Comedian Ansari Enjoys Playing Sleazebag On TV Aziz Ansari was doing stand-up the entire time he was studying business at New York University. Now, he plays public servant and jerk Tom Haverford on NBC's new sitcom Parks and Recreation. Ansari says it's "always fun to play a dude who's kind of a sleazebag."
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Comedian Ansari Enjoys Playing Sleazebag On TV

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Comedian Ansari Enjoys Playing Sleazebag On TV

Comedian Ansari Enjoys Playing Sleazebag On TV

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You may not know the name Aziz Ansari, but you've probably laughed at him or with him. He's a stand-up comedian and actor who's appeared on some of TV's funniest shows - "Scrubs," "Reno 911!" "Flight of the Conchords" - and also on the big screen, in Judd Apatow's latest movie, "Funny People." Now, Aziz Ansari has a steady day job. He plays Tom Haverford, public servant on the NBC sitcom "Parks and Recreation." It's a mockumentary created by the people who brought "The Office" to America. And in this scene, Tom is talking to his colleague, played by the star of the show, "Saturday Night Live" veteran Amy Poehler.

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

Ms. AMY POEHLER (Actress): (As Leslie Knope) You're not from here, right?

Mr. AZIZ ANSARI (Actor): (As Tom Haverford) No, I'm from South Carolina.

Ms. POEHLER: (As Leslie) But you moved to South Carolina from where?

Mr. ANSARI: (As Tom) My mother's uterus.

Ms. POEHLER: (As Leslie) But you were conceived in Libya, right?

Mr. ANSARI: (As Tom) Wow, no. I was conceived in America. My parents are Indian.

Ms. POEHLER: (As Leslie) Where does the name Haverford come from?

Mr. ANSARI: (As Tom) My birth name is Darwish Sabir Ishmael Ghani(ph), and I changed it to Tom Haverford because, you know, brown guys with funny-sounding Muslim names don't make it really far in politics.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: Aziz Ansari, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

Mr. ANSARI: Hello, thank you for having me.

BRAND: So did you actually make up a lot of that, make up that character?

Mr. ANSARI: I am really from South Carolina. That's my cousin's name, Darwish Ghani. And so I just did that so he would get teased at school.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: Your cousin Darwish?

Mr. ANSARI: Yeah.

BRAND: Well, OK, let's get back to you and your character. You play a character, Tom Haverford, on "Parks and Recreation" who - well, describe him for us.

Mr. ANSARI: Amy Poehler plays Leslie Knope, who's the deputy director of the Parks and Recreation Department, and Tom is basically her right-hand man, basically like an administrative assistant. So you know, my character, I think, is a little bit savvier and yeah, I'm just usually with her for all these hijinks that we go through in the show.

BRAND: And you're kind of - well, you're kind of a jerk.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: Yeah. I'm really sleazy. I hit on women a lot. It's a fun attitude to play. It's always fun to play a dude who's kind of a sleazebag.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: And then in that clip we just heard, she thinks that you're from Libya. I mean, do you play off the ethnic humor a lot?

Mr. ANSARI: No, not really. I think it's a point of pride for the show that my character could be played by a white guy, but they ended up just hiring me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: So tell me a little bit about how you got this role, and what you want to make out of it.

Mr. ANSARI: I had just finished two seasons of the sketch comedy show I did on MTV called "Human Giant." Greg Daniels and Mike Scheer(ph), the guys who created this show, knew who I was from that show. They met with me and basically said, you know, we're working on this new show. It's going to be like "The Office," documentary style. We're not even sure what it's going to be, and we'd like you to be a part of it. As far as my goal - I was just thinking about this - is to eventually, like, after a few seasons, for some reason get fired and then have to be replaced by another Indian guy with a beard.

Like, do you remember, like, on sitcoms, every now and then, like - it'll be like, the next season, then there'd be like, what happened to the mom? That's a different actor.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: So, to make way...

Mr. ANSARI: I just want that - it hasn't happened in a while, and I want that to happen. I want to be replaced by another Indian guy who looks kind of like me.

BRAND: Have you ever worked in an office situation like that?

Mr. ANSARI: I - the only similar job I had was, I worked for NYU heating, ventilation and air conditioning. I guess that's the closest thing I've had to a parks and recreation job - which is not very close at all.

BRAND: Was this when you were a student?

Mr. ANSARI: Yeah. You know, I'm actually - that's really my passion. I'm going to try to save up some money from acting and then go back to working at NYU heating, ventilation and air conditioning. It's - "Parks and Recreation" is kind of like temping so I can go back to my real love. When you walk through the Bobst Library and you feel that cool air, you know, there's a sense of pride, you know? It's like: I did that. I'm the reason why people aren't sweating.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: You were in school. You weren't studying comedy. I mean, I don't think you can get a degree at NYU (unintelligible). What were you studying?

Mr. ANSARI: No, I went to business school thinking, oh, that'll be like, a bunch of laid-back kids who aren't sure what they want to do, like me. And instead, it was like, really intense kids that were like, very focused on finance and, you know, I've got to work at Goldman Sachs, you know, etc., and I was doing stand-up the whole time while I was in school. And like, you know, by - like my second or third year of doing stand-up, I was like, well, I feel like I could at least make a career out of just touring as a stand-up. So I did that and I just, you know, finished my marketing - I didn't drop out of school or anything. I just didn't want to do that. I didn't feel like it was necessary.

BRAND: So you have a degree in marketing from NYU.

Mr. ANSARI: I do.

BRAND: You've also been in feature films.

Mr. ANSARI: Sure, yeah.

BRAND: Most recently, "Funny People," Judd Apatow movie.

Mr. ANSARI: I was in "Funny People," Judd's movie. It was very fun.

BRAND: And you played Randy.

Mr. ANSARI: I played a very obnoxious, loud, silly comedian named Randy who is basically - a lot of people thought it was like, oh, this is a take on Dane Cook or whoever, and it was more the notion of, like, what if Soulja Boy was a stand-up comedian instead of a rapper? I don't know if the NPR audience is hip to Soulja Boy. Soulja Boy is on FRESH AIR this week, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: Right.

Mr. ANSARI: He hosts FRESH AIR, doesn't he? Soulja Boy Tell Em?

BRAND: He fills in for Terry.

Mr. ANSARI: Terry does odd weeks, Soulja Boy, even weeks. That could be the news segment. All right, now it's time for our news segment. Let's see what's going on in the Middle East, Soulja Boy, Tell Em.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ANSARI: And then Soulja Boy breaks it down.

BRAND: Aziz Ansari, thank you very much.

Mr. ANSARI: Oh, thanks so much for having me. That's so fun.

(Soundbite of song, "Turn My Swag On")

SOULJA BOY (Rapper): (Singing) Soulja Boy Tell Em. Hopped up out the bed, turn my swag on.

BRAND: You can watch comedian Aziz Ansari tonight on NBC's sitcom "Parks and Recreation."

(Soundbite of song, "Turn My Swag On")

SOULJA BOY: (Singing) I'm getting money, oh. Hopped up out the bed, turn my swag on.


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