TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. As the show "Parks and Recreation" was coming to a close, Aziz Ansari, one of the show's stars, and Alan Yang, one of its writers, began working on a new show. They've created a new Netflix comedy series called "Master Of None," and they co-wrote several of the episodes. Ansari stars as an actor trying to make it in movies and TV, but in addition to all the obstacles typically faced by actors, his options are further limited by being Indian-American. It's a funny and very enjoyable series that revolves around some of the same issues Ansari and Yang have faced regarding the entertainment world, relationships and being first-generation Americans. Ansari's parents are from India. Yang's parents are from Taiwan. Ansari's parents are played by his own parents. All 10 episodes of the first season of "Master Of None" will be available on Netflix tomorrow.
Let's start with a scene from an episode called "Indians On TV." Ansari's character, Dev, is in a restaurant talking with his friend Robbie, who's also an Indian-American actor trying to find good roles. Dev is complaining that some of the Indian characters on TV and in movies have actually been played by white people, including a character in the 1980s film "Short Circuit 2." Ravi, who's played by Ravi Patel, speaks first.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MASTER OF NONE")
RAVI PATEL: (As Ravi) What's wrong with "Short Circuit 2"?
AZIZ ANSARI: (As Dev) They got a white guy to play an Indian guy.
PATEL: (As Ravi) What - the robot movie with Johnny 5?
ANSARI: (As Dev) Wait, you don't know this?
PATEL: (As Ravi) Wait, which Indian guy are you talking about?
ANSARI: (As Dev) Dude, that guy's a white guy.
PATEL: (As Ravi) The robot or the Indian?
ANSARI: (As Dev) The Indian guy is a white guy. That's Fisher Stevens. They used brown face makeup.
PATEL: (As Ravi) Wait, what?
ANSARI: (As Dev) Yeah, they got a real robot and a fake Indian.
PATEL: (As Ravi) I'm sorry, man. I'm just - wow, I'm experiencing a lot of emotions right now. That - man, that's, like, one my favorite Indian actors.
ANSARI: (As Dev) Dude, it still happens. You see "The Social Network"? Max Minghella plays an Indian guy. He's white. They browned him up.
PATEL: (As Ravi) No, no. I read that he's one-16th Indian.
ANSARI: (As Dev) Who cares? If you go back far enough, we're all one-16th something. I'm probably one-16th black. You think they're going to let me play Blade?
GROSS: (Laughter) Aziz Ansari, Alan Yang, welcome to FRESH AIR. Aziz, is that clip an example of why you wanted to start your own series - because there aren't enough good parts for Indian-American actors?
ANSARI: Yeah, I think that's part of it, and, also, I don't think a white guy would've written that scene. That - I think that topic is something that makes our show special - that Alan and I have a perspective to write an episode like "Indians On TV." And, also, another reason I wanted to do the show is not just as an Indian actor, there's frustrations. I think just as an actor, there's frustrations when you don't create your own content. I feel like if I didn't do this show, the kind of stuff I would've been offered - if it wasn't just ethnic stuff, it would've been just versions of things I've done in the past, so it'd be lesser versions of the character I did on "Parks And Rec" or in "Funny People," were I'd just come into a room and yell things.
ANSARI: That sounded vaguely like treat yourself. I really want to do a show that was like "Master Of None" that really had my comedic viewpoint, the way my standup has or the way I did has, and I think we pulled it off.
GROSS: Alan, as a writer who's Asian-American, do you face any of the limitations that actors do in terms of what roles they get 'cause as a writer, you're in the writers' room. Like, you're not visible, so people aren't going to see your face and say, I'm white. I don't identify with him because he's Asian-American. Do you know what I'm saying? Does it matter if you're a writer?
ALAN YANG: You know, early on in my career, I didn't think about it that much. I'll be totally honest. I think as a younger writer, I always wanted to do stories that are universal and really do - I didn't want to be seen as an Asian writer so much. But as I've gotten older, the more I've thought about it, I don't think I've ever worked with another Asian writer in a writer's room. And I've worked on several shows for over a decade now. And I think that's interesting, and I think as I matured and as I created the show with Aziz - you know, we're both minorities, and that became part of the show. And it became a sort of thing where the personal - you know, our experiences as not being white people - becomes universal just because it's so specific. So, you know, as we got older, I think we became more comfortable with sort of writing more about race.
GROSS: So one of the - one of the plot points in one of the episodes is that if you're an actor - if you're an Indian-American actor, there's only one Indian-American (laughter) per TV show. There can't be two. So you're always up against a friend of yours for the same roles, and it's a really awkward. Has that happened to you in real life?
ANSARI: That same exact situation hasn't happened to me, but I do know some Indian-American actors who have relayed stories of auditioning for shows and basically saying, well, they already got their Indian guy. They already filled their quota, so they're not going to cast me, as well. And then me and Alan, the writers, started talking about this - about whether they would ever cast two. Like, what would happen if two guys were really good. Like, if they're doing a show with three people, what would they do if two of the best guys were both Indian guys. Would they cast them both? And that conversation, where we never really figured out what the answer is, became the germ of the idea for the episode.
GROSS: And, Aziz, another thing about that - your character refuses to do an Indian accent. And this is true even if it's the role of cabdriver who's an immigrant from India. So why would you, like, decline to do an Indian accent, even if you're doing a character who is actually recently arrived in America?
ANSARI: Well, to be clear, I don't think doing that accent is totally wrong. I think that's a personal choice that an actor has to make - whether they want to do that. For me, personally, any time I've been asked to do that, I feel like - it feels like it's making fun of people that have that accent if I do it and don't have that voice. I don't know why I feel that way. It just - it just doesn't feel right to me, and it feels like you're doing it so white people can laugh at Indian people. It just doesn't - it feels kind of mean to me in some ways. And it depends on the script or something. f it's like an intense drama about an Indian cabdriver and it's this deep, passionate story and you have to do an accent, OK, then it's like - all right, well I maybe would do it for that, if it's something like that. But if it's the guy sitting in a cab and it's me saying something in an accent, making a joke about curry spilling on my pants, I don't see the (laughter) - the merits in that one.
YANG: Yeah, a lot of it has to do with genre because obviously there are exceptions, but something about accents - foreign accents specifically in comedy is a little tricky. And a lot of it has to do with history because the history of Indian and Asian people in movies and TV is really fraught with difficulty. And a lot of these characters you see - Mickey Rooney in
"Breakfast At Tiffany's" - and almost to a man, the Asian and Indian characters throughout film history have been buffoons played for laughs. So it's difficult, and there are obviously great exceptions of people doing accents and doing a great job, but it's a tough personal choice.
ANSARI: Yeah, I think the litmus test for me is, like - is the joke just that the guy has a funny accent? Is that what this is about? 'Cause that seems mean.
GROSS: So I want to play another clip from the episode of "Master Of None" called "Indians On TV." And in this scene, Aziz, your character, Dev, is in a restaurant with friends talking about racism and comparing the kind of solidarity that African-Americans have when it comes to racism and how people get that, but that it's different if you're Indian-American. So you're specifically here talking to her friend Denise, who's African-American and a lesbian.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MASTER OF NONE")
ANSARI: (As Dev) Come on, Denise. People don't get that fired up about racist Asian or Indian stuff. I feel like you only really risk starting a brouhaha if you say something bad about black people or gay people. I mean, if Paula Dean had said, I don't want to serve Indian people, no one would really care. They'd just go back to eating the biscuits.
LENA WAITHE: (As Denise) Yeah, but Paula Dean didn't get in trouble anyway. I mean, she gave some fake-[expletive] apology and then went back to making fatty foods.
ANSARI: (As Dev) True, but she did have to apologize, right? Like, she had to go meet with Al Sharpton. I mean, that's kind of the punishment, right? You got to find Al Sharpton and go have tea with him or whatever? We don't have a person like that. Like, who are you supposed to meet with - Deepak Chopra?
GROSS: So this gets to a larger question that your episode also raises - is when do you call somebody out for racism and when are you going too far? When do you call them out, and what might the consequences be if you do? Is that an issue that you've both thought about a lot?
ANSARI: I think so. That's a lot of what the episode is about. And one thing we try to do with the show, in general - I feel like now there's this click bait culture on the Internet where everyone is quick to just say something like, oh, that person's racist, or that thing's racist. And things about race will really spread around quickly in the Internet world. And Alan and I, in the show, wanted to create a dialogue where it was less about this kind of condemning people quickly and more about having a dialogue and a conversation and hearing other perspectives. That's what we tried to do in that episode. And have all these different characters - Denise, black woman, Ryan, Asian guy, Dev, Indian guy - talking about these issues and how they feel about them and seeing it progress throughout the episode.
YANG: We're making the show sound really funny.
ANSARI: It is a comedy. It's very funny, I promise.
YANG: This is just - this is just subtext, guys.
GROSS: It is really funny, and one of the things I really like about this series is - Aziz, I really like your character. He's a decent person. I mean, he's funny. He sometimes a little selfish, but he's decent. He tries often to do the right thing. He does have empathy. It's not a - it's not a - I mean, there's a snarky character, but it's not a snarky show. It's not a show that just always bathing in, like, cynicism and snark. And yet, it's funny. So was that the kind of sensibility you were shooting for?
ANSARI: Yeah, I think so. We were trying to make that character very empathetic, and we also wanted to depict this character that's not just a man child, per se, which is a character you see a lot in these kind of comedies and in film, as well. The guy is not Seth Rogan in "Knocked Up." Like, he has his life together to a certain point, and he's pretty mature for the most part. And it was - to us, we wanted to explore what happens to a guy that does have his life together and is a little bit mature who's still struggling with his life decisions and already some basic stuff together.
YANG: Yeah, for me, personally, I'm, as people who know me know, the most positive, upbeat, sort of happy person. And a lot of people think that's sort of incongruous with comedy because there's a long tradition of complaints and misanthropy and sort of...
GROSS: Depression (laughter).
YANG: ...Exactly - and negativism - being negative in comedy. And that's great. That stuff's all really funny, so we tried to, I think, thread a needle of being a little bit more positive and a little bit more understanding. And I think both of us were influenced by working on "Parks And Recreation," which had a really positive, optimistic tone, too, and, I think, is a funny show. So that was all part of the influence, I think.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Alan Yang and Aziz Ansari. They co-created the new Netflix series "Master Of None." They co-write many of the episodes, and Aziz stars in it. Let's take a short break here, then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, my guests are Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang. They co-created the new Netflix comedy series "Master Of None." Aziz stars in it. They co-write many of the episodes. Alan Yang used to write for "Parks And Rec" and before that, "South Park."
So there's a great episode about two of the main characters in the series - Aziz, your character, Dev, and then another character named Brian who's Asian-American, and they both don't know a lot about their parents. Their parents are both immigrants who came to the United States. Brian's parents are from Taiwan, Dev's parents are from India, and neither of them really know much about their parents' backstory. But they often don't have time for their parents. You know, like, Dev's father wants to show him how to do something on his iPad with the calendar, and Dev just doesn't have time for that. And Brian's father wants him to show him something, and Brian wants to get to the movie early enough so he could see the trivia contest...
GROSS: ...That's on screen before the movie starts 'cause that's, like, really important. So they decide - you know what? - let's - we never get a chance to say thank you to our parents for all the sacrifices they've made, you know, to, you know, come to America and bring us up and, you know, in the United States so we could have good lives. So they decide to take their parents out to dinner. They go to an Asian restaurant, and this is where the stories start coming out that they've never heard before about their parents' lives. Are each of you first-generation?
YANG: Yes. I think it's very accurate in the show. Our parents are both immigrants from those countries.
ANSARI: Yeah, those are our real parents' stories for the most part. There's slight changes we made. But in the beginning of the episode, there's a flashback of both of the dads showing their journey coming from India or Taiwan to America and all the, you know, struggles they went through. And it's based on our real dads' stories.
YANG: That episode - right. That episode - the germ of that episode actually started when - I remember I was sitting in Aziz's hotel room, and we were trying to work on the show. And I told him this story about dad, which is real, which is that he grew up in a 500-square-foot hut in Taiwan with a single mother and two brothers. And he didn't have enough food to eat to the point where he had to kill his pet chicken when he was 8 years old or something to eat it for dinner. And I was talking to Aziz and said, and now his son gets to sit in a hotel room with a famous comedian and work on a TV show with him.
YANG: And it was just so staggering. And Aziz had similar stories about the sacrifices his family had made. And it's just something you kind of take for granted sometimes as the children of immigrants, and it's very legitimate. All of the emotions in that episode are very real because I've felt that guilt before and think Aziz has too.
ANSARI: Yeah, and I think it's not just pointing the fingers at the kids, too. It's also pointing the fingers a little bit at the parents and saying, hey, maybe, like, talk to your kids and reveal a little bit of yourself and open up a little bit every now and then 'cause I think both our families didn't share those stories, and we kind of had to push it out of them. And we really wouldn't have pushed as hard as we did unless we needed it for the episodes.
YANG: There's a very real thing where I think I did bond with my dad a lot more because I was researching the episode.
YANG: So I had a lot more phone calls with him than I had previously. So it was almost life imitating art there.
ANSARI: Has your dad gotten mad that he didn't get to play himself and that my dad did?
YANG: I haven't told him about that yet. I think he's...
ANSARI: He doesn't know that?
YANG: I think he knows, but I don't think he wanted to act, unlike your dad.
ANSARI: Oh, my dad was very eager. He's ready to find his next project.
YANG: Yeah, I think - Michael Bay, if you need an elder Indian man in the next "Transformers," Shoukath Ansari is available.
ANSARI: My dad does accents. He'll do anything.
GROSS: But he has an accent.
ANSARI: Yeah, he does.
ANSARI: He'll do an American accent.
GROSS: So, Alan, did your father also have a water buffalo in Taiwan?
YANG: No, that was actually - this is really interesting. The guy who plays Brian on the show is named Kelvin Yu, and Kelvin is also a Taiwanese-American comedy writer.
YANG: We found the only other one to play the Brian character. And his dad, he had the same stories. Kelvin and I both grew up in California, and I think his dad did have a water buffalo.
ANSARI: He did.
YANG: So that was, I believe, an improv from Kelvin.
ANSARI: Yeah, 'cause we were doing that scene and I was rehearsing the scene with Kelvin. And he's like, well, I can say my dad had a water buffalo named Ting Ting. And I was like, wait a second. You can't say that, that's not real. And he's like, no, he had a water buffalo. And then I was like, you have to make a hundred percent sure your dad had a water buffalo. You can't say that if you're not a thousand percent sure 'cause it'll sound crazy if he didn't. And then he texts his dad, and he's like, OK, he had a water buffalo, but it wasn't named Ting Ting. It was something else that wasn't quite as funny as Ting Ting. I was like, all right, just say Ting Ting. It's fine (laughter).
YANG: We can let that slide. By the way, it sounds like Kelvin's family was better off than my dad. They had a water buffalo.
ANSARI: They were rolling.
ANSARI: They had so many water buffalos.
YANG: That's the equivalent of a Lexus.
GROSS: So, you know, for a lot of people, they can visit their parents', like, old neighborhood, which might be in the same city or in another state. But, like, Alan, you're never going to be able to go to, like, the hut that your father grew up in in Taiwan. I'm sure that hut doesn't even exist anymore. But, you know, it's just so - that distance is so great, and it must be really difficult for you to imagine what your father's life was like.
YANG: That's absolutely true, and it's funny you should say that. The one time I visited Taiwan, I was 7 years old, and I actually did visit that hut. And it's in a...
YANG: Yes, it's in a town - a small village called Tiger Tail. And my dad's mom stayed there for the rest of her life. And it was really interesting because when my dad was born, he was the youngest of three sons. And his father passed away when he was 1 year old. And the people in the village told his mom to give him away because he was just - it was just too much. It was a single mom with three kids. And his mom worked in a factory making the burlap sacks for rice, so she wasn't exactly rolling in money. But she decided to keep my dad. And my dad ended up being a really smart, hard-working kid, and he would go help her at the factory. And it's all sort of test-taking based in Taiwan, so he took a standardized test in high school and did really well. And he was able to go to a straight medical school program. So he ended up being really successful. He came to America, moved to New York, then moved to California. And even after all of that, he thought about bringing his mother over to America, but it was just too drastic a change. So she stayed in Taiwan. And it is a different - there is a psychic gulf that exists between myself and my grandparents because they don't really speak English, and I don't speak Chinese. And that's my own personal shame because I did not learn ever. But, yeah, I only saw my paternal grandma a few times in my life. And that's really crazy, I think - yeah, you know, all these white people visiting their grandparents all the time. And I think there's a bit in the show about Aziz talking to his grandparents. It's the same thing with mine. If I'm talking on the phone and my Grandma - she doesn't speak English, and I don't speak Chinese, so I'm not sure what we're supposed to say.
ANSARI: There's this kind of strange conversation of obligation that you have that is really a gesture that doesn't mean anything, and I do it in the episode. There's an episode called "Old People" that's about grandparents - and not about grandparents but about respecting the elderly and getting to know old people a little bit and not just ignoring them. And in that scene, I tell my girlfriend about how when I talk to my grandma, we just have the same conversation where I go like, hello, how are you? OK, I'm going to put my dad on now.
ANSARI: And me and my brother just do that every time. Like every couple of months, my dad will be like, you should speak to Uma (ph) real quick. And I'll be like, OK. And I'll just run through that, and then we're good.
YANG: Yeah, you could play a recording. It sounds really familiar. That's what I do with my grandma too.
GROSS: My guests are Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang, co-creators of the new Netflix series "Master Of None." Ansari also stars in it. After we take a short break, we'll talk about how they cast Ansari's parents to play his character's parents in the series. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with comic Aziz Ansari and writer Alan Yang, who co-created the new Netflix comedy series "Master Of None" and co-wrote several of the episodes. The first season will be on Netflix starting tomorrow. Ansari stars as an actor who's having a hard time finding good roles in part because there are few good roles available for Indian-American actors. Ansari and Yang are both the sons of immigrants. Yang's parents are from Taiwan. When we left off, we were talking about an episode in which Ansari's character, Dev, and his friend learn new things about the lives of their immigrant parents. Some of the stories in the episode come directly from Ansari's and Yang's parents' lives. Aziz, what did you learn about your parents from trying to get their stories out so you could put them in your series?
ANSARI: I basically learned the stories that ended up being in that second episode - my mom told me - it's like - describing the episode where she says that she got here the first day - in my mom's case it was South Carolina. In the show, the character is in New York. But my mom, she came to South Carolina. My dad picked her up at the airport, took her home, and then my dad had to go to the hospital and work. And so she's sitting in this apartment in South Carolina. She doesn't know anyone. She's all alone. She had an arranged marriage, so she'd known my dad for about a week, which is true. It's in the episode as well. She met my dad. A week later, she got married, and then she's in America. And she's just there in his apartment, and I asked her, like, what did you do that first day? Like, did you watch TV? Did you, like, read a book? And she's - and I put it in the episode because it hit me so hard. She said no, I just sat on the couch and cried. And you hear that and you're like wow, these people really did something pretty incredible to get here and give me this spectacular life that I've been able to have, and I've never really thought about it. I never thought about them coming to South Carolina and trying to build a life in this strange place where they didn't know anybody and dealing with racism and, like, much harder racism than, like, oh, I've got to do an accent in the audition, like real stuff where people are...
ANSARI: ...People are pretty mean.
ANSARI: So it was a great conversation to have, and I think a lot of immigrant kids probably don't have that conversation with their parents because it is kind of odd, even if you're not an immigrant to be, like, mom, dad, tell me your story, like, let's talk about that. It just feels kind of odd to bring that up. And I think it's one of those things where kids are like oh, I'll ask them at some point. And then I bet a lot of times they don't end up doing it, and they never get to learn these stories.
GROSS: Well, I'm wondering if you found that there was a big difference between, like, friends - the parents of your white friends and your own parents in terms of how they demonstrated affection or encouragement or how they talked about themselves...
ANSARI: That's in the show, too...
YANG: Absolutely, yeah.
ANSARI: I mean (laughter)...
YANG: There's a line in the show that is exactly that, which is from my own personal experience, which is, you know, I had a white girlfriend and I met her parents. And they hugged me more times over the course of that first dinner than my parents have hugged me in my entire life, basically. You know, but that's just cultural. You know, that's not anything - that's not my parents' fault. That's not - it's just a cultural thing, where affection is a little bit less expected between family members. And I love hugging my parents, but it's very American to do, so I force them to do it. But...
GROSS: Well, how old did you...
YANG: ...It is fun.
GROSS: ...Have to be before you realized oh, it was cultural. It's not - I shouldn't be, like, angry with my parents. It's not, like, their fault.
ANSARI: How old were you, Alan, 33, thirty...
YANG: Yeah, I think it was last week after I saw the episode.
YANG: No, fairly old - I think a lot of these things you just internalize and you take for granted. You think it's normal. And then as you get older, you get some perspective. And frankly, I was never angry at my parents. My parents have been unbelievably supportive and open-minded. I mean, they're - my parents have been very open-minded because I pursued this crazy career in comedy, which is a job that I didn't even know existed as a kid and I'm sure blew their minds as people who came to America from a different country. Suddenly, their son is going to try to write jokes for a living? That's insane.
GROSS: No, when you grow...
GROSS: ...Up in a hut, there's no way, right, that you're thinking your son is going to be a comedy writer.
YANG: I think my son will be an executive producer when he grows up.
ANSARI: Yeah, I - just to add to what Alan said, I think my parents were unbelievable parents, and I don't really fault them for not sharing more of their stories growing up or whatever. And I think as I've gotten older and matured - all of us - me and my parents - have gotten better at expressing ourselves and building a stronger relationship.
GROSS: Aziz, your parents play your parents in the series. And why did you cast your parents? Strikes me - it's working out great in terms of my perspective as a viewer. It strikes me it could have the potential to be very awkward.
ANSARI: Well, Alan and I had those characters of my parents, and we knew the character of my dad was going to pop up in a few episodes. And he was based on my real dad, the way we wrote the character. And my real dad is very funny and silly. And for me, it was very important that we got these characters right because a lot of times when you see immigrant parents on television or film, they're portrayed in this unbelievably broad fashion, and they're just vehicles for very hacky ethnic jokes that are not real. So we wanted these characters to feel three-dimensional and real. And we auditioned a few people for these parts of my parents. And when they read, they just didn't feel like my parents. They didn't feel - it felt like people doing impressions of Indian people, and they just didn't have the timing and humor that my real parents had. I think my mom's funny, too, and they just didn't feel right. And those parts are really important. For that second episode - which may be the best episode of the series, I think, it's one of my favorites - those parent characters have to be really good. And if those characters - if you don't buy those characters, the episode doesn't work at all. So we're at this position, and we didn't know what to do. And I told Alan - I said hey, this is maybe a crazy idea, but I said do you think my dad could do it? And Alan was like well, let's have him come in and audition and see how it goes. And so he came in - my dad came in, and he - like Alan said, he'd always wanted to act for some reason. Like, whenever we were doing "Parks," he would pull Alan aside - he would meet Alan just socially and would pull Alan aside and be like is there any way you could write - maybe write some sort of role for me on "Parks," like, say this seriously.
GROSS: How awkward is that?
YANG: (Laughter) I loved it. I tried to get him in. It almost happened, actually, but we didn't quite get there.
ANSARI: Yeah, it was close, but it didn't happen.
ANSARI: So he was down, and then he auditioned and he was pretty good. He felt more real than the other guys. And it was one of those things where Alan and I thought well, if we get him on set, he'll become more comfortable and he'll eventually be able to do it. And it happened like that. And it was great because - it was interesting, when he first came on set, he was very nervous about memorizing his lines and everything. And by the end, he was really way more comfortable. He was improvising and giving us notes on the scripts and stuff. It was pretty great. And then my mom was the total opposite - very shy, does not want to do it. And I really had to - I really pretty much said, like - you have to do this for me (laughter). And she was like this is a very strange favor you're asking of me. And I'm like please do it. So they both agreed to do it, and it really was a - it really was strange because usually when people have their real parents do things, it's a pretty quick cameo-type situation or, like, one scene. They were in it a lot. And, you know, they - it wasn't like they came into town for a couple of days. They were here for, like, two weeks working on the show. And my dad took off work from being a gastroenterologist to do an arc on my show. It's a pretty crazy thing he did, and I really have to thank them tremendously 'cause I think their work is great. And it's so crazy to read reviews where it's, like, Shoukath Ansari comes in and steals the scene, which is, of course, not going to go to my dad's head at all.
YANG: (Laughter) By the way, there was an ironic moment where in the episode "Indians On TV," the character of Dev is put off by the fact that people are asking him to do an Indian accent. And we started auditioning people to play Dev's parents in the show, and we were making them do Indian accents. And some of them didn't have strong Indian accents to begin with. So we were basically doing what the producers in that episode were doing, so we felt bad. I mean...
YANG: ...We wanted to get someone who had a real accent.
ANSARI: Yeah, and it felt like whenever they did the accent in the audition, it felt like they were making fun of my dad. It felt weird. And, you know, we were asking them to do an accent, but it was one of those things where I justified it in saying well, the joke isn't that he has an accent.
ANSARI: It's a character that's a three-dimensional person, so it's just being accurate to - it's being accurate to who he is. So it's like when Daniel Day-Lewis changes his voice...
YANG: It's basically exactly Daniel Day-Lewis. He came in and read - he was great, but we ended up not...
ANSARI: Daniel Day-Lewis was going to play my dad, but he didn't feel as real as my real dad.
GROSS: Let me reintroduce you both. If you're just joining us, my guests are Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang, and they co-created and co-write many of the episodes of the new Netflix comedy series "Master Of None." Aziz stars in it. And we need to take a short break here, and then we'll be back. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, my guests are Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang, and they co-created and co-write many of the episodes of the new Netflix comedy series months "Master Of None." Aziz stars in it as an act who is trying to really establish a career for himself. So, Aziz, your parents had an arranged marriage. They knew each other a week before they got married. And you do a lot of comedy about dating and romance. You have a book that you co-wrote with a sociologist called "Modern Romance." It must be really hard when, in your mind, you compare your parents' marriage with your idea of what a relationship should be.
ANSARI: Yes, I think it's such a vast difference in the way that whole process is for me today than it was for my parents back then. And we talk about that in the episode, whenever I'm having the conversation with my dad - I think it's an episode 10 - and I'm asking him, like, how many women did he meet before he decided to marry my mom. That's the real story. He told me that he met two people - my mom was the second person. And the first lady - he thought she was a little bit too tall (laughter), then he met my mom. And I was like, well, how long did you talk to her before you decided to get married. And he said, like, 30 minutes, and then he was good. Then you look at me and Alan - if we have, like, a lunch menu, we will spend 30 minutes trying to figure out what the best dish is before we pull the trigger on an order.
YANG: And then we'll decide to get them both and split them.
GROSS: So there's an episode where, Aziz, your character, Dev, basically is asked to babysit these two kind of bratty kids for a few hours, and they - it's just like mayhem. They - everything that they could do to be difficult, they do. And this is after a pregnancy scare when you've been with a woman for the first time who you barely know and you go to the drugstore to get Plan B. But I'm sure when writing this episode, you were thinking through - what would it mean to be a parent? Like, 'cause it's all about the lives of friends that your character has and how they've dealt with parenthood and what it's like to spend time with kids - what you give up, what you gain. And it's very - it's very inconclusive. It's not like he reaches his answer at the end. It's not heartwarming (laughter), you know?
GROSS: So what kind of thinking have you been going through that led to that episode?
ANSARI: I think the seat of the episode just started with Alan and I just talking about safe sex and birth control and condoms. To Alan and I - we were talking about this sort this. We were like - what - this is so interesting that all these young people - all these people are having sex all the time. And every time you do it, there's a risk that you could - you could get this person pregnant, and there's a risk that you could bring a life into the world. That is a pretty crazy thing that's always looming over your head every time you're having sex. Even if you're using a condom, there's still a chance, right?
And it's a sort of remarkable thing, and then we just started talking about kids and doing an episode about that idea. And what was interesting is it was actually the guy I wrote the book with, Eric Klinenberg - I told him I was working on something about an episode about kid. And he said, why don' you take my kids for a day? I was asking him to tell me things that have happened to him while he was taking care of my kids - of his kids, and he said, just take my kids for a day. And so I did it, and a lot of the things that happened in the episode happened. You just have this idea - I think I had this idea of, like - oh, this will be perfect. I'll take them out ice cream. I'll do this.
ANSARI: None of it went as planned. They don't want to do any of it. And there was things I didn't expect, like the young girl was like, hey, can you take me to the bathroom? And I was like yeah. And then she's like, no, I need you to come in. And I was like, I don't know what I'm supposed to do here.
ANSARI: And we put all the stuff in the episode, and it was great.
YANG: So much of the episode is from the research we did with our friends because when this episode came up, you know, more and more of our friends are having kids. So we decided to cold text a bunch of our friends - why did you have decide to have kids? - just out of the blue with no context.
GROSS: Wait, you texted them this? And you expected - you expected they could answer in a text?
ANSARI: Every friend - we said, like - we basically said, sell me on having kids.
ANSARI: And then we just waited to see what people wrote back.
YANG: Yeah, we were just interested to see what their answers would be. And some of the responses I got back included - are you OK?
YANG: It's a funny text to get out of the blue, I guess.
GROSS: Alan, what do you think about when you think about the possibility of being of becoming a father, if, in fact, that's a possibility that you entertain.
YANG: It is a possibility I entertain. I think it's unbelievably frightening, I think, when you're younger, but as you get older, I think it becomes something you consider. And it's not for everyone, but, you know, everyone goes at their own pace. And I think for me, I'm at the point in my life where, yeah, I think I could see myself settling down at some point and getting married and having kids, but it's happening in the next month.
YANG: So I've got a find someone first, but - yeah - and there's obviously a lot of reasons. One of - one of the most compelling things someone wrote back was it's a huge part of the human experience. And it's something you'll just never really understand unless you do it. And that's not to say you can't have a completely fulfilling life without having kids, but there are trade-offs. And it's definitely something - I'm not 100 percent, one way or the other, and that's what that episode reflects (laughter).
GROSS: So have you watched friends change who have become parents - people who you knew before?
ANSARI: Oh, yeah. You never see them anymore.
GROSS: Do think they were honest with you, like, when you asked them what the experience is like? Do you think people share the negative part, as well as the positive?
ANSARI: I've definitely had some friends tell me quietly, like - not that they didn't - not as mean as, like, I wish I didn't have a kid, but in a tone of, like, really make sure. It's hard.
ANSARI: Yeah, I've barely figured out how to be just Aziz, the guy, much less taking care of another person, so I think I have a few more years to figure that out.
YANG: Aziz, the empire.
ANSARI: Yeah. I will say I did have a friend that dressed their kid up as a hamburger for Halloween. That looked awesome. I would love to do that, so maybe just on Halloween, I can have a kid.
YANG: Great Instagram (inaudible).
GROSS: My guests are comic Aziz Ansari and writer Alan Yang, co-creator's of the new Netflix series "Master Of None." We'll talk more after we take a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. My guests are comic Aziz Ansari, the star of the new Netflix series "Master Of None" and writer Alan Yang who co-created the series with Ansari. They previously collaborated on "Parks And Recreation." Ansari was one of the stars, Yang was one of the writers.
Was the end of "Parks And Rec" emotional for you both?
ANSARI: Sure. That was such a tight, close-knit group of people, and I think there's been countless interviews where we've all talked about how close we are, and it's true. And it was really an emotional day, that last day on set. And - but I do think creatively, I was ready to move on to something else, as was Alan. I think personally, it's rough not to get to see those people all the time - they're such a great group of people - but creatively, I was really excited to work on a new project.
YANG: Yeah, that was just such an incredible job and an incredible group of people. And, you know, I sort of - I think both of us sort of grew up on that show. You know, we started in our mid-20s on that show. And, you know, going into that writers' room, I think those seasons of "Parks" were written by some of the greatest writers I've ever worked with for sure. And that staff was really great. And on a show like that where you're doing 22, 24, or 30 episodes a year even, as a writer, you're in the writers' room so much. It really is - I was eating 15 meals a week at work, and that really becomes your family, and it was really fun. And I also learned a lot on that show, so I'll always have, you know - it'll always be really, really special to me. I loved working on that show.
GROSS: One of the writers on "Parks And Rec," Harris Wittels, died at the age of 30, and, Aziz, you wrote a really nice piece about him after he died. And I'm just - I guess I'm wondering what it's like for both of you to have a contemporary, a colleague who was a contemporary, who died. I think when someone your own age dies, it's just a fundamentally different experience than when somebody older, especially considerably older than you, dies.
YANG: Yeah, that was one of the most difficult days, I think, of both of our lives. Harris was someone who was someone we saw every day, you know, I had worked...
ANSARI: He was writing on the show with us at the time.
YANG: He worked on "Master Of None" and...
GROSS: Oh, he was working on your show?
YANG: Absolutely, yes.
ANSARI: This was after - it was after "Parks," and when Alan and I were coming up with the show, one of the first things we said is we've got to get Wittels to be on our staff to write with us. If we can get Wittels, it'll be so huge 'cause he was really - he really was the strongest writer that we could think of to get on board with us. And we got him to work on the show with us, which is so flattering 'cause he's pretty picky about what he would do, and he wouldn't just sign up for anything. And, yeah, he was working with us every day. He was in the writers' room with us, and he wasn't there this one day - he was writing with us - man, it's really hard to talk about this. But we were working on the show and we got that phone call, and I just screamed. I couldn't believe it. And I was separate from - me and Alan were working separately from the other writers, and I told Alan what happened, and we were just in shock. And we just walked around the neighborhood for a while. We were just...
YANG: We had to take a walk.
ANSARI: Yeah, we were just trying to process this, and then - oh, God, it was a nightmare. And then we had to go in - and it was such a weird thing where those awful websites, like, were just, like, posting about this before people he knew could even find out. And it was one of these things where it was, like, well, we've got to tell them or else they're going to see it on, like, TMZ or something that. And so I went in and told everyone. And it was an unbelievably difficult, horrible experience. And - it was awful. I'm glad that we got to spend so much time with him before he passed 'cause we were seeing him every day. And I'm happy that I got to spend as much time with him as I did before he left. And, you know, you see - there's moments in the show that are such Harris moments that I'm so glad are in there. And it's such - it's so sad that he's not able to see what we ended up doing with some of the great stuff he did and - but it's - yeah, like, Alan and I would screen - when we were working on the show, we would screen the episodes. We'd have, like, a long edit of an episode, and we would do screenings. And we would screen stuff, and Harris's stuff would get such huge laughs. And we would just, like, look at each other, like, laughing and also sad at the same time. It's such a weird feeling, like, people would be at the screening - a friend would just text me, like, oh, my God, like, that line was great, like, who wrote that? And I'd just be like, that was Harris and...
YANG: He was just a crazy comedy-machine. And just to give an example of his personality, he himself would say he was the fifth or sixth funniest person in the world. And we would often ask him who was above him at that point in time. And he would say, OK, well, Galifianakis, Louie, and right now, I think McBride and Larry David are a little funnier than I am, but I'm probably five or six right now. But the thing was, he actually really - he was because, you know, there are a lot of funny people in those writers rooms. But he was just - just so naturally talented. And it was infuriating sometimes because this guy would stroll in, and he was always the most confident dude, and just be the funniest.
GROSS: Alan, well, my last question for you is - you used to work on "South Park" as a writer. And there's a couple of moments in the new series "Master Of None" where somebody does a Cartman imitation. Has that followed you wherever you go?
YANG: That was - yeah, I did pitch that, I think, for that character just because we were coming up with ways that she could be sort of unlikable. And obviously, everyone knows "South Park" is a genius show. It's just kind of a dated impression. But that stuck - the reason that stuck with me was, you know, I was only at "South Park" for a brief time, but I do remember just starting out there, and you would have to pitch jokes. And Trey Parker and Matt Stone would pitch the jokes in the characters' voices...
YANG: ...So it was really unfair because Trey would just do it as Cartman. And there's no way that I, as a 24-year-old kid or whatever, trying to - trying to out-pitch him or whatever. But anyway, it always stuck with me, that sort of embarrassment of me kind of doing a Cartman to pitch jokes, but not really. And so I was like, man, what if this character really thought she was really funny doing a Cartman and just aggressively doing it over and over again? So, yeah, that experience did come in handy.
GROSS: So Alan, did your father, who grew up in Taiwan, watch "South Park"?
YANG: I think he might have checked out a few episode. It's actually - it was actually really cute because my mom teaches high school in Riverside, Calif., where I grew up. And she - actually, Moreno Valley, which is right by there, but she lived in Riverside. And, you know, "South Park" was the first thing where I think it's - when I worked there, I think it seemed like I actually had a real job because - it was really adorable. She said she was visiting Germany, and she e-mailed me excitedly and said, Alan, "South Park" is on in Germany. She couldn't believe it. And later, she cut out a newspaper clipping that was a review of "South Park" in this San Bernardino Sun, which is a local newspaper, because it seemed - I don't think she realized that "South Park" was a big show, so she was cutting out local newspaper clipping reviews. And her students at her school really liked the show, and so I think she - that was the first time where it seemed like her son actually had a real job and shouldn't go to law school.
GROSS: I want to thank you both so much. Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang, thank you, and congratulations on your new series.
ANSARI: Thanks very much, Terry. Thanks for having us.
YANG: Thank you.
GROSS: Aziz Ansari stars in the new Netflix series "Master Of None." He co-created the series with Alan Yang, and they co-wrote several of the episodes. The entire first season will be on Netflix starting tomorrow.
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