Whether he’s performing at music festivals like Bonnaroo, joking about R. Kelly and M.I.A. in his standup or hanging out with the likes of LCD Soundsystem, Fleet Foxes and Kanye West, Aziz Ansari has spent much of his decade-long career in comedy immersed in music culture. This weekend, the Parks and Recreation star will open for Drake at a special performance sponsored by Bing at the Sundance Film Festival in Parks City, Utah. Rolling Stone recently caught up with Ansari to chat about the gig and his upcoming standup tour, which promises to be his most revealing hour of material yet.
I understand you’re going to be opening for Drake at this Sundance show. Are you going to doing any Drake-centric material?
It’s just like we’re both on the bill. I’m not gonna, you know, do a set about making fun of “I’m on One” or something. It’s just going to be my regular stuff and then he’ll bring in his band and do his show.
So do you know Drake personally? Have you hung out?
Yes, I have met him a handful of times, yes. The times I’ve hung out with him, he seems very down-to-earth and super hard-working, and just really excited that he gets the opportunity to do the kind of job that he does. And you know, I’m kind of the same way myself. I just feel really lucky to be able to do what I for a job, and I try to work very hard and do the best I can, and I feel like he’s a similar kind of guy in that regard.
What else have you been into lately as far as music goes?
Music-wise, I’ve been kind of lacking on listening to new stuff. I just hear occasional songs that I like. I don’t ever listen to the whole album. I should. Everyone says that the M83 record is good. I’ve just heard that “Midnight City” song. I like that, but I haven’t had a chance to listen to the whole album. There’s a couple of songs from that Real Estate album that I listen to that are really good. But again, I haven’t listened to the whole album. Nothing much. I’ve been kind of slacking.
What else have you been up to lately, besides filming Parks and Recreation?
I’ve written a new hour of stand-up that I’m going to tour later this year. I’m finishing up editing my stand-up special from the last tour. I’ve got to put that out in the next couple of months.
Are you putting that out yourself, Louis C.K.-style?
That’s definitely an option. I haven’t quite figured out how I’m putting it out yet, but I’m really happy with the special.
What is your new material like? Did you change your style at all?
The new tour that I’m doing this year, that hour is about how I turned 28 last year. It’s just a pure result of it, in a way. A lot of people I know now are getting married, having children, and the idea that it’s that point in my life, that I need to be ready to do that, is just terrifying. I couldn’t imagine getting married and having a kid. It just seems like something that’s still very far away, but I’m almost 30 and it seems like the most terrifying thing now.
When you’re younger it doesn’t seem like that big a deal, “Oh, when I get older, I’ll get married and have a kid.” And then when you actually get old, you kind of realize, “Wow, that’s a pretty scary prospect.” The idea of settling down with one person and having children . . . these are all huge, huge things, and that level of responsibility just seems so far away from me. So that’s kind of what the new hour’s about. I’m really proud – I think it’s way different than the other stuff, but I think it’s my best hour. You always hear with stand-up, whenever you hit 10 years, that’s like a big marker for you, and you get a lot better when you hit like seven years, 10 years. And I hit 10 years last May, so I definitely felt like I’ve gotten a lot better, and I’m really excited. It’s definitely a lot more introspective.
Did you make a conscious decision to get more personal and revealing?
It wasn’t really that conscious of a decision. I just started writing and that was the kind of stuff that came to me, and then I just kept getting deeper and deeper into that kind of stuff and it seemed to be what interests me. That was the kind of stuff that was in my head at the time. That was what I was gravitating towards when I was writing, and then I just felt like, “Well, why don’t I just make that the theme of the show?” Plus, the last two hours have been more kind of all over the place, like random stuff. And with this I thought it’d be interesting to do one where there is more of a focus, a central idea.
Are you still doing Randy stuff, or has that been totally phased out?
I did that in the first special because I was working on that when I did that movie, Funny People, so I had that little set of Randy stuff, and I thought it’d be funny to do a little mini-Randy special within the special. But in the second special, the one that I’m putting out this year, there’s no Randy stuff in that. I did an update on my cousin Harris, so I thought that would be interesting. It’s kind of a good progression of that stuff because in Intimate Moments, I talk about helping Harris with his college essay, and you kind of get to see what he’s up to now.
Do you feel a pressure from your audience to keep up with those recurring bits?
I felt like – the thing with Harris’ college essay – like that happened, for real, you have to help him with the essay. The essay he gave me and me helping him was a really funny thing, and I was like, well, I gotta put this in the act. Comedy’s a weird thing, where people kind of want to hear you talk about some of the things you’ve talked about before. Like with Louis C.K., whenever I watch him, I want to hear stuff about his kids! It’s so funny. So, you’re kind of based on these different characters that people have heard you talk about. For me it’d be Harris or R. Kelly or whatever. And the trick is to kind of do it in a way that’s better and feels like a progression.
Do you find yourself envying musicians who can just go out and play a song that people know, and everyone loves it? Comedians need to have that element of surprise.
Yeah, I mean, that’s the thing. Whenever you finish an hour, you have to kind of throw everything away and start over. But when it’s coming to you, it’s really exciting, and you feel really good that you’re able to write and discover new stuff. I kind of have that sweet spot where the material is very fresh for me and I’m really excited about. But once you do it for a couple of years, you’re kind of ready to do new stuff anyways.
Is there anyone in comedy right now who is really inspiring for you?
I think the obvious answer is Louis C.K. He’s obviously a huge inspiration for everyone. I’ve talked to him a bunch about the whole idea of doing these tours in these theaters, writing a new hour, putting up specials. I saw Chris Rock a few weeks ago. He was at the Comedy Cellar in New York. That’s a place I go sometimes when I’m working on new material. And he was there working on new stuff, and I talked with him for a while about that kind of stuff. And he’s so, so fucking good, man. He was just working out new material, and you could tell already, like, “Wow, he’s already got these amazing ideas that are going to be an amazing special.” And he’s kind of one of the biggest guys that even got me to do stand-up. I mean his first special, when I was growing up, I knew it word for word, and I still do. So it was amazing to see him working on new material and then talking to him about comedy for a while. It was really, really cool.
Louis C.K. has really taken a lot of control over his career – he made and released that special on his own, he does pretty much everything on his FX show. Do you think you could do that down the line?
Yeah, well, I get that same thrill out of stand-up. You know, stand-up, you’re completely autonomous. You get to do whatever you want and no one tells you anything. You’re really your own boss, and your only boss is really the audience. And even then, that’s up to you how you take their feedback. So I feel I get that autonomy with stand-up. Stand-up to me is, like, the thing that I do that’s probably the most important to me. Because it’s just me, and it’s all from my voice. I have the most control over it and I get that same thrill that I guess Louis gets from doing his show, where it’s like, “Oh this is something, this is really what I want to say about this thing.” You know?