As a stand-up comic, actor, writer, producer and best-selling author, Aziz Ansari is used to wearing multiple hats. Having started out in stand-up while attending NYU, Ansari later segued to the MTV sketch show Human Giant, movies like Funny People and This Is The End, TV parts in Scrubs and The League—and of course six years as Leslie Knope’s mischievous right-hand man, Tom Haverford, on Parks and Recreation.
Since then, he’s scored with the Netflix comedy special Aziz Ansari: Live at Madison Square Garden and the book Modern Romance: An Investigation. Now, as star, writer and producer of Master of None, he’s winning raves for his fresh, personal and hilarious take on friendship, family, show business and relationships.
So we asked him about the show, mining his life for material and making his parents stars.
“We wrote this character kind of based on my real dad, and we were like, should we have him do it? It was a pretty crazy gamble that I’m stunned we got to pull off.”
Why did you decide to call the show Master of None?
[My character] is really trying to learn and he’s kind of a master of none—he really doesn’t know anything about all these different topics. In the course of the episodes he learns a little bit.
How much of Aziz is in your character, Dev Shah?
It’s pretty close in certain things. In other things it gets fictionalized. It blurs in and out. But of any character I play, this guy’s probably the closest to me, for sure. As a writer, you pull elements from your own life. You fictionalize things. Everyone pulls from their own life in some way. But not everything that’s in the show is something that really happened to me. I never got cut out of anything. But in the “Indians on TV” episode, getting asked to do an accent—that was something that definitely happened to me when I was starting out in my career.
When did you know you were funny?
I guess when I was in school, I liked making people laugh, and people would laugh when I would attempt to be funny. I didn’t get into too much trouble for it.
How is doing a Netflix show different from doing traditional TV?
What’s cool about being on Netflix is you don’t have to wait for it to be on the air. People can just watch it whenever. There’s always new waves of people. I’m just glad people like the show.
You’ve made your parents celebrities by putting them in the show. Did you plan to cast them originally?
When we were trying to cast the dad role, we wrote this character kind of based on my real dad, and we were like, should we have him do it? And in hindsight, it was a pretty crazy gamble that I’m stunned we got to pull off. But it really paid off. He did such a great job, and my mom did too. They said they got recognized at Chipotle a couple weeks ago. It’s very surreal, and I’m happy people enjoyed their performance.
Have you started thinking about Season 2?
We’re figuring it out. The first season was so personal, and I just want to make sure that whatever we do for Season 2 lives up to what we made in the first season. We have a bunch of ideas bouncing around in our heads but I think it’s a little early to say exactly what we’re doing. We just want to push ourselves to do something interesting and to really top what we did before.
Photo by Ruvan Wijesooriya/Netflix