Aziz Ansari has a sweet day job playing Tom Haverford, the wannabe entrepreneur and ladies man, on NBC’s Parks and Recreation.
But he says there’s nothing quite like the instant gratification to be had from telling a joke to a roomful of people and getting a laugh right away.
When acting in a TV show or a movie, the pint-sized funnyman points out, there’s always an inevitable lag time.
A once-timely observation can turn old and moldy during the weeks or months it takes before reaching an audience.
“But with stand-up, I can think of something today and then work on it tonight onstage,” Ansari says. “That’s a really fulfilling creative process for me that I don’t think will ever get old.”
His latest stand-up special, Aziz Ansari: Buried Alive, is available starting Friday on Netflix.
Ansari’s previous two comedy specials, in 2010 and 2012, aired on Comedy Central. But leave it to the guy who plays Tom Haverford, a guy addicted to every advanced form of social media under the sun, from Twitter and Tumblr to Instagram and Emoji, to switch loyalties to Netflix.
The streaming video service, which has more than 30 million paying U.S. customers, is essentially the future of how all television may soon be delivered to viewers.
“Netflix is one of the few outlets we have to release materials where people can watch the way they want to,” Ansari says. “I’ve done every kind of method of releasing stuff. I’ve released it myself [on CD and DVD], done stuff on cable, done every version of it, and I found, with Netflix, that people like to watch however and whenever they want to. So it’s fun just to give this one directly to them.”
Ansari also likes the absolute freedom he gets from doing stand-up.
“I enjoy acting, and I like doing Parks,” he says. “But stand-up is a platform where I can discuss whatever I want to discuss.”
In Buried Alive, filmed during a performance at the Mirriam Theater in Philadelphia, he weighs in on such matters as pending adulthood, marriage and babies.
He turned 30 earlier this year, so it stands to reason that his material would grow up as well. “I write about whatever is going on my life, whatever is going on in my head,” Ansari says. “This time, it was heavier things.”
Not that he ever gets too heavy.
Consider his take on marriage and how absurd the traditions might seem when examined with a clinical eye:
“Imagine if marriage did not exist and you’re a guy and you ask a woman to get married,” he says in the special. “Imagine what that [proposal] would be like. ‘Hey, we’ve been hanging out, spending a lot of time together and everything …’” Then, as his voice turns ominous and his eyes bug out maniacally, he adds, “I want to keep doing that till you’re dead!”
Ansari’s style onstage isn’t so much a succession of set-ups and punchlines as him merely telling funny stories. That’s what he was doing — telling stories to friends in college — when he first was encouraged to give stand-up a shot.
“I got started doing stand-up with the intent of just trying to get good at standup,” he says. “I really didn’t see it as, like, the beginning of a career.
“When I started, I just enjoyed it and wanted to get better at it, in the same way that you would want to get better at, say, playing guitar or something like that. Eventually, all these other things started happening and I was able to make a living doing it. But I never really thought of that as an end goal.”