Just five years after graduating from New York University with a marketing degree, Aziz Ansari scored a co-starring gig in the NBC sitcom “Parks and Recreation” and has appeared in a number of well-received films such as “Funny People” and “Knocked Up.”
Ansari, 30, talks about his rapid rise, why he is intimidated by Jaden Smith and why he would rather be part of “Parks and Recreation” than “The Mentalist.”
Q: Your film, “30 Minutes or Less,” sounds about how long it took you to launch your career.
A: (Laughs) The thing people don’t realize is that I’ve been doing stand-up for over 10 years. I was going to school but I did it on the side since I enjoyed it. I’ve been doing this longer than people think, but I have been very serious about this for years.
Q: You formed the comedy troupe Human Giant right out of school. Your bit on the guy who shoots the T-shirt gun at sporting events killed at South by Southwest a few years ago.
A: I loved doing that. I was at a (New York) Knicks game and saw a guy use a new T-shirt gun at that game. He was shooting about 20 shirts in the crowd in five seconds. It was crazy. Some celebrities are for stricter gun control laws. I’m for looser T-shirt gun control laws. I would love to drive around the city and just shoot T-shirts into the streets and see what people would do.
Q: Why did you keep looking at Jackie Chan from the podium at the MTV Movie Awards when you hosted it a few years back?
A: It was just where I was looking. I would look either at Jaden Smith since he cracked up at everything or at Jackie Chan, who looked puzzled by everything I said. I was nice to see Jaden Smith laughing because I think he could have anyone killed. I didn’t want to offend him. He’s young, but he’s a powerful guy.
Q: How did you hook up with Judd Apatow, who is white-hot in Hollywood?
A: I feel very privileged to work with him. I was around him when he was doing “Funny People.” I did the Randy character and got a small part playing him. I kept coming up with funny stuff (on the “Funny People” set) and we talked about doing a Randy documentary. He was totally into doing something like that and working with me on other projects.
Q: Does anyone ever confuse you for the Randy character?
A: Fans don’t, but I was doing an interview with a woman who was really rude to me. She thought I was this sexist idiot like Randy and I had to explain to her that’s not me. Randy is a character. The reality is that Bruce Willis isn’t John McClane (“Die Hard”) and Robert Englund (“Nightmare on Elm Street”) doesn’t kill people in their dreams.
Q: You’re not Tom Haverford from “Parks and Rec” but that character seems closer to you than Randy.
A: I just love doing “Parks and Rec.” I’m fortunate to be on a show like that. There are few comedies on TV, especially network TV, that I really enjoy and match my sensibility. So to be on one of those shows is something that I try not to take for granted. It’s a lot of fun to work on. It would be so weird to work on a show I don’t care about, like “The Mentalist.”
Q: You’ve accomplished a great deal in a short amount of time. What’s next?
A: Maybe I’ll retire in a year and I’ll sell mango slices off the exits of the highways, like they do here in Los Angeles. That’s a tough job. You have to convince someone in 30 seconds to eat some fruit and have change for them. That’s a harder job than mine, so maybe I’ll stay where I’m at in a year.