By now, if you're a comedy fan who doesn't know the name Aziz Ansari, you are in some dire need of comedic catch-up. Aside from his famous rants on the IMAX format Ansari currently stars as the mischevious Tom Haverford on the hit NBC comedy Parks and Recreation and he makes a brief but memorable appearance in the film Funny People, which is currently available on DVD and Blu-ray shelves everywhere. Although his role in the actual film is (sadly) fairly brief, he has a much bigger presence on the DVD special features with the documentary on his character Randy. I recently had the chance to fire some questions over to Aziz via email, and here's what he had to say.
You've had a rather meteoric rise through the comedy ranks in such a short period of time, so what was it like to get a call from Judd Apatow for a role in Funny People?
Aziz Ansari: It was great. I'd just lost the role of Chev Chelios in the film Crank 2 after coming very close to getting it (they decided to let Jason Statham reprise his role as Chev again for the sequel), so times were tough. The call from Judd came at just the right time.
Can you talk a bit about working with Judd on your Randy character? Did you write your own stand-up material or did he have bits scripted for you? How did the whole process of creating Randy come about for you?
Aziz Ansari: Judd and I talked a bit about what he had in mind for Randy and the early ideas he mentioned were about him being really cocky and very conscious about things like merchandise and how much money he made per gig. That attitude reminded me of those new young hip hop superstars like Soulja Boy, and that really became my inspiration. That's what triggered the ideas about the dance, the DJ, idiotic catchphrases, etc. Those to me are the defining aspects of Randy and it was not a shot at any particular comic, like many people think. Another notion that stuck in my head was the idea of the comic that kills with audiences but it is despised by the other comedians backstage. These guys are at every club, talking non-stop about their dick and their dumb stories about going down on girls, etc. This kind of was the jumping off point for when I started writing material specifically for Randy. Initially I started doing my own standup and just "Randy'ing" it up, but then I started writing Randy specific bits and that was really fun.
Like all of Judd's films, Funny People seems very much grounded in reality. Can you speak to the reality of these kinds of struggling stand-up characters and how it's reflected in the film?
Aziz Ansari: It seemed pretty real to me. The main difference I think is that now it's not as much centered around the comedy club scene. In NY and LA, most of the young talent seems to be coming out of places like the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and small standup rooms around town, as opposed to the big clubs.
Now this Funny People DVD is just jam-packed with extras including this three-part Raaaaaandy documentary. Can you talk about the making of that? Was that done during regular production of the film, or was that something that came up afterwards?
Aziz Ansari: We were having so much fun with Randy that I asked Judd if myself and Jason Woliner, a collaborator from Human Giant, could make those documentaries. He was into the idea and let us run wild with it. It was shot after production stopped and many people that worked on Funny People worked super hard to help us make it happen and Jason and I love them all very much. The version on the DVD actually has some extra bits that haven't been seen before and is actually one long piece that tracks Randy's journey to getting a spot on the Jimmy Kimmell Live. It also features appearances by two of my favorite people ever - Nick Offerman and Eric Edelstein
I remember they released the videos of that "documentary" online before the film came out and they were quite popular. It seems that there could almost be a spin-off film for Randy seeing as how popular he was. Would you be up for something like that and has it been discussed at all?
Aziz Ansari: Judd talked to us about the idea of doing a movie with him and urged us to come in with some pitches, including one about Randy. We came up with 3 ideas. One about two guys that work for a motivational speaking company, a second about two disgraced astronauts, and a third that was a take on Randy. After the meeting, Judd and Universal decided to buy all 3. We were stunned and it wasn't what we're expecting, but we're totally up for the challenge. Right now, we're developing all 3 ideas and trying to figure out which we'll go with first. Our experiences working with Judd and his team have been great so we are thrilled to work on a bigger project with them.
You have Get Him to the Gig, previously titled Get Him to the Greek, coming up. Can you talk about your character in that film, and what it was like working with Jonah Hill again and the hilarious Russell Brand?
Aziz Ansari: Jonah is a good friend and hands down one of the funniest dudes I've ever worked with. I have so much respect for that guy. I didn't get to do a lot of scenes with him until Greek and seeing him work is incredible. He's a pro and deserves all the success he's gotten and more. I didn't have any scenes with Russell, but I did work with Sean "P. Diddy" Combs, who also absolutely kills in this movie. I have the utmost respect for Sean as well. Think about it like this - I've been working hard for years to establish myself as a comedic actor and after this film is released, Sean will have done that in a much shorter period of time, in addition to creating a successful vodka and cologne. Not to mention, I've seen a photo of him riding a jet ski in a tuxedo. What a life.
I'm a big fan of Parks and Recreation and, of course, of Tom Haverford as well. Can you talk about what we can expect from Tom as far as his relationship with his wife is concerned, and if there might be an office fling for Tom in the near future? At this point in the season, does Tom see Leslie as more of a big sister, mother or perhaps a lonely aunt?
Aziz Ansari: Tom's divorce hits him pretty hard and we end up at the Glitter Factory. It's the episode airing this week and I think it should be great. Not sure about future romances at this moment, but I imagine that should be an interesting new direction for Tom. As far as his relationship with Leslie, I think she's kind of like a great, great aunt; which is how I joke to Rashida and Amy that I see them in real life.
It was also announced that Will Arnett would be stopping by Pawnee this season. Are there any other big guest stars you can tell us about for the rest of this season?
Aziz Ansari: At this point, just Will and Justin Theroux, both of whom are hilarious and very nice dudes.
Since you've written for TV before, I was wondering if we might see an Aziz Ansari-scripted episode of Parks down the line? Are there any other writing projects you're working on right now?
Aziz Ansari: No thanks, I prefer napping/eating snacks in my trailer when I'm not acting, as opposed to slaving away at a script. Truth be told, that would be really fun to do. Even though I'm not a writer, Mike and Greg are really cool about hearing any ideas we have for our characters and when we're on set, I always pitch Tom jokes to the writer on set and the director; so I feel a part of the process even as an actor. The only writing projects I'm working on now are the Apatow projects I mentioned above.
You have a brand new stand-up special coming out on DVD in January called Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening. Can you talk about some of the material you cover in the special, and if there are plans for future tours or stand-up specials?
Aziz Ansari: Its material I did on my Glow in the Dark standup tour. I talk about a bunch of stuff - thread counts in sheets, my chubby cousin Harris, and end with a special 10 minute Randy set that includes dancers, DJs, smoke, two minutes dedicated to making it rain. I'm still doing standup and working on new material to tour with in 2010, but with the shooting schedule of the show, it can be a difficult, slow moving process. I'd like to tour in 2010, it's just a matter of getting the set together. So far I have 25 new minutes I like, once I get it up to 45, I'll hit the road a little and then do a big tour in the Spring. That's the plan right now.