Comedian, actor, author, writer, director and now – as he takes the second season of Master of None in new and exciting directions – some might say, auteur. If he is yet to master any of these roles, the 34-year-old from South Carolina is making a pretty good fist of it.
Where have I seen him before?
Ansari announced himself to US audiences in the fantastic sitcom Parks and Recreation, a mockumentary in the same vein as the US Office that also launched the careers of Adam Scott, Nick Offerman and Hollywood’s most likeable leading man, Chris Pratt.
You may also seen him in minor roles in Judd Apatow’s Funny People or the Apatow-esque I Love You Man.
How did he end up with his own show?
Over in the US, there has been a buzz surrounding Ansari for a number of years now. According to Vulture, Parks and Recreation creator Jeff Schur casted Ansari even before he knew what the concept of the show would be, and would write “this is where Aziz gets to do whatever he wants” when he felt a scene was slacking comedically.
His achievements as a stand-up comedian perhaps even overshadow this; in 2015 he followed in the footsteps of Chris Rock, Louis CK and Eddie Murphy by becoming one of only a handful of comedians to sell out the iconic Madison Square Garden. If that isn’t TV-show-worthy fame, then I don’t know what is.
Did you say author?
No, I said auteur. Master of None season two bears Ansari’s stamp in a way that can be said of few shows and their creators. Its modern equivalents are Louis CK’s Louie and Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, shows so informed by their creator’s personality that it is difficult to separate reality from fiction. Can you imagine the real life Larry David standing by in silence as someone jumps him in a queue? Me neither.
I’m pretty sure you said author.
You got me. In 2015 Ansari penned his first non-fiction book, Modern Romance, with sociologist Eric Klinenberg. Peppered with Ansari’s charm and some genuinely interesting insights about the way in which people pick their partners across various cultures – Ansari and his co-writer undertook focus groups in Paris, Tokyo and Buenos Aires – it serves as an insightful guide to dating in the age of social media.
The book has informed much of his artistic output since, including the dating-heavy 2015 stand-up special Live at Madison Square Garden and, of course, Master of None. A highlight in season two is an episode which follows Dev (Ansari) on a slew of Tinder dates of varying success, one of the many aspects of the show that could be labelled semi-autobiographical.
What exactly do you mean by semi-autobiographical?
Well, it’s clear that Master of None is a show close to his heart. After all, he cast his real parents (who are terrible, terrible actors but adorable people) as his on-screen parents, and hired his brother, Aniz Adam Ansari, as a writer. Come to think of it, most of his collaborators on the show are close to him in real life, including big bud Eric Wareheim (below) and co-creator and writer Alan Yang.
We know that real-life Aziz is a big fan of eating, drinking and dating, and that he has drawn on his Indian heritage for material: in one season one episode he explores the difficulty of being an Asian actor in the US – something which he has spoken out about in the past – and in season two there is an episode all about hiding the fact that he eats pork from his Muslim parents.
Oh, and Ansari actually did eat his way through Italy in order to “research” for the second season, which sets its opening episode in Modena: a black & white tribute to 1948 classic Bicycle Thieves.
Sounds like he knows his stuff.
He does, and he has implemented it a lot better this time around. Season two is significantly sharper, and the teething problems from season one – rough, static dialogue and clunky storyline – are nowhere to be seen.
He seems to have been granted even greater creative freedom than on his first run out, allowing him to play with the format of the show and blend in influences from Italian neoclassical cinema. His magnum opus is the penultimate episode, a near feature-length episode (the only episode which he wrote and directed solo) which acts as a love letter to romance in New York City reminiscent of the good kind of Woody Allen movies. Here’s hoping its is a taster of things to come in the future.