moontower comedy interviews
Catching up with Aziz Ansari: The Moontower performer talks travel, improv andthe cookie of his dreams
Actor / stand-up comic Aziz Ansari has covered a lot of ground in his nearly-a-decade-long career, going from posting about bands on Tumblr to hanging with Kanye and making just about every possible stop on the way.
After relocating from South Carolina to New York for college, Ansari discovered stand-up and dabbled in improv, eventually becoming one-fourth of sketch group Human Giant (alongside Paul Scheer, Rob Huebel and Jason Woliner). The quartet’s MTV series launched each member to their own respective fame; Ansari went on to play Funny People's perennially pumped Randy and the irresistibly adorable Tom Haverford on cult comedy Parks and Rec, among many other roles. Known for his electric energy (as well as his cartoonishly wide grin and easy demeanor), he’s quickly earned a reputation as a true triple threat: captivating writer, seasoned stand-up and sought-after actor.
And he's more than a performer — he's also a noted foodie who's explored the weirder side of Tokyo’s restaurant scene, eaten his way through Fashion Week and described his ideal burrito for Bon Appetit.
Last month, Ansari released a new hour-long special exclusively online; filmed during his recent tour, the show features completely new material you won’t see anywhere else — including at his upcoming Moontower appearance.
We talked to Ansari about comedy, touring and, of course, snacks.
You’re often asked about growing up in South Carolina; was comedy something you were able to get into at an early age there?
Not really; there wasn’t a whole lot going on. I liked to laugh and I was interested in comedy as a fan, but as far as partaking in it, none of it happened until I moved to New York to go to college.
In New York, you took classes at UCB in addition to doing stand-up; what made you decide to pursue improv?
I had been doing stand up for a little while, like a year or two, and then I started taking classes just to kind of explore that, too, because it seemed like a cool scene. Those shows, UCB shows and the more ‘alternative rooms,’ if you will, were more similar to me; they were younger, they were going to shows for like $5, as opposed to going to a comedy club where there’s a cover and a two drink minimum. That was kind of for an older crowd, more touristy, whereas at UCB and places like that it was for kids that were your kids, you know?
So, I decided to take improv classes to learn about that. I never wanted to perform in improv groups or anything, I wanted to do stand up, but I took the classes.
You’re involved in a lot beyond stand-up; with acting, writing and touring, how do you find a balance between the types of work you do?
Parks is very much an ensemble show, and with Parks we also shoot for three weeks then we have a week off, so when we stop I’ll usually come back to New York and I’ll work on stand-up. That’s what I did for the past couple months, to develop material for the new tour. I just kind of wrote material for the past couple months, honed it over the past few weeks and months to really have it ready to be a tour. And on a hiatus from Parks, that’s when I’m touring, so it’s not too hard to schedule it all in.
Did you enjoy the experience of releasing your latest special, Dangerously Delicious, exclusively online? Would you take that route again?
It’s been really exciting. People seem to be really glad that I released it that way, and a lot of people have been really supportive of it, and it means a lot.
I probably won’t put out the new tour for a couple of years, so who knows the landscape will be at that point; it’s too early to say how we’ll release that one.
So: you’re a huge foodie, and Dangerously Delicious comes with a list restaurant recommendations; what made you decide to include that?
People always ask me where to eat on Twitter and things like that, so I thought it would be a cool thing to include in the bonus pack. I usually have a pretty good list of spots I want to check out [on tour]; I ask some friends I really trust for recommendations, so usually before we go somewhere I’ll have a list of where we want to eat and I hit it up.
Last year, GQ sent you to Japan with LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy and Momofuku founder David Chang; how did that come about? Do you often get asked to do sort of off-the-wall stuff like that?
That was by far the coolest thing. That was actually our idea — we took a photo of the three of us, me, James Murphy and David Chang — and we just Tweeted like, “Someone send all three of us to Tokyo, we really want to go!”
Then GQ, like the next day, said they’d send us, so we did it. But usually I don’t get a ton of that, it was an extravagant thing they put together for us, not the average.
Are there any places you’d love to go to?
I really want to go to Spain, to San Sebastian, and I really want to go to Paris; I’ve never been to those places, I want to go eat the food there.
With all your culinary research, do you have dreams of opening your own place?
No, not right now. I’m pretty good with just eating at places; I do like to do anything really well, and you have to really put in a lot of time. Maybe if I was working with friends who knew what they were doing, I’d be game, but right now, no.
Speaking of Momofuku, their Milk Bar is known for its crazy cookie concoctions — if you could create your own signature flavor, what would it be?
Ooh, I don’t know. Probably maybe…peanut butter cookie dough? I don’t know if I could have cookie dough, but peanut butter. They’re so good at coming up with weird things that would taste good, like cornflakes and things like that. I think I would pitch out things like that, and they’d take it and be like, “This is gross, why did you do this, Aziz? This is a great idea, putting Gushers inside cookies.” I would just go with a simple peanut butter cookie, that’s good.
You’ve mentioned that you want to check out Austin’s own Franklin BBQ, but haven’t had time to brave the line on past trips — are you going to try again during Moontower?
Yeah. I haven’t been able to go because they’ve run out so fast, so I’m going to come a few days early this time and try to check it out. I’ve heard it’s really good. And there’s another place someone told me about, that’s run by their mentor?
Yes! John Mueller, of JMueller BBQ.
Well, I’m going to hit up both of those places for sure then.
Aziz Ansari (and 70+ other comics) will be performing at theMoontower Comedy and Oddity Festival April 25 - 28. Single performance tickets and festival passes are available now.