Having your opinions heard and appreciated by people who not only value and relate to your motivations, but also understand the entertainment value of your ideas, can be a challenge for many people. But for talented comedians like Aziz Ansari, who wittily express their views in their standup routines and acting, jokes on serious subjects come naturally. The actor is showing off his latest jokes in his new Netflix special, ‘Aziz Ansari: Buried Alive,’ which debuts on Friday, November 1 at 12:01 am PT on Neflix.
‘Buried Alive’ was filmed live at the Merriam Theater in Philadelphia, and features Ansari focusing his unique viewpoint on pending adulthood, babies, marriage and love in the modern era. The show follows Ansari’s successful live tour of the same name, during which he performed in front of sold out crowds in over 75 cities all over the world at various venues, including New York’s Carnegie Hall, London’s Hammersmith Apollo and the Sydney Opera House. It is a follow-up to his previous stand-up performances, ‘Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening’ and ‘Dangerously Delicious,’ which are also available on Netflix.
Ansari also co-stars opposite Amy Poehler in the Emmy-nominated NBC series, ‘Parks and Recreation,’ which is in production on its sixth season. Ansari’s portrayal of government employee Tom Haverford has earned numerous accolades, including Entertainment Weekly’s naming him one of their “Breakout TV Stars,” TV Guide’s naming him a “Scene Stealer” and People Magazine’s naming him 2011’s “Funniest Dude in Prime Time.”
Ansari generously took the time recently to participate in a press conference call to discuss performing and filming ‘Buried Alive,’ and shooting ‘Parks and Recreation.’ Among other things, the comedian discussed how he enjoys continuously working in standup, as it’s a platform where he can discuss his viewpoints on whatever issues he wants; how he continuously enjoys working with Neflix, as audiences respond to the material, and can watch his performances whenever they want; and how he decides if a joke is too risqué by trying it for audiences, and seeing how they respond.
Question (Q): What is it about standup that keeps you still doing this?
Aziz Ansari (AA): I just think standup is a very unique artwork, and it’s so singular. I enjoy acting and I like doing ‘Parks and Recreation.’ But again, it’s a platform where I can really discuss whatever I want to, as well as my viewpoints on things.
I can think of something today and then work on it tonight on stage. That’s a creative process for me that I don’t think will ever get old.
Q: Was there a meaningful, important moment in life when you realized that you could be funny for a living?
AA: No, not really. I just started doing standup with the intent of just trying to get good at it, and then eventually all these other things started happening and I was able to make a living doing it. But when I started doing standup, I really just enjoyed it and wanted to get better at it, like how you would want to get better at playing guitar or something like that. But I really didn’t see touring in theaters as an end goal.
Q: This is your third comedy special that you’re partnering with Netflix on. What is it about Netflix that you enjoy working with them so much?
AA: Well, I just think Netflix is one of the few outlets we have to release materials, where people who are watching actually get to continue shows and specials in the way they like to. I think people now just like to watch stuff whenever they want. I’ve done every kind of method of releasing material, such as releasing my stuff for $5, or on Play Ball.
I’ve done every version of it, and I just found when I started on Netflix, people just seemed to watch it on their line. They seemed to enjoy the use of it. Eventually I’ll do the $5 they need much later.
Q: Do you feel like airing your material on Netflix offers you more creative freedom than what you could put on network television, like ‘Parks and Recreations?’
AA: Well, with all of my standup specials, I’ve never felt any kind of burden creatively, as far as trying to contain myself or anything. So with standup, I don’t ever feel that, so I’ve never felt that about any of the specials.
Q: This particular special was personal for you, especially in the beginning where you’re talking about family and love. Did you really want to explore that side of you, and did you consider treating it as almost a therapy?
AA: Well, it is like therapy; it just came about organically, I’m standing above whatever is going on in my life and whatever is in my head. This time I was dealing with heavier things, like babies and marriage.
Q: Was there like a particular bit of material that you thought you just had to leave out, that wasn’t quite where you wanted it to be?
AA: Not that I can remember. Whenever you’re doing a special, there’s always material that that you tried and sometimes it doesn’t work the way it used to. I’ve already written my next one and then I’ll have that tour and then film it for another special. Then the special will finally come on. So by the time it’s actually being released, I don’t even remember the writing, to be honest.
Q: How does being on ‘Parks and Recreation’ help your standup career, and how does your standup career help the show? How do the two fit together in your career?
AA: I’m seeing that whenever I do standup, people who know my standup may not know ‘Parks and Recreation.’ I also don’t feel there’s many people who are seeing ‘Parks and then they’re like, “Oh, well let me spend X amount of dollars to see his stand up.” So I feel like they’re separate things.
Q: You don’t think one has helped the other, as your exposure has grown?
AA: I’m sure it has helped. I don’t know how I would quantify that. But yes, when you’re on a TV show, more people know who you are, and maybe they’re inclined to check out your standup. But I wouldn’t intelligently be able to speak for that.
Q: Tatiana Maslany guest starred as your love interest recently on ‘Parks and Recreation.’ Is there anything you can discuss about what might be going on between your character, Tom, and her character, Nadia?
AA: Yes, she is great. Yes, there is one more episode with her in it and then hopefully we’ll be able to get her back with some more stuff with later this season. I’m a big fan of Wolf Pack, so I was really excited that she was on the show.
Q: Since Tom was initially very nervous with her, how is he going to relate to her?
AA: In the next one, he’s going out, and it’s more of a normal situation. But you know, he is dealing with how she’s going to go to-she’s going away to Rwanda, so he’s trying to figure out how to deal with that situation. He met someone he really likes, but she’s going to be leaving soon.
Q: You started standup back when you were at NYU. How have you seen it change in the years that you’ve been on stage?
AA: Well, to me it’s just crazy, seeing everyone I came up succeed and go on to all these bigger careers. Everyone that you see on TV are people I remember doing stuff with, and it’s just amazing to see how everyone has moved on.
Q: Early on in the special, you make a joke about child molesters, and a lot of comedians have gotten caught up by saying things that were not politically correct on stage. How do you decide how far you can push the envelope, and do you think people are more or less sensitive now to stuff that’s considered taboo?
AA: I think you have to take that all case by case. I do a case-by-case joke with any joke I do, to see if it makes sense. With bad jokes, I’m sure if you paraphrase, and take things out of context, or you make me feel like a horrible person, ultimately that joke is about how I’d be scared to have a kid. I would be so scared for the safety of my kids.
The scary part to me is how parents have let their kids run around in the mall by themselves and things like that. That’s ultimately what I remember that joke being about. Ultimately, it’s an anti-charm joke.
Q: In ‘Buried Alive,’ you talked a lot about what it’s like to grow older. So now that you’ve been 30 for over half0a-year, do you find yourself slowly changing some of your viewpoints on adulthood and childhood that you expressed in the special?
AA: Yes. When I wrote this stuff, it was two years ago now. By the time you write a routine and then film it and edit it, and it gets in the hands of the Netflix people, and they do all their stuff, it ends up being a long time. So yes, my views have definitely changed a little bit here and there. I generally still have that fear, but I think I’m more comfortable.
I’m still it’s fine if I want to wait and do the stuff later in life, as long as there is no reason to have a ticking clock. I don’t have thoughts of, “Oh, at this age, I want to get married. At this age, I want to have kids or any of that stuff.”
Q: What do you miss most about being in your 20’s?
AA: Nothing. It’s the same. I mean, I guess the only thing I miss is being able to say you’re in your 20’s. Other than that, you live your life the same way you want.
Q: I your last stand-up special, you talked a lot about Kanye West and your cousin. On ‘Parks and Recreation,’ there are celebrities who are always dropping in, like Diddy and Justin Timberlake. Is that the music that you personally like to listen to?
AA: I do listen to rock music, and I also listen to plenty of rap music. My taste is pretty across the board but I do like rap music.
Q: Is there a certain song or certain band that you listen to before you’re about to perform to get in the zone?
AA: No, I don’t really listen to music before. I’m just going over the material.
Q: How did you pick out what outfit that you were going to wear in your stand-up special?
AA: Whenever I do a tour, I try to pick the pair of shoes that I’m going to wear for my whole tour. For this one, ‘Buried Alive,’ there was a poster that looked like an old magician poster, so I wanted something that resembled that. That’s why I picked an old, tiny kind of classic look.
Q: Do you have any good story about hecklers, or etiquette about how you deal with them?
AA: I think it’s an antiquated notion, to be honest. Whenever I do shows, there’s never a person yelling, “Oh, you suck.” It’s more like someone’s really drunk and they just like talking with friends and being rude. But there’s not really people yelling stuff.
Q: Many comedians have talked about how important podcasting is to their careers now. If you were starting out today, would that be your vehicle towards getting recognition?
AA: I don’t know. I do think that stuff is a distraction. Twitter, YouTube, all that stuff, I feel like young comedians come up now and they’re like, “Oh, I got to start making videos and maintain a Twitter thread in this site.” I think that is probably doing more harm than good because all I really cared about is being really good at stand-up. I hope that’s not taking focus away from the basic art of the stand-up.