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Aziz Ansari on His Upcoming Netflix Series MASTER OF NONE

Aziz Ansari has made us laugh as hard as any comedian in America today through his stand-up, his short films with Human Giant, his recent book Modern Romance: An Investigation, and through seven unforgettable years of TV’s Parks and Recreation, in which he won his biggest audience to date as the fast-talking Tom Haverford.

Now Ansari is starting a new chapter in his career with Master of None, a Netflix sitcom he’s co-created with Alan Yang, on which Parks‘ Mike Schur serves as executive producer. With its ten-episode first season debuting on November 6th, the show centers on indecisive thirtysomething actor Dev, played by Ansari himself, who introduced Master of None at last week’s Television Critics Association’s Summer Press Tour in Los Angeles.

On whether the show is based on the stand-up comedy of Aziz Ansari or on original ideas…

Aziz Ansari: I would say more the latter. There are things I’m interested in that I talk about in my stand-up that, kind of, weave [their] way into the show. It’s not completely based on the stand-up, I don’t think. There are definitely ideas I was able to explore on the show that I wasn’t able to do with the stand-up and things like that. So, yeah. I would say maybe a blend of the both.

On whether the show is inspired by his relationship book Modern Romance

AA: There’s some episodes that deal with relationships and things. But it’s not based on the book, really. There’s experiences I had doing the book that definitely informed some episodes, but not in the way you’d think. Like, we wrote this whole episode called “Old People,” and it’s me hanging out with this grandma for the whole episode; and that was kinda based on an experience I had where when I was doing the book. I spent a lot of time in retirement homes, talking to people about relationships and stuff. I was like, “This is an interesting dynamic, me hanging out with these people,” and so it kind of sparked the idea for that episode. 
I think one thing we want to be clear about is the show is definitely not like a relationship show or based on the book at all. There’s stuff about relationships and stuff in the show, but we really try do a wide breadth of topics and subject matter.

On whether there will be recurring actors or characters…

AA: When we were writing the show, me and Alan were talking about how Parks [and Recreation] had such a big ensemble, and I wasn’t in the writers’ room for Parks. But I imagine having stories for every single character every episode was pretty hard. Alan and I decided early on “Let’s have the idea drive whatever cast is in there.” In this story, if it helps to have this person, this person will bring him in, and if not, we just won’t see him that episode. 
Some episodes you see some of these people that are in our repertory group of people. Other times, you don’t see [them] as much. There’s one episode called “Parents” where’s it’s mainly me and my dad and a character named Brian and his dad, and you don’t really see the rest of the cast in that episode. Then there’s another episode where me and Claire Danes are in the episode a lot, and then some of my friends are in that one. It really just kind of depends on the episodes, which characters you see. There’s definitely ones that are recurring between Eric Wareheim, who plays a guy named Arnold; Lena Waithe who plays Denise; and then Noël Wells plays Rachel. She’s in a few episodes because she plays a love interest.

Alan Yang: There’s a serialization. It’s not super heavy. He won’t be literally hanging on the edge of a cliff in any episode, and you won’t be picking up like that. There’s a serialization both career-wise and relationship-wise, [that will] go through episodes 1 through 10. There will be episodes that you can watch on their own that are kind of modular, but there’s always kind of a life serialization going throughout the season.

On the show’s other guest stars…

AA: You know who killed us, was so funny, he’s in the episode with Claire, actually, is Noah Emmerich from The Americans. He was so good. He was hilarious. I’d never really seen him do comedy stuff before, but I loved him in The Americans. So we talked about casting him. He was great… Carlin Salmon, very funny. H. Jon Benjamin, who I’d known forever, we used him. Todd Barry, another guy I’ve known forever. He’s great in the show.


On the motivation for doing the show…

AA: We were getting this chance to really do whatever we wanted as long as it was funny and interesting. So we really pushed outside to make stuff that we’re really proud of and thought were interesting stories that we couldn’t tell elsewhere. I think as far as just the overall show, this is the first thing I’ve done, acting-wise, where it’s felt as personal to me as stand-up. Parks, I was playing a character named Tom, and I was working in a parks department. It’s not really related to me in my life. I love the show, obviously. This is dumping my head and my heart out into this show, and it’s as personal to me as my stand-up or anything else. It’s the first opportunity I’ve had to do something like that, and I’m glad I had these guys onboard to make sure I didn’t fuck it up, and I don’t think we did. I think we made a good show.

In my last stand-up special, I did a bit about my parents and about how my parents immigrated to America, and the episode is a much deeper exploration of that idea, and Alan told me a little about his dad’s experience coming to America. We started talking about this and talking to other friends of ours who have parents that immigrated here. And we realized, “Holy shit. All these stories are really amazing and very compelling stories, and most of the kids have no clue about them and never thank their parents or anything.” So we took that idea, for example, and made a whole episode about it and explored in a way I couldn’t have done with stand-up.

On whether he’ll do more stand-up this year…

AA: I’m doing the Oddball Fest in the Funny or Die comedy festival in September and October, so [I’m] writing material for that.

On going from being a supporting character to the star…

AA: It was definitely much different. I’ve always said Parks will be the best job I ever have, and it was such a great gig. I was there, maybe, two, three days a week; and I was there for half a day, just dicking around with those great people I worked with, the amazing cast and crew. lan would come down from the writers’ room. I would dick around with him for a little while. And then this… There’s no time for dicking around. It’s like, I’ve gotta make decisions with Alan on everything, like, “Oh, we have to” — every single thing you could think of, every prop, all the casting. But that was what was cool about it. We could really make this our thing. To be able to sit in the editing room and pick all the music for the episodes and to be involved with all the writing and stuff and sit there with Alan and rewrite stuff on set. It was amazing. It was the most creatively fulfilling thing I’ve maybe ever done.

Aziz Ansari

On his new character Dev’s profession…

AA: We were trying to think “What is this guy’s job?” “Well, what if he works in an office somewhere?” At a certain point I was like, “I don’t know what that world is. But if he’s an actor, I know that world a little bit, and we can do that and draw from our own experience of being on sets and things like that.” Ghat’s when we landed on him being an actor. You see a little bit of that life but not much. There’s a movie he does, you see him shooting on the movie every now and then. Jon Benjamin is an actor in the movie with him; and Colin Salmon is in it as well. But it’s definitely not about him being an actor. That was just the job we thought would be good for him to have because we knew that world well.

On casting his own father as his character’s dad…

AA: I was, like, “This is not like a little cameo. It’s not, like, ‘Hey, how is it going?’ You are going to have to be in New York for weeks. You are going to do a lot of scenes. It’s going to be pretty intense.” But he auditioned and did pretty good. Then, he acted in the show and did a great job. There’s some episodes he’s in a lot.
 He’s in three episodes… My mom is in the show too. We read some people for mom, and I was, like, “No one really feels like my real mom.” I was just like, “If you love me, you will do this.” She was like, “All right.” She did it, and she was great.

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