Aziz Ansari talks about the process of making his Emmy-nominated directorial debut in Master of None
I’m a huge fan of Aziz Ansari in all realms, so I probably embarrassed myself as I chatted with him. He possesses a manic, lovable energy on stage during his stand-up comedy, and his work on Netflix’s Master of None proved that he was more than just a funny guy. As the co-creator and writer, Ansari hit it out of the park with 10 mini movies about navigating your early 30’s in New York City. It feels both relaxed and thoughtful while maintaining a loose and funny tone. Aziz Ansari is one of the most successful comedians to transfer to a leading man on his own show.
When I spoke with him, Aziz surprised me with his soft tone. We talked briefly about the collaborative nature of the show, and I found out that his dad (breakout Shoukath Ansari who should have been nominated as Guest Actor in a Comedy Series) can’t wait to return as Dev’s father. Sometimes people think that comedians are supposed to make them laugh at all times, but Ansari proved again to be a defier of expectations.
I’m a huge fan of Master of None, and I’m a huge fan of you in general so I’m super excited to chat with you.
Oh wow. Thank you very much.
You wear three hats for Master of None. You’re the writer, director, star and co-creator of the show. Does it feel like you’re a captain of the ship?
Yeah, in a sense. It’s such a big team effort. Alan (Yang, co-creator of Master) has been with me through the whole thing, and Eric Wareheim (who plays Dev’s toweringly tall buddy Arnold) is a huge part of the show as well. Of course, he directed four of the episodes as well. You know, it’s so many people who worked so very hard on every aspect of the show, I try to help with everything that I can. Alan and I are pretty specific about everything from even the fonts in the titles and everything. But for each individual thing, there’s amazing people that help us get there. I would never want to take away from the remarkable team that we have.
I’m sure everyone tells you that they love your dad on the show. How was his reaction to when he read episode “Parents?”
He was like, “Whoa! So this is our story?” and I was like, “Yeah.”
Does he want to do more in Season 2? Is he really excited to come back?
Oh yeah! Now he’s pitching me ideas. My mom is trying to get out of doing Season 2. It’s pretty ridiculous.
I read recently that you’re really taking your time with developing Season 2. I really admire that you guys want to do it the right way and not just throw something out there.
Yeah, I think we never wanted to just make a Season 2 because we were on a schedule where it was like, “All right, it’s time to make the show!” We wanted enough of a breather to sort of refresh ourselves and have new ideas that we were just as excited about as the first season. We were trying to avoid the feeling of being rushed. We were very fortunate with how everything came out with the first season.
You’re nominated for directing and writing “Parents” (it’s also the episode submitted for Ansari’s personal acting category). Did you always have your eye on directing?
I had always wanted to. A lot of mentors in my career always said, “You need to direct, you need to direct!” And at the time I wasn’t sure. It’s so much that I did it on Master of None instead of Parks and Recreation. On Master of None, as a writer and it being my show, I know I’d have a hand in it as far as how I imagine these scenes and everything. I knew exactly how I wanted it to look, so we assembled a great team to help us execute it. I think Alan and I had a very specific vision of how we wanted it to feel and we knew what we wanted the tone of it to be. That made it much easier.
Dev is obviously based a lot on your life. Would you say he’s a mere sketch of you?
There’s a long tradition of comedians playing some version of themselves. Some delve into their lives and exaggerate things or whatever. I don’t really know if I could make a list of the similarities and differences between us. There’s definitely some overlap.
One of my favorite things is that Dev is a huge foodie. New York City is a great place for that.
Alan, Eric and I, as well as a huge chunk of our crew, very much enjoy good food. I actually despise the word foodie. (Laughs) The restaurants we chose for the show and all the bars and everything are places that you can go. They were picked deliberately. The arc of the first season has that big element of food that plays into the finale.
If Dev was forced to eat one particular pasta for the rest of his life, would he ever be able to make that sort of decision?
Oh, no. If you’re familiar with the first season, you’d know that Dev would have to think about that for a long, long time.
You’ve been to the Emmys before. Are you anticipating the ceremony this time around?
I’ve gone before. It’s fun. You get to see your friends. It’s totally fun.
I’m actually in the process of reading your book, Modern Romance. I was surprised that it was more of a sociology book, and the data is one of the most fascinating things about it. Would you be open to high schools or colleges adding that to their curriculum?
I think that’s happened already. Some college courses use it in their classes.
You have a really great chemistry with Claire Danes in the episode “The Other Man.” Was she really down to do some more comedic stuff?
We knew that that’d be a really good part for somebody. I knew her personally, so I emailed her and she said she’d been wanting to do some comedy for a while. She thought it’d be really fun. We had a blast, and she was really fun to work with.
I just re-watched that episode last night. You guys are great together.
She’s such a pro and such an incredible actress, so it was great to work with her on that.
If there was an actual version of The Sickening (the sci-fi movie that is supposed to be Dev’s big break in Master), would you go out for it?
(Laughs) I don’t know. I mean, I guess it ends up being a pretty good movie.
I would love to see you in a big budget action movie like that.
Hopefully, after Master of None, I just continue to write and direct my own stuff, and I don’t have to follow Dev’s career.