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July 31, 2014

Aziz Ansari Talks 'Parks and Recreation,' Judd Apatow and Raaaaaaaandy

by Jason Newman, posted Dec 2nd 2009 4:43PM
26-year-old actor/comedian Aziz Ansari is riding a wave most of his peers can only dream about. As the lecherous, sarcastic Tom Haverford on NBC's 'Parks and Recreation,' Ansari has received critical acclaim and helped dispel any thoughts of an 'Office'-type knockoff.

The former co-creator of MTV sketch comedy show 'Human Giant,' Ansari now shuffles his time between 'Parks,' movie roles and stand-up ('Aziz Ansari: Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening,' his first CD/TV special, airs on Comedy Central Jan. 17.) Most recently, the writer sold three film ideas to Judd Apatow and Universal Pictures, including a spinoff of his popular Raaaaaaaandy character from last year's 'Funny People.'

We caught up with Anzari right before Thanksgiving from his family's home in Charlotte, NC, where he's "looking forward to my mother's cooking and hanging out with my cousins for a few days."26-year-old actor/comedian Aziz Ansari is riding a wave most of his peers can only dream about. As the lecherous, sarcastic Tom Haverford on NBC's 'Parks and Recreation,' Ansari has received critical acclaim and helped dispel any thoughts of an 'Office'-type knockoff.

The former co-creator of MTV sketch comedy show 'Human Giant,' Ansari now shuffles his time between 'Parks,' movie roles and stand-up ('Aziz Ansari: Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening,' his first CD/TV special, airs on Comedy Central Jan. 17.) Most recently, the writer sold three film ideas to Judd Apatow and Universal Pictures, including a spinoff of his popular Raaaaaaaandy character from last year's 'Funny People.'

We caught up with Anzari right before Thanksgiving from his family's home in Charlotte, NC, where he's "looking forward to my mother's cooking and hanging out with my cousins for a few days."

What did you learn from 'Human Giant' that you were able to take with you to 'Parks and Recreation'?
I think doing 'Human Giant' gave me the experience of what it was like to film a TV show. The way we shoot 'Parks and Recreation' is similar to the way we shot 'Giant' in that we'll do takes that are scripted first and then do a couple of improvised takes in the end. We also did stuff on 'Giant' that was shot documentary-style the same way 'Parks' is shot. But it's different because you're playing one character every episode.

Having done multiple characters on 'Human Giant,' was it hard at first just developing Tom Haverford?
Not really. It's been cool to settle into Tom and figure out there's so many different ways to go with this character. We can keep fleshing out his world for a long time. [Showrunners] Greg Daniels and Michael Schur are really cool about any ideas I have for the character and are totally open to hearing them.

Have you thought about the direction Tom will go in for the third season?
We haven't even talked about that yet. I just treat it episode by episode and just think about what's happened before. I try not to think too far ahead because things always can change. There's a character being played by Justin Theroux that Amy [Poehler] is getting set up with on a date and I thought it'd be fun for Tom to just think that guy's really cool. That was something I just thought the day we were filming it and it became the running joke in the episode.

A lot of the jokes seem like the result of a group of friends riffing off each other. On set, it's very collaborative and we'll work on jokes together while we're filming it. I think there's a tendency for people in interviews to ask us about improvising because it's a little more interesting to talk about, but the scripts are so funny to start off with that we don't really need to improvise. But when you're on set, it's fun to collaborate.

You've guest-starred on a number of shows, including 'Scrubs' and 'Flight of the Conchords.' What show would you most want to make a guest appearance on?
I think I should play David Palmer's long-lost son in the next season of '24.' But I'd work at CTU. I'm not a politician.

Judd Apatow recently picked up all three film ideas from you and director Jason Woliner. Were you surprised they all got accepted?
Yeah, usually when you go in to pitch ideas to someone like Judd Apatow, there's a couple of ideas that are no-gos. Judd talked to us and was like, "The smart thing to do is to work on a couple of ideas at the same time." That's what they did with Seth [Rogen] with 'Superbad,' 'Pineapple Express' and 'The 40-year-Old Virgin.' It was really cool when he was like, "Why don't we work on all three?" I'm grateful he put that much faith in our skills.

How much can you say about each project?
I don't want to say much more than what we said in the [Variety] article already. We're still developing them and I'm just wary about saying anything about them because no matter what you say, it's like, "Really? That's what it's about? That sucks!" We tried to be so vague and give as little as possible and even with that little bit, some people are like, "I don't know. That doesn't sound like it'll be great." Really? How could you possibly know what this movie's about? [Laughs] All you know is that [in one of them], I play a disgraced astronaut. You know nothing else about the tone of the movie or what it's about. But most people sound excited about it. If you like the stuff Jason and I have done in the past, you'll definitely enjoy what we have in mind for these three movies.

You've performed the Randy character from 'Funny People' in your stand-up. Are most people in on the joke?
I think most people understand that when I do Randy in my show, people know that it's making fun of that kind of stuff, but I do think the jokes are funny. They have to be. They can't just be me going out there going [affects Randy voice] "Oh man, I just grabbed my diiiiiiick!"

When I've done it live, there's only been a few times where I haven't said, "Oh hi, I'm Aziz and I'm doing a character for this movie 'Funny People.' When I didn't say it, I'm sure some people thought I was a real guy, but I don't know. It doesn't matter to me. I don't think it's about tricking people or anything.

In terms of your own stand-up, it's been said by older comics that you need at least 20 years to develop your style.
Yeah, there's a quote from Jay Leno, I think, that said your first 500 shows don't matter and I think that's pretty true. I didn't put out my first album until now and it's been eight years since I started. You're always developing as a comedian. You look at guys like Louis C.K., who's been doing this for 20 or so years, and it's like, wow, that guy's been doing stand-up for about as long as I've been alive. He's so far ahead of everyone.

You moved to Los Angeles from New York last year. What's the best and worst part about living in L.A.?
The best thing is there's a lot of really delicious taco trucks there and occasionally you'll see Lorenzo Lamas walking around. And the worst thing is occasionally you'll see Lorenzo Lamas walking around.

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