aziz Ansari from his comedy special, which is now on DVD, called "Intimate Moments for A Sensual Evening." Aziz Ansari, welcome back to FRESH AIR. That is really funny. What made you think about how embarrassing it would be to die while Googling yourself?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr.�ANSARI: Well, I remember when I I used to come out to L.A. for months at a time when we were doing this sketch comedy show I was on called "Human Giant," and I didn't have GPS or anything, and I would be in rental cars, and I would be in rental cars, and I would be on my Blackberry, looking at maps, at, like, the dumbest stuff, like using the Wendy's restaurant locator and things like that. And I was like this is so dumb. I'm going to die because I'm on my phone looking for a Wendy's. And so from that notion, I kind of came up with the other bits for that joke.

GROSS: Your act is filled with the kinds of stories that you would tell friends, but you're telling the audience. Are friends sometimes your first audience?

Mr.�ANSARI: Sometimes, like, you know, I've told stories to friends and been, like, oh, you know, I could probably take that story and turn it into something in my act.

Like, after I went and saw R. Kelly's story, you know, I obviously told friends about that experience as, you know, just as a friend telling someone about something crazy that happened to him, and then I started doing it on stage and kind of crafting it more for standup purposes.

And, you know, when you tell a story on stage, it's a different thing. You kind of have to have, you know, really hard jokes to go in, and the pacing and stuff has to be right. So it takes you know, it'll take a while for me to tell a story on stage, to get it to where it really works well, stand-up-wise, but yeah, you know, all those things I've talked about in my act, for the most part, like, the story about Kanye West and stuff, those were all stories I told my friends at some point, you know.

GROSS: So I want to play another example from your show that's now out on DVD and CD. And in this part, you're talking about watching a reality show on MTV called "Next." It's a reality show about dating that I've actually never seen or heard of, but you had previously done a sketch comedy show as part of the group Human Giant on MTV.

Mr.�ANSARI: Yes.

GROSS: So here's your take on this dating reality show.

(Soundbite of video, "Intimate Moments for A Sensual Evening."

Mr.�ANSARI: First guy comes out, right, he's the guy going out on the dates, and he comes up there, and he says this. He goes: Yo, this girl better be pretty because if she's a pain in the ass, I'm gonna need something cute to look at.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr.�ANSARI: And I was stunned that he could say that. That's so offensive, and at the same time, on my show, they didn't want us to say that a character was raped by a dinosaur, raped by a dinosaur because that's too offensive.

Oh, I guess they didn't want any of these letters from paleontologists who are, like, hey, man, there's nothing in the fossil records to suggest that kind of behavior. Why don't you chill with your accusations?

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr.�ANSARI: And then after you meet this dude, then you meet the girls he's going out on the dates with, and they come up there, and they say things like: If he has a neck tattoo, I'm gonna lick it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr.�ANSARI: It's like whoa, how slutty can you be in five seconds?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr.�ANSARI: And after they say that, they breathe, and, like, three facts about them pop up on the left side. And the first two facts are always really normal, but the third fact always come way out of left field. It's always like: Monica's 22, she's a hairdresser in Hollywood, and she hates purple gift wrap.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr.�ANSARI: How does that define her as a person? And the whole show just bummed me out, man, because the things they try to keep off TV are just, like, really explicit sex or violence, and no one cares about their kids seeing attitudes like that on TV, and that's way worse to me.

Like, I'd much rather have a daughter that grew up and shot me in the leg and burned my house down than some really slutty girl that hates the sound of people eating bananas.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Aren't you amazed at how proud people are to behave stupidly on reality TV shows?

Mr.�ANSARI: Man, every time I've seen that show "Next," yeah, you really can't believe how terrible the people are that go on that show. What if each time you came back from a clip, I was just sitting here just laughing so hard at my own stuff.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr.�ANSARI: Oh, God, Terry, we've got to take a break. I forgot about that bit. It's so funny. You're like, oh my God, that's that guy's really full of himself.

GROSS: So do you feel like you had to create a personality, like a persona for yourself on stage, like a stage version of Aziz Ansari?

Mr.�ANSARI: No, not really. I never made a conscious effort to do that. I just kind of tried to be kind of natural and conversational, and I think my stuff is kind of a little bit longer and more story-based. It's not as jokey sometimes, you know, so yeah, I just try to create like a vibe of, you know, someone kind of casually telling you stories and things like that.

GROSS: Now, you did create an alter-ego comedian named Randy, which you portrayed in "Funny People," and there's some really funny you can find these on YouTube really funny videos.

Mr.�ANSARI: Wait, you're not going to play any excerpts from the Randy...?

GROSS: Oh, they are so filthy. There's, like, absolutely no word I could probably play on the radio.

Mr.�ANSARI: Wait. Can you guys can you say tatties? That's not even a real word. That's a word that Randy made up, tatties.

GROSS: Right.

Mr.�ANSARI: Let's just both say tatties. Terry, can you say tatties real quick just to do it?

GROSS: Oh, no, I would never say that word.

Mr.�ANSARI: But that's not a real word.

GROSS: I know.

Mr.�ANSARI: Randy made up that word. You can say it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: You're going to make me say it.

Mr.�ANSARI: It would be a landmark moment for NPR if you just said tatties one time. It's not a real word. They don't have to bleep it. It's an imaginary word.

GROSS: Put it in a sentence for me.

Mr.�ANSARI: Look at those tatties.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr.�ANSARI: They've got to let this on, please? They're definitely going to put any of it on NPR.

GROSS: Imaginary scenario: Four-year-old says to his mother, Mommy, what's a tatty?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr.�ANSARI: And she'll be, like, I don't know. Is that something you heard on NPR?

GROSS: It must mean an intellectual endeavor involving...

Mr.�ANSARI: Tatties refers to a rare form of violin playing that was practiced in ancient Denmark.

GROSS: Thank you, tatties, that's among my favorite type of music.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr.�ANSARI: You said tatties. You did it. You did.

GROSS: There you go.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So tell us how you created your alter-ego Randy, for like, who is Randy?

Mr.�ANSARI: So Randy was a character in the film "Funny People" that was the last film Judd Apatow did, and he had this character, and he there's a very little bit of stuff written for him.

GROSS: It's a film about stand-up comics, and you play one of them, yeah, who's...

Mr.�ANSARI: Yes, and Randy was a small character, and the idea Judd kind of pitched to me was that he wanted the guy to be, like, really cocky and, like, very concerned about things like merchandising and things like that. So that was kind of the basic idea, and the other notion in my head all the time was, like, okay, every time I've done comedy in, like, traditional comedy clubs, there's always these comedians that do really well with audiences but that the other comedians hate because they're just, you know, doing kind of cheap stuff like dancing around or doing, like, very kind of base sex humor a lot, and stuff like that. So I kind of took that idea and ran with that, as well.

And, you know, I watched a lot of comedians like you know, I really like this comedian Katt Williams, and you know, he's very energetic and, you know, he is he's really funny, but I saw that, and I was, like, well, what if somebody just saw that and just was, like, oh, I can do that. It's just, like, yelling around and saying stuff about your penis, and did it badly, and that's another kind of thing about Randy that I kind of took.

GROSS: And it's great. You know, his DJ is called Ol' Youngin'.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr.�ANSARI: Yeah, that's this guy Brandon Johnson, who is very funny. I was at the UCB theater in L.A., it's a theater I perform in, and I was kind of workshopping the Randy material. Like, once we had the Randy character, the idea of it, I was, at first, just kind of doing my material, and just kind of, you know, jumping around and yelling it in different ways and stuff.

And then, you know, as we were filming, I was like, well, I should just write specific material for Randy because Randy wouldn't talk about the stuff Aziz talks about. So that's when I kind of wrote this stuff about, you know, the really dirtier stuff, and I one night I had this idea of, like, well, Randy should have a DJ. And so I loaded up my laptop with, like, these sounds like a lot of DJs and hip-hop artists, when you see them perform live, they will have this reggaeton horn sample that just goes:

(Soundbite of horn impersonation)

Mr.�ANSARI: And rap artists use it, like, to death. And it's just, like, anytime you go see a rap show, they, like, hit that thing way too much. You know, they'll just be like, are you guys psyched to be here? It's like:

(Soundbite of horn impersonation)

Mr.�ANSARI: So I was, like, well, what if a comedian used that sound, too, the same way rappers do. So I wrote that, and I had, like, I recorded myself just going Randy, just like that. And so, like, my idea was, like, whenever I would do a joke, at the end, it would just be like: And I was, like, I got to get out of here.

(Soundbite of horn impersonation)

Mr.�ANSARI: Ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-Randy. You know, so that was the idea, and I was just going to keep the laptop on the side of the stage, and then after I finished the joke, like, jump over and just start hitting those buttons like crazy. So, like, I would finish a joke, and it would be like: Ran-ran-ran-ran-ran-dy-dy-dy, you know, like that.

And my friend Brandon was there, and I was like, oh, Brandon's really funny. What if he's just the DJ? And so he did it, and, like, right away I could tell he was just going to be awesome at this, and so every time I did Randy after that, he was there.

GROSS: My guest is comic and actor Aziz Ansari. His Comedy Central special is now out on CD and DVD. It's called "Intimate Moments for A Sensual Evening." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is comic and actor Aziz Ansari. His Comedy Central special just came out on CD and DVD. Ansari co-stars on the NBC series "Parks and Recreation." Amy Poehler plays the head of the parks and rec department in a small Indiana town. Ansari plays Tom Haverford, one of the people who works for her in the department.

Let's hear a scene. Poehler has just been trying to convert a big pit into a park. She started a community garden in the pit.

(Soundbite of television program, "Parks and Recreation")

Ms.�AMY POEHLER (Actor): (As Leslie Knope) People have just really embraced this and planted the coolest stuff, and Tom is our master horticulturist. He knows all the scientific names for everything, right, Tom?

Mr.�ANSARI: (As Tom Haverford) Yup.

Ms.�POEHLER: (As Leslie) Like this. What's this, Tom?

Mr.�ANSARI: (As Tom) Those are, of course, tomatoes or Soulja Boy Tell 'Ems. Whenever Leslie asks me for the Latin names of any of our plants, I just give her the names of rappers.

Ms.�POEHLER: (As Leslie) And those over there?

Mr.�ANSARI: (As Tom) Those are some Diddies. Those are some Bone Thugs-n-Harmoniums right.

Mr.�POEHLER: (As Leslie) Growing beautifully.

Mr.�ANSARI: Those Ludacrisses are coming in great.

GROSS: A lot of people know you from the TV series "Parks and Recreation."

Mr.�ANSARI: Yes, we just got picked up for a third season, which I'm very excited about.

GROSS: Congratulations. Describe your character.

Mr.�ANSARI: In the show, I play a character named Tom Haverford, who is a lower-level employee at the parks and recreation department in a small town called Pawnee, Indiana, and I work under Amy Poehler's character, Leslie Knope, and it's a really fun character.

You know, he's kind of like this guy who thinks he's really cool, but he's stuck in a small town, and he's just way cooler and smoother in his head than he actually is. You know, the kind of people that I think about when I'm portraying the character, I'm like, well, who's this guy's hero? And for some reason, Jamie Foxx always pops in my head. Like, I think Jamie Foxx is, like, who he really looks up to because, you know, Jamie's an Oscar winner, he's an R&B singer and is an all-around smooth guy.

GROSS: Now, one of the things that happens to your character in "Parks and Recreation" is something that I imagine happens to you, as well. People who meet the character assume that he must be from India, even though he actually was born and grew up in South Carolina, like you. And his he has changed his name to Tom Haverford from Darwish Sabir Ishmael Ghan.

Mr.�ANSARI: Ghani.

GROSS: Ghani.

Mr.�ANSARI: It's Darwish Sabir Ishmael Ghani, yeah.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr.�ANSARI: Which is my cousin's name.

GROSS: Oh, yeah, you always talk about your cousin Darwish. I didn't realize that was his full name.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr.�ANSARI: Yeah, I put his name on there just so he would watch it and freak out.

GROSS: Did he freak out?

Mr.�ANSARI: Yeah, he was, like, man, all these people just started emailing me and say use my name in the show.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So here's a scene from a party in which you and the Leslie Knope character are she's there with her boyfriend, and you and she are trying to impress him. He assumes you are from India.

(Soundbite of television program, "Parks and Recreation")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) God, India is so amazing. Let me tell you something. That is my absolute favorite place to travel. Where did you say your parents are from?

Mr.�ANSARI: (As Tom) The south part.

Ms.�POEHLER: (As Leslie) The southern part's always the best part of anything.

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) Have you ever been to Khunaman Mosque(ph) down in Talamado(ph)?

Mr.�ANSARI: (As Tom) Are you kidding? My uncle practically runs the place. I've prayed there. It's sick.

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) Tell me everything right now.

Mr.�ANSARI: (As Tom) One sec, I just got to hit the loo, as those bastard British imperialists would say.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr.�ANSARI: (As Tom) Last time I was in India, I was eight years old, and I stayed inside the whole time playing video games. I got to bone up. Fourth-largest coal reserves in the world.

GROSS: What you're doing is you're in another room at the computer, boning up by Googling or going to Wikipedia or something so that you can answer his questions. Sounds hard.

Mr.�ANSARI: Yeah, that was a funny bit they wrote. I thought that was really funny because I always meet white people that know way more about India than I do and have probably spent more time in India than I have. And it always cracks me up because, like, people assume I know a lot, and it's like, no, I don't really. I haven't been there that much. You know, I've been there two or three times, and you know, it's not something I'm proud of. I wish I knew more and wish I had spent more time there, but you know, I haven't, you know.

But yeah, I thought that was kind of a smart bit that they put in there for me to do in the show, you know.

GROSS: So did your parents immigrate here from India?

Mr.�ANSARI: Yes, yeah. My parents are from India, but I was born and raised in South Carolina.

GROSS: And you were the only person in your school up to 10th grade who was not white, right?

Mr.�ANSARI: Yes. I went to this small school in Bennettsville, South Carolina, where I'm from. It's, like, you know, 9,000 people there, and yeah, I was the only minority in the whole school. There wasn't even any Asian people, nothing.

And then in 11th and 12th grade, I went to this school called the Governor's School for Science and Math, which is, like, this public boarding school where they kind of take kids that are advanced in science and math, geniuses, such as myself no.

And I went there in 11th and 12th grade, and there I finally saw an Asian person for the first time ever, and you know, that school, it was much more racially diverse, and I met people with different backgrounds and stuff.

And also, even just meeting kids from different parts of South Carolina was good because, you know, everyone in Bennettsville is from Bennettsville and, like, talks like people from Bennettsville, et cetera. In the Governor's School, I met some people that are from, like, Greenville and Columbia and Charleston and Summerville, which are, you know, compared to Bennettsville may as well be, like, New York or L.A., you know, because Bennettsville is kind of a small, you know, bubble.

But, you know, that's kind of where I lost my Southern accent and stuff like that, and it was a good experience.

But yes, when I was growing up in Bennettsville, I was the only non-white kid in the whole school. But I think when people hear that, they immediately think, like, wow, that must have been horrible, like, people threw stuff at you every day, and it was horribly racist, and it really wasn't.

Like, occasionally I was telling someone this the other day like, occasionally, there was, like, a racist thing that would happen every now and then. But for the majority of the time, I may as well have just been a really tan white kid.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr.�ANSARI: You know, I may as well have just been, like, a fat kid. You know, sure, every now and then, people made fun of you for being fat, but most of the time, people were just, like, all right, that's the way he is.

GROSS: So we're going to squeeze in one more clip here.

Mr.�ANSARI: Sure.

GROSS: Here's another clip from Aziz Ansari's Comedy Central special that's now out on DVD and CD, and this is something that is, in part, talking about movies. I don't think I really need to set it up, though.

(Soundbite of video, "Intimate Moments for A Sensual Evening")

Mr.�ANSARI: I was doing an interview once, and this guy goes, so, you must be pretty psyched about all this "Slumdog Millionaire" stuff.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr.�ANSARI: And I was like yeah, I am. I have no idea why, though. I had nothing to do with that movie. It's just some people who kind of look like me are in this movie that everyone loves and is winning Oscars and stuff. And I was like whoa, whoa, whoa, are white people just psyched all the time? It's like "Back to the Future," that's us. "Godfather," that's us. "Godfather: Part II," that's us. "Departed," that's us. "Sunset Boulevard," that's us. "Citizen Kane," that's us. "Jaws," that's us. Every (BEEP) movie but "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Boyz n the Hood" is us.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr.�ANSARI: You had to bleep my favorite punch line at the end of that joke.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Well, what can I say? So is that a good summation of what you think of, like, identity politics?

Mr.�ANSARI: When I crafted that joke, I wasn't doing it in the idea of, like, what is my, you know, statement on identity politics, but I think that is really how I felt. Like, I don't think that guy, when he asked that question, was being racist or anything, when he said are you psyched about "Slumdog Millionaire" because the answer is yes.

And it's actually very interesting to me, like, why are people psyched about that? Why do I get psyched that that movie's doing well? I had nothing to do with it. Why is there that kind of sense of, like, camaraderie with people that just happen to be the same ethnicity as me? And then, you know, from that I took the idea of, like, well I mean, what I'm really saying is oh, so I guess white people don't have that because they're so everywhere and so successful. I guess the reason you do get excited is because oh, you don't really see a lot of Indian people doing Oscar-winning movies. So when you see that, you feel kind of proud, I guess. But, you know, so if that was true for white people, they'd be psyched all the time because every movie has white people in it, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Aziz Ansari, thanks so much for talking with us.

Mr.�ANSARI: Thanks so much for having me.

GROSS: Aziz Ansari's Comedy Central special is now on DVD and CD. It's called "Intimate Moments for A Sensual Evening." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

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