Aziz Ansari: Interview

The Parks and Recreation star schools us on Twitter success and being scared of babies

He's the stand-out star of what might be the best show on TV – Parks and Recreation – and counts among his biggest fans Kanye and Jay-Z, Quentin Tarantino and 'first daughter' Malia Obama. And he got here by being a nice (and very bloody funny) bloke. Aziz Ansari tells Amy Plitt he's loving life and loving the fans – just don't expect him to reply to all of their tweets.

Aziz, you’ve been debuting some new material lately. What’s it about?
I'm 29 years old, and a lot of my friends are getting married and having babies, and it all seems like a terrible idea. Why would anyone get married and have babies? That's the dumbest idea I've ever heard in my life. Or the scariest thing I've ever heard in my life.

Sounds like something Tom Haverford, your character on Parks and Recreation, would say. One of the things that separates that show from a lot of other sitcoms is that – despite some things Tom might say to Jerry – the humor isn't rooted in mean-spiritedness. The characters seem to like each other.
People say that a lot about the show, and I think that tone is something that developed as we went along. It's become the voice of the show. I like that it's our thing, and it's different.

Does that align with your sense of humour?
Sometimes, yeah. Even in my stand-up, there's a lot more positivity and enthusiasm rather than negative, I-hate-everything vibes.

The show is also very character-driven – almost every person on the show has gone through these big story arcs since season one, which you don't always find in sitcoms.
Yeah, it's crazy. If you think back to the first season, who would have ever thought that, like, April and Andy were going to get married? [People grow to] like all the characters, and it's interesting to see where they're going to go in their lives.

Tom had a particularly eventful time last year ­– he left the parks department to start Entertainment 720, but came back once that venture failed.
What's great about having a role like that is that you do this character for so many episodes, and you get dialed in on who this guy is and see how this character changes through so many things in their lives. If you do a movie, you're just a guy for an hour and a half.

The fandom around the show is also rabid. I've seen fan fiction, websites and memes devoted to Parks and Rec characters.
Yeah, it's so flattering! We see all of that stuff. There was [an in-store promotion] at a Whole Foods in Oakland where they drew me in the bathrobe from the "treat yo self" episode – and that was a really fun episode to do, because we were just hanging out at spas and stuff – but they drew that and [added the caption] TREAT YO SELF! BODY CARE TREATMENTS! [Laughs]

What's been your favorite fan meme?
That Whole Foods thing made me laugh. I thought the people who made Tom Haverfoods (tomhaverfoods.com) did a really good job – that cracked me up. There's some great Ron Swanson stuff. The one that really cracked me up was a bunch of photos of Ron Swanson that were all like [makes impassive, Ron Swanson-esque facial expression], and then there's one in the corner where he's drunk.

People do get really creative. I feel like we're seeing this more, with shows like Parks and Rec or Community – there are these really devoted, internet-driven fan bases that never really existed for sitcoms before.
When I was a kid, I used to do stuff like that for The A-Team, but there wasn't internet yet, so it was useless.

Speaking of fans: you are, as they say, big into the Twitter. Do you ever use Twitter as a way to work out material, or is it more a place for you to goof off?
More the latter. What's cool about Twitter is that you can make a joke about something very of-the-moment or random that I wouldn't be able to joke about in stand-up.

Do you try to keep up with all of the people who reply to or retweet you?
There's just too many people. If I did that, I wouldn't be able to do anything else. It's not out of meanness. But there are people who'll come up to me and be like, "Hey man, I wrote you on Twitter, you didn't write back!" And I'm like, "I know!" [Laughs]

You should hire a Twitter intern to take care of that for you.
I'm going to hire a young boy to go through all of my tweets, and if there's anything that seems important, I'll have him e-mail it to me. If there's anyone reading that wants to do that...

First published on 29 Aug 2012. Updated on 24 Feb 2014.

By Amy Plitt   |  
 

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