Tom's loss of confidence as he clumsily tried to woo Nadia aligns with the fearful attitude Ansari addresses in his latest stand-up special, "Buried Alive." As a man pushing 30, Ansari ruminates about becoming an adult, babies, marriage and other long-term relationships. The special, which was filmed live at the Merriam Theater in Philadelphia during the show's tour of more than 75 international cities, will debut Nov. 1 on Netflix.
"This time it was kind of heavier things dealing with, you know, life and babies and marriage and stuff," he said, adding that as he hit age 30 he was grappling with the gravity of the "adult world." He could not imagine getting married, let alone being a father.
Ansari wrote "Buried Alive" a few years ago, he said he still has those fears, but is more comfortable with the idea he doesn't have to "catch up" with his friends.
"There's no reason to have a ticking clock because I don't have any, like, 'Oh, at this age I want to get married. At this age I want to have kids, or any of that stuff,'" he said.
Ansari answered questions about the special, working with Netflix, "Parks and Recreation" and what he would do if he wasn't making people laugh. "I would just be a chubby Indian man living in a mediocre town somewhere," he cracked.
I think he'd still be making people laugh. Read more after the clip from "Buried Alive."
What is it about Netflix that you enjoy working with them?
I just think Netflix is one of the few outlets we have to release material where people that watch it actually get to consume it 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 stuff. I've released stuff myself for $5; I've aired stuff on cable. I've done every version of it. I just found when my specials are on Netflix, people just seemed to watch it on their time. They seemed to enjoy the user experience. So it seems smart to kind of give this one directly to them. And you know, eventually I'll do the $5 thingie a few months later or whatever.
Do you feel Netflix maybe offers you more creative freedom?
Well, all of my stand-up specials I've never felt any kind of burden creatively as far as trying to contain myself or anything. So with stand-up, I don't ever feel that; I've never felt about any of the specials.
I was struck by how personal this particular special was, especially the first half where you're talking about family and love. Were you working out some issues on stage?
Well, it just kind of came about organically, I kind of write stand-up about whatever is kind of going on in my life, whatever is in my head. ... And that's just kind of what happened and I ended up writing the special mostly about that stuff. If anything kind of random came up that was funny it didn't really fit in because I had so much about the other stuff.
Was there material that you thought you just had to leave out?
Whenever you do a special there's always bits here and there that you try and sometimes they don't work and you throw them away. But to be honest, the timeline from when I write material to when it comes out and people can watch the special is so long. I've already kind of written my next one and then that when I'll have to tour and then film and then there's a few months to do all this random stuff, editing and all that stuff. And then it finally comes out. So from the time it goes to the stage of writing stuff to actually being released is so long, I don't even remember to be honest.
You make a joke about child molesters in the special. How do you decide how far you can push the envelope and do you think people are more sensitive or less sensitive now to stuff that's considered taboo?
I think you have to take that all case by case. Any joke I do, I kind of do a case by case to see if it makes sense, you know? That joke, I'm sure if you paraphrase or took things out of context, you'd make me look like a horrible person. But ultimately that joke's about how I'd be scared to have a kid because, you know, I would be so scared for the safety of my kid. That's just a scary thought to me how parents just let their kids run around in the mall by themselves and things like that. The root of that joke is about that and ultimately it's an anti-child-molester joke. You can't really worry about the pro-child-molester people getting mad about that, right?
In "Buried Alive" you talk a lot about what it's like to grow older. So now that you've been 30 for more than half a year, do you find yourself changing some of your viewpoints on adulthood and parenthood that you expressed in "Buried Alive?"
Yeah, definitely my views have changed a little bit here and there but I generally still have that fear, but I think I'm more comfortable with just kind of the idea of like, "Oh, it's totally fine if I want to wait and do this stuff later in life." ... But I think the personal views about this stuff are constantly evolving based on your life experiences and that's the case for me.
What do you miss most about being in your 20s?
Nothing. It's the same. I mean, I guess just saying you're in your 20s is the only thing I miss, being able to say you're in your 20s. Other than that, you live your life the same way you want.
What is it about stand-up that still does it for you, keeps you doing this?
I just think stand-up is a very unique artwork; it's so singular. I enjoy acting and I like doing "Parks" and stuff. But again, it's like a platform I get where I can really discuss whatever I want to discuss and my viewpoints on things. ... I can think of something today and then work on it tonight on stage and that's just kind of a really fulfilling, creative process for me, that I don't think will ever get old.
Was there a pivotal moment in your life when you realize that you could be funny for a living?
No, not really. I just started doing stand-up with the intent of just trying to get good at stand-up and then eventually all these other things started happening and I was able to make a living doing it. But you know, when I started doing stand-up, I really just enjoyed it and wanted to get better at it in a way that you would want to get better like playing guitar or something like that. I really didn't see it as like, getting to the level where it's gotten now, where I'm touring in theaters and all that stuff. I never really thought of that as an end goal.
How has being on "Parks and Recreation" has maybe helped your stand-up career, or how the stand-up career has helped "Parks and Recreation?" How did the two fit together in your career?
I kind of see them as both separate entities. Whenever I do stand-up I feel like those are people that know my stand-up; there might be some overlap with "Parks" fans. But when I did my first theater tour, if I mentioned someone like my cousin Harris or something, like everyone would respond, so I think that means that they've seen the stand-up. I don't feel there are many people that are seeing "Parks" and then they're like, "Oh, let me spend X amount of dollars to see this guy do stand-up. Maybe he's funny." I feel like the people that come to these stand-up shows know me for my stand-up. So I feel like they're separate things.
You don't think one has helped the other as your exposure has grown from "Parks?"
Yes, I mean I'm sure it's helped. I don't know how I would quantify that but yeah, obviously if you're on a TV show more people know who you are maybe or are inclined to check out your stand-up because they've seen you on "Parks." I wouldn't intelligently be able to speak for that.
Tatiana Maslany is playing your love interest. Can you tease more?
Yes, she's great. Yes, there is one more episode with her and hopefully we'll be able to get her back with some more stuff later this season. I'm a big fan of "Orphan Black," so I was really excited that she was on the show and she is awesome. Tom is dealing with how she's going away to Rwanda, so he's trying to figure out how to deal with that situation because he met someone he really likes but she's going to be leaving soon.
You started stand-up back when you were at NYU. How have you seen it change?
Well, to me it's just crazy just seeing everyone I've come up succeed and go on to all these bigger careers and stuff. ... It's just amazing to see how everyone has kind of moved on and now they're the faces you see all over TV and everything.
In your last stand-up special, you talked a lot about Kanye West and your cousin. And on "Parks and Rec" I feel like Tom's always dropping Diddy and Justin Timberlake. Is that the music you like to listen to?
I do listen to rap music. I also listen to plenty of rock music, like classic rock stuff, indie rock stuff. My tastes are pretty across the board but I do like rap music.
Is there a certain song or certain band that you listen to before you're about to perform to like get in the zone?
No, not really. Usually it's just pretty quiet backstage and I'm just kind of going over the material and things like that. I don't really listen to music before [doing stand-up].
How did you pick out what outfit that you were going to wear in your stand-up special?
Whenever I do a tour, I try to make like a tour suit that I'm going to wear for my whole tour. And so for this one, "Buried Alive," the poster for the tour kind of looked like old magician posters, so I wanted something that kind of reminded me of that. That's why the suit has the rose and stuff like that, kind of like an old, kind of classic look.
I'm wondering about whether you're still tight with your "Human Giant" costars and whether you would say that was a sort of a turning point in your career?
I'm still in touch with the "Human Giant" guys; I see them every now and then. And, yes, I think I might do something on "The League" eventually and work and Paul. Rob and I still keep in touch, but we're all busy doing our own things. But we try to meet up every now and then.
As far as the turning point, I don't know, I think in my career everything has kind of built on itself. I think "Human Giant" and then "Parks" and my stand-up, I think my audience has grown. I don't think I can really narrow it down to one thing. But "Human Giant" was definitely like the first big TV thing I did. It was definitely a lot of fun.
Was the character on "Parks and Rec" written for you?
Yes. It was written for me. I was cast before the rest of the show. So, yes, they wrote it for me. And all of the characters on that show, the writers and producers have gotten better at writing toward us and they grab elements from our real life. For example, I really do listen to some dumb rap music the way Tom does and Nick Offerman really does have a wood shop the way Ron does.
Any good story about the hecklers or etiquette about how you deal with hecklers?
Heckling is kind of an antiquated notion, to be honest. Whenever I do shows, there's never like a, "Oh, you suck!" It's more kind of, either someone's really drunk and they just like talking with friends and being rude, or people trying to videotape. It's more modern things like that. There's not really people yelling heckling-type stuff. Or it's like the Chappelle problem where people are just yelling things they've heard you say on shows. But I do my best to try to kind of minimize that because it's annoying not to me, but to everyone that's there to watch the show.
You've always been a frequent guest on podcasts. Have you ever thought about launching your own at any point?
I love doing other people's podcasts but at this point I don't feel like I have the time to do one myself. But it is a fun medium. What I like about podcasts is you sit and have a long conversation with people. When you do press and stuff, it's like these very quick things like, "How did you start? OK, what's this thing? OK, bye." You don't really get a conversation.
On podcasts, you're going to get an hour-long conversation and the ones with comedians, they ask the questions that I'd always wanted to ask. It's a great resource. When I was coming up, I'd always read every interview with any comedian I could find and there's nothing on the level of what you have now someone like Marc Maron talking to Chris Rock for an hour and a half. That's an amazing resource.
Comics talk about how important podcasting is to their careers now. If you were starting out today, would that be your vehicle toward getting recognition?
I don't know. All that stuff is a distraction too—Twitter, YouTube, all the stuff. I feel like young comedians coming up now, they're like, "Oh, I got to start making videos and I got to maintain a Twitter presence." I think that is probably doing more harm than good because when I was coming up all I really cared about was being really good at stand-up. I think that ultimately was what got me anything. I hope that stuff's not like making people take focus away from the basic art of doing stand-up.
Any plans for any more books?
Any more books? I haven't even written one yet. I just made a deal for one and I haven't written anything yet. So we'll see, but this book that I'm going to work on now, it kind of came organically from the topic of my next stand-up special. We'll see. I'm never going to do like a book of essays or anything like that because I feel like stand-up is my outlet to do that kind of stuff. But the book I'm doing, it seemed like I kind of unique opportunity to do something different that wouldn't overlap my stand-up.
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