Parks and Recreation’s Aziz Ansari Is 30 Years Old and Writing a Book About Modern Love
Aziz Ansari is all grown up. Mostly. The Parks and Recreation star, whose third comedy special Buried Alive debuted on Netflix on November 1, gets anxious at the mention of silly questions. “I love getting in long, meaningful conversations with people,” he confesses. Unlike the absurdly immature (but loveable) character “Tommy Tom” Haverford he plays on Parks—Ansari is thoughtful and startlingly serious. “Rudeness makes me angry,” he says. “I can’t take people who are rude in everyday life.”
Luckily for the South Carolina native, his encounters with the impolite are rare. Most, he says, are genuinely nice. His fans love him, and it’s a feeling that’s mutual. In Buried Alive, which has landed 4.2 out of 5 stars among Netflixers, he asks random audience members to tell him how they would (or did) propose to their loved ones. Ansari lives for interactions like this. “I love talking to people about their experiences—especially ones like marriage and divorce—ones that I don’t have. It’s so fascinating to me.” His next show, which he’s written, has even more audience involvement.
Already finished writing the follow up to Buried Alive, the 30-year-old is now working on a book about modern love. “I wasn’t interested in just documenting my various foibles,” he says. The idea for the book was born out of his own struggle to find research on how technology shapes our romantic relationships. It’s a topic he often touches on in his standup (Why isn’t there a Grindr for straight people? Because women would just find out every man wants to have sex with them.) “It’s going to have a lot of original research,” he says of the project. “I’m working with a lot of academics and really smart people to figure out how to study this stuff.”
Vacillating between silly and serious, the talk with Ansari is interrupted several times with giggling—most of it his own. But beneath the playful façade is a compelling, and very adult, Aziz. Funny makers have a serious side, too.
What’s in your fridge?
I have Martinelli’s apple juice ALWAYS on deck. I make a fruit juice smoothie every morning with kale, strawberry, banana, and yogurt. Oh, hemp cookie, too. I got into this big smoothie kick while on tour, because when you’re on the road a lot of time the only place to eat are these fast food places. But then when I finished I was like, “I’m going to keep making these things because they’re really GOOD.”
Well, I consider myself...let’s just say I have an inner fatso. I don’t go too crazy. But I’m sort of like a fat man trapped inside a skinny man’s body.
Is there any food you won’t eat?
I don’t love sweetbreads, or stuff like that, because the texture like throws me off. I don’t eat hazelnuts because I’m allergic. I had Nutella in the past and it was prettttttty tasty. I’m definitely missing out on Nutella.
Do you remember the first time you wrote comedian as your job title?
I’m usually hesitant to write comedian because it’s such a silly thing. The worst is when you come to a new country and you put it on a customs form. For some reason I’m always worried that if I put comedian people will be like (in angry voice): “Oh REALLY? What is this? You’re not a very silly person.” So I’ll usually write actor. Or architect.
Were you nervous to go on Charlie Rose?
No, actually! I mean, he’s definitely an intimidating guy. He’s pretty cool. But the two guests that bookended me were Dick Cheney and Alan Greenspan. So I felt like they were sort of the bread in an Aziz sandwich. (Laughs)
You’re pretty open about being single. Do you get a lot of girls sending you stuff?
Haha! I keep my personal information private so I don’t get murdered! (Laughs) Do you realize how quickly I’d get murdered if people could just send me stuff? Do you know how many Indian men would be asking me to hang out if my email was public? (Laughs)
What do you think about getting your own show eventually?
Right now I’m still doing Parks so I can’t really pursue that, but eventually I would like to do something like that. It could be a lot of fun. I love Parks but it’s not really my show, it’s Amy’s show. My standup is really my thing. My ideas and stuff, that’s all very personal. I would love to do that same thing with a TV show. I think that would be fun.
Is it true that you were the first one cast on Parks?
Yeah I met with Michael [Schur] and Greg [Daniels] after I finished the second season of Human Giant and they said they were going to do a new show and they wanted it to be documentary style and I said whatever it is, I want to be involved, that would be a dream gig. They said all right cool you’re in and the show slowly came together. Luckily, I made a good bet. It ended up being a really good show.
You often used your cousin Harris in your standup early on, talking about his weight. Many people brought him up on your Reddit AMA. Do you think he’s going to need therapy from this?
Noo!!! (Laughs) He’s totally fine! I saw him in NYC a few months ago—he goes to NYU now. That material was so many years ago when he was 11 or 12 years old. He’s not a fat Indian kid. He became skinny a year or two after I wrote that. He’s not this sad, fat Indian kid walking around NYU’s campus. (Laughs) He’s a skinny, studly, fashionable kid that’s just fucking everything. (Laughs) I don’t know about the last part, but he is very skinny. I saw his brother Darwish he came to visit when he was in NYC and he brought some friends and these girls were talking about Harris and they were like (in high-pitched girl voice) “OMG, Harris is so fashionable. Harris always has these really cool shoes on.” I was like whaaat? WHOA.
How would you compare yourself to Tom Haverford, who you play on Parks?
All of our characters on Parks, there are a little bit of elements that are in characters. For example, me, I really am into suits. I like hip hop music and songs. But other than that I’m not too similar to Tom. Nick Offerman really does have a wood chop. Nick Offerman makes canoes. That canoe he paddles in Parks, that episode where Ron is a canoe, Nick Offerman built that canoe, for real!
So Aubrey Plaza (who plays April) is really like that in real life?
Aubrey is kind of like that in real life. But she’s much deeper. I think we’re naturally all deeper, more thoughtful people in real life. She has elements of that, but she’s a sweet, lovely lady also.
I saw that you got a book deal. Congrats! How’s it going?
Shit, I gotta write that! (Laughs) Just kidding. I’ve been working on it. But I just made the deal to write it a few months ago. I’m so excited about it. I’m in the very early stages.
How did you come up with the idea for the book?
Well the next hour of my show, the fourth hour, which I don’t have name for...it deals with a lot of ideas about modern romance and what it’s like to be trying to find love in this modern era of technology. All this stuff changes culture, how we treat each other. When I was researching what it’s like to find love in this modern area, trying to find articles about this stuff, I was like: why isn’t there a Malcolm Gladwell Freakonomics-style analysis about this stuff that exists? And then I was like, OH MAN, I should write that book!
So it won’t be about you so much?
Well, I think you look at like Mindy Kaling or Tina Fey, those books are great because they don’t do standup. So those books are a way that they can kind of do that. But I do, so I thought “why would I cannibalize those ideas into a book?” The goal of the book is to be funny but also really interesting. It will have elements to it that won’t be in my standup. I’ve been meeting with sociologists and academics and we’re coming up with different experiments and things to do.
Closing thoughts on DJ Roomba?
I don’t have one! I wish I did. I think Roomba the company should get on it immediately. They should put that together.