tand-up sensation Aziz Ansari is totally crushing on Sri Lankan-British ragga punk princess M.I.A.
And he’s not ashamed to admit it.
At a comedy club in New York’s East Village two years ago, he told the audience that seeing her perform live made him feel like a little girl at a John Mayer concert. “She stole my heart, man. It’s too much: the talent, the beauty. It’s more than this little Aziz can take.”
Aziz Ansari Hearts: The FOX show 24; blogging; Chris Rock; a decent hoodie; groups like Bloc Party and Radiohead.
Vital Stats: Born February 23, 1983, in the tiny town of Bennettsville, South Carolina—so that southern drawl you detect? It’s the real deal.
Catch him next: At the Upright Citizens Brigade in Los Angeles at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 3. Ansari will also perform at this year’s Coachella Music Festival on April 27. Not on the West Coast? Don’t be Los Anjealous. Tune into MTV on Thursday nights at 10:30 p.m. to see him in Human Giant. You can also find him on reruns of VH1′s Best Week Ever and HBO’s Premium Blend.
When he approached M.I.A. after her show, speaking in their native Tamil (“We’ve got a lot in common. Not a big deal.”), she gave him a polite smile, got in her car, and left. “She didn’t contact me or anything after that. I guess we didn’t exchange information,” he jokes.
Now, two years later, when asked for a status update, you can practically hear him blush through the phone-line. “I don’t know,” he says. “People keep asking if she’s called me and I keep telling them no.”
M.I.A. might not be calling, but The Industry certainly is. Ansari’s appeal is on a steady climb into the stratosphere. The Indian American 24-year-old has already been featured in New York magazine, Time Out New York and the New Yorker. In 2005, Rolling Stone proclaimed the South Carolina native the hottest young stand-up comedian in the nation. Since then, his routines have been circulating wildly through cyberspace, and on Thursday, April 5, his much-anticipated sketch comedy show, Human Giant, will debut on MTV.
But Ansari and the show’s co-stars Rob Huebel and Paul Scheer have their work cut out for them. When the company recently dismissed 250 of its employees, axing fledgling operations like MTV Desi, the press had an all-out field day. Now the network is limping along, struggling to capture the attention of a generation of viewers increasingly more interested in YouTube than the boob tube.
That seems like a lot of pressure to put on a newcomer like Ansari, but he remains unfazed. “It doesn’t stress me out,” he says. “I get more stressed about making the show, finishing it, making it up to our standards and making it as good as it can be.” On set the hours have been endless (“We were shooting until 5 in the morning last night”) and the level of creative chaos high (“We’ve worked with attack dogs. There are child actors running around here”), but will it all come together?
The Best of Aziz YouTubed
Need more Ansari? Get on YouTube and search this combination of tags for a quick fix:
1. Aziz, Ansari, MIA
2. Ansari, KanyeWest, BlackBerry
3. Aziz, Ansari, Human, Giant
Critics are already questioning the contemporary relevance of a sketch show like Human Giant. Saturday Night Live might be a pop culture phenomenon, but its heyday was two decades in the past. Has the genre now gone stale?
Ansari doesn’t think so, mostly because he doesn’t classify Human Giant as your run-of-the-mill set of sketch routines. “Our show is different. They are more short films than sketches. They’re made to be shot, not performed on stage.”
The style is a departure for the comic, who got his modest start in clubs after his college buddies suggested he try his hand at stand-up.
“I never went into comedy with the goal of getting my own TV show or anything like that,” says Ansari, who graduated from NYU with a degree in business. “I was doing stand-up, I was enjoying it and as I kept doing it, opportunities presented themselves. One thing led to another and I ended up where I am.”
“I feel like the jokes that I do about that stuff aren’t awful jokes—they’re smart jokes—but I feel cheesy when I do them.”
Ansari Spits Game. Sort Of.
His love letter—delivered by hand to Scarlett Johansson—made its way into Gawker and into our hearts:
Thought you were really cute. You should come by my comedy show tonight! It just got named Rolling Stones “Hot Comedy Show” for 2005. (Legit!) The show is tonight at 11 pm at the UCB Theatre (26th btw 8th and 9th Avenue). Hope you can make it.
P.S. 10 cent wings is a pretty good deal huh?”
Where he is, of course, is with Human Giant, where the verité-style naturalism means you can expect to see a lot of non-professional actors (Ansari and his co-stars often cast their buddies), hand-held camera footage and experimental filming techniques. The material itself is trademark Ansari—comedy that feels wonderfully unsparing and fresh. He recently told music Web site Pitchfork that a lot of what you see on screen is actually improvised. “Sometimes if stuff is really scripted, it doesn’t feel as good to me. We really try to keep it loose, like a Curb Your Enthusiasm-style model.”
Watch Ansari perform live, and you’ll feel that “loose” vibe. You’ll walk away knowing his views on gay marriage, on Kanye West’s attitude and the potentially lethal dangers of using a BlackBerry while driving. What you won’t get, thankfully, are mechanical, formulaic jokes about the troubles of growing up desi in America. “I just feel like it’s too easy,” he explained to Gelf Magazine. “Some of that stuff is way too easy to talk about—it’s not challenging. I feel like the jokes that I do about that stuff aren’t awful jokes—they’re smart jokes—but I feel cheesy when I do them.”
Ansari’s voice is unique and strong, his work inventive, delightfully self-deprecating and candid—about as far from cheesy as you can get. He’s a rising star who is charming, ambitious, and very, very funny–just the kind of guy you could bring home to your parents. So M.I.A.? If you’re reading: Pick up the phone already.