Comedian Aziz Ansari works to craft material that’s funny but resonates

At age 30, Aziz Ansari can’t understand these kids today.

“I think that’s definitely a thing with a lot of younger people, they don’t really want to work very hard,” he says. “I think people see me doing a theater or something and they’re like, ‘Oh, I want to be a comedian.’ ”

He remembers a fan asking, “How long does it take you to get an hour of jokes like that?” Also, how long it took him to work his way up to headlining theaters such as The Mirage, where he will be today and Saturday.

“And I was like, ‘Oh man, I’ve been doing it 12 years now.’

“And he was like, ‘Whoa,’ and he just walks away.

“No one wants to work that hard,” he adds with a chuckle. “But I like working hard and getting good at things, so yeah, I’m happy to do it.”

Ansari’s work ethic is as indisputable as his popularity. His NBC ensemble sitcom “Parks and Recreation” is almost certain to be renewed for a sixth season; it’s not a ratings powerhouse but draws a quality audience, as they say.

He plays a slug in the animated “Epic,” in theaters May 24, and has a cameo in the apocalyptic comedy “This is the End,” due June 12, in which Hollywood’s reigning comedy stars play satiric versions of themselves.

“I love ‘Parks’ but it’s not really my show,” he says. But stand-up is “the thing I work the hardest on in my career and I’m really proud of.”

“Some people at a certain point they get on TV (and say) ‘Oh I’ll go do a stand-up thing.’ They don’t really dedicate themselves to it and they just kind of coast on their charm or whatever. I work really hard on my stand-up and go out to clubs every night and really get it in order.”

The South Carolina native is long on screen charm but has never been known exclusively as a stand-up; his first big break came with the sketch troupe Human Giant and its MTV series in 2007 and 2008. “Parks” followed in 2009.

But by 2010, Comedy Central was backing Ansari’s stand-up showcase, “Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening.” It was soon followed by “Dangerously Delicious.”

“I think I’m a way better comedian than I was when I did those first two specials,” he says. “I don’t think those are bad, but I was really young when I did those and I just happened to get to a place where I could do a one-hour special.

“I really think the show I’m doing in Vegas and the next one are a lot more indicative of what my career will really be like, and what stand-up people will really remember me by.”

Louis CK is the king of comedy right now, but “that guy’s been doing stand-up for like, 30 years,” Ansari notes. “In the last few years he’s really found his voice, but that was like 25 years in.

“So I’m hoping I think the stuff I do now is garbage in a few years. I hope I do,” he adds with a laugh.

One thing he already knows is that his comedy means more now.

“I just feel like I’m getting better at talking about what’s in my head and what’s really interesting to me,” he says. “When you’re younger, (it’s like) ‘Oh, that’s a funny thing about orange juice, let me talk about that.’

“Now it’s like, what am I talking about orange juice for? Who cares?

“I think as I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten better at talking about deep emotional things that really resonate with people.”

He says he can even tell the difference in the crowd’s response to a quick hit and “That’s funny, but it also rings true with me. … I can’t believe this guy said that.”

In those impetuous-youth days of 2010, “It was like, I just need to kill. How do I kill? Now it’s, ‘This is what I want to talk about. How do I get that to be the killer stuff? Where what I want to talk about is dictating what I do jokes about, rather than, ‘Oh that’s a funny thing, that’ll kill, let me do that.’
“To me, that’s a way more interesting laugh to get. I’d rather have that kind of connection.”

In music, some bands keep remaking the same album, while with others, “the core thing you really like about them is still evolving. … I think I’ve still got the core thing that is my sense of humor and everything, but you want to evolve as a performer and get better and make sure, you know?”

Will it work? Ask him in another three years.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@
reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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