When the creators of NBC's hit sitcom The Office approached Aziz Ansari about a new mocumentary-style sitcom, the 25-year-old stand-up comedian said yes — even though he had no clue what the show was going to be about.
Now three years later, that show — Parks and Recreation, staring Ansari as Tom Haverford — is a hit.
Born in Columbia, S.C., Ansari is one of only a few Indian comedians on the Hollywood scene. Yet the actor's humor is not solely based on his identity. In fact, characters like Haverford and Chet, whom Ansari plays in the new film 30 Minutes or Less, could be played by almost anyone. Almost. But with his comedic talent, Ansari was a shoo-in for the roles.
"I'm very happy when I'm able to take roles from white actors," Ansari says jokingly to weekends on All Things Considered guest host David Greene. "If a part is written for a white guy and then I get cast, I'm very proud of myself. It's like a victory for all minorities," he says.
In all seriousness, Ansari says his comedy is about life and personal anecdotes like friends getting married and having babies — events that he says he couldn't begin to deal with in his life right now.
"That kind of stuff seems so far away for me and seems like such a crazy amount of responsibility," he says. "So I talk about the fear of those kinds of things."
In a strange twist, Ansari started his comedic career while attending New York University's Stern School of Business.
"I just started doing stand-up while I was in college," Ansari tells Greene. "I didn't have any aspirations to be in movies or TV or anything like that. I just liked doing stand-up and wanted to get better at it the same way someone would like to get better at playing guitar," he says.
And get better he did. From the comedy clubs in New York, Ansari began to make short films that eventually led to the MTV sketch-comedy show, Human Giant.
"You have a lot better odds if you develop stuff yourself," he says.
Soon even bigger offers came rolling in. Ansari's resume includes acting roles in Funny People; I Love You, Man; and Observe and Report. Now the stand-up comedian, who still tours from time to time, stars alongside Jesse Eisenberg in the new release 30 Minutes or Less.
"Yep, my brown-bearded face is on that screen the whole time," Ansari says.
What's next? Some sources say he's working on an R&B album ...