Interview: 'Parks and Recreation' co-star Aziz Ansari self-releases a comedy special
Back in December, when Louis C.K. self-released his stand-up special "Louis C.K.: Live at the Beacon Theater," I wondered which entertainer might be equipped to follow in his footsteps, cut out the middle man and take their product directly to the public.
Well, the next one to try is a familiar face around these parts: Aziz Ansari, aka Tom Haverford on "Parks and Recreation," who's self-releasing his new stand-up special "Dangerously Delicious" via his website, AzizAnsari.com, under much the same model C.K. used with "Live at the Beacon." He paid to have it produced, is charging $5 for it, etc.
I got an advance look at the special, which is very funny, as he deals with the limits of his own celebrity (including an embarrassing New Year's Even incident with Jay-Z), gives an update on his cousin Harris (a popular topic from his first special, "Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening"), tries to invent new racist terminology and pays homage to the unintentional genius of R. Kelly.
I spoke with Ansari yesterday about the special, about the tour he's starting next month (with completely different material), and also about the Tom/Ann relationship that's been featured recently on "Parks."
You recorded this special last year, right?
I recorded it in June last year in DC.
So this was well before Louis C.K. announced that he was going to release the Beacon special himself. What was your plan with this?
Yes. I paid for the special myself, because I knew I wanted to release it online in some fashion. I saw how many people had watched clips from my old special on YouTube, and there were things that were frustrating me. Internationally, it was hard to get my special in other places. I was in India in December and I met kids who had seen a few things online, but that was it. They couldn't get more than that.
So I thought it would be cool to release it online, uncensored and so anyone could get it. I was trying to figure out the best way to do it. And then a few weeks before Louis did his thing, I went over to his house and watched the special. He wanted someone else to put eyes on it, and he told me how he was going to do it. I thought, "That's interesting." But I wasn't sure if it would work. Would people download files that big? Would enough people find out about it without traditional marketing? And, of course, it was a huge success.
Immediately after he did it, I started getting so many questions from people online: When are you going to do something like that? It just seemed like, clearly he hit a nerve, it was something that people liked. It seemed like that would be the best way to do it. After he took the risks, it seemed like a good idea to do it the same way.
As he released that special, Louis said a lot of things online to try to discourage people from pirating it, and obviously that worked out. What did you learn from what he did?
As far as piracy goes, there's a lot of surveys I've seen where if you make it easy to buy and give it at a fair price, people won't steal it. A lot of the reason people steal things is that it's easier. As an internet user, I believe that. Sometimes, it's just frustrating to figure out the legal method. "It's not on iTunes, it' snot on Netflix, where is this fucking show? I'm just going to steal it." I think Louis made it very clear that, "This is me, this is not Viacom. I'm just a dude, I paid for this myself. Let's not screw me over." With mine, I think people will understand it's the same thing, that it's my own money and easy to buy.
I've seen the special, but how would you describe it to someone who hasn't?
It was a tour I did in 2010-11 called "Dangerously Delicious." Compared to the last special, I think it's better. I've grown as a comedian. The first special I recorded, I was in a relationship, in this one, I was single, so there's a chunk dealing with being a single guy. There's updates on my cousin Harris, I talk about updating his college essay. I think that's a good follow-up to the first special. I think it's a better version of it.
And for anyone who, say, only knows you as Tom Haverford, how would you describe your stand-up persona?
It's a different thing, but if you like the humor of "Parks and Recreation," and the humor of Tom, my stand-up is in a similar genre of comedy, so I think you'll be into it.
When does the new tour start?
The new tour starts in April, called "Buried Alive." It's all new material that's never been toured before, never been seen before. I'm very excited. The new tour is a lot about how I turned 29 this year, it's kind of the age where a lot of my friends are starting to have children and get married, and that's terrifying to me. Fear of adulthood, and when your friends start having babies.
You have a routine early in "Dangerously Delicious" where you're talking about how people assume it's easy to use your celebrity to pick up women, but pretty much everywhere you go, the people who come up to you are dudes who want to hang out and play XBox. Was there ever a point in your career where you had to adjust your expectations for what it could bring you outside of money?
I had kind of a slow build. Initially I did "Human Giant" for MTV, which is a cult thing, and people would recognize me from that here and there, and eventually it led to bigger things like "Funny People" and "Parks and Rec", but eventually people were able to deal with it as it came. And I have to say that that routine's exaggerated, and 99.9 percent of the people who come up to me are super nice.
On "Parks and Rec," your big story the last few episodes has been the Tom/Ann relationship. He was hitting on her all the time at the start of the series. Was the idea of them dating discussed before now?
It was an idea that I'd been throwing around, and this felt like the right time to do it. It's just a lot of fun. My attitude towards acting in this storyline is that Tom would just be super confident in the worst ideas, and stunned that they didn't work. He buys the same beret that Sam Jackson wears to the Latin Grammys, and he's stunned that she doesn't want it. The great thing about that show is that every character's so fun.
Well, in the "Sweet Sixteen" episode, we find out that Ann ticks off a whole bunch of Tom's deal-breakers, and she clearly can't stand him. Why do you think he still wants to be with her?
I think you do see them have little moments where they do enjoy each other's company. There are little tidbits here and there. Overall, they're figuring it out. I don't think it's the best relationship I've ever seen in the world, but not everybody's relationship is good.
And getting back to the special one more time, what's your pitch for why someone should spend five bucks on it?
I think it's a really funny stand-up special, and if you didn't get a chance to see me on tour, if I wasn't able to come to your town, this special gives you the closest to that experience. I think it's great to be able to get something directly from an artist, where it's his vision, not edited, not censored. It's exactly what I wanted it to be.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org