24-year-old Aziz Ansari (who blogs at azizisbored.com) is in the midst of a meteoric rise in comedy.
Over the past couple of years, his awards and honors include: Emerging Comics of New York’s “Best Male Standup,” TimeOut New York’s “Favorite New Standup,” Rolling Stone’s “Hot List,” and New York Magazine’s “Funniest People You’ve Never Heard Of” (that one came early during his rise).
He has appeared on Comedy Central’s Premium Blend, and is featured on the upcoming Comedy Central Records CD/DVD compilation “Invite Them Up,” which features many of New York’s top comics. He provides occasional commentary on VH1’s Best Week Ever. He is also busy with the comedy group Human Giant, which consists of Aziz and his colleagues Rob Huebel, Paul Scheer, and Jason Woliner. Human Giant became an internet phenomenon and then, incredibly, MTV offered Human Giant a self-titled TV show. (Let us emphasize this: Human Giant did not approach MTV. MTV approached Human Giant. This is practically unheard of in the television business.)
The show Human Giant recently finished its first season. And MTV has renewed the show for a second season.
One of our favorite Human Giant moments occurs in an episode of the group’s short film series Shutterbugs. Ansari and Huebel play aggressive, shallow agents who think they’re high-powered even though they’re not, and whose clients are all child actors. Ansari’s character is named “Bill” and Huebel’s character is named “Samir.” That’s funny itself, but in one particular scene, a casting director—who has just walked into their office for the first time—calls Ansari’s character “Samir.” After the agents gently correct him, Ansari’s character says, “Common mistake . . . don’t worry about it.”
After growing up in Columbia, South Carolina, Aziz attended New York University, from which he graduated in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in Marketing. In 2001, the summer after his freshman year at NYU, friends told him that he was funny and should try stand-up.
And he did.
What is your process for writing stand-up material?
I always carry a notebook and will also jot down thoughts on my Blackberry. A lot of my writing happens on stage though. I’ll go in with a loose idea and try to see where it takes me. It’s really amazing what the energy of a crowd can do—it really gets your mind to think fast and come up with stuff you couldn’t come up with just sitting in an empty room.
Also, a lot of times friends and family tell me funny things that happened to them and go “you should put this in your act” and I always do. 90% of my material comes from that.
How did your studies at Upright Citizens Brigade [a school of improvisation in New York City] benefit you?
Even though stand-up was always my primary comedic outlet, the improv classes helped me with my writing and acting, and most importantly got me involved with the UCB Theatre and its amazing community of performers.
You, Rob, Paul, and Jason have been very fortunate in that MTV has given you a lot of freedom to make the show you really want to make. Has the show changed anything about the way you work?We had such a limited amount of output before the show that we never really had a process to change. We found our process by doing the show. I guess by having the resources of the show, as far as props, locations, etc.—our ideas and scripts became more ambitious.
Before the show, we were running out of kids we knew to do Shutterbugs. Now, with the show, we have casting resources and even got our dream child actor, Bobbe’ J. Thompson, in the ‘Bugs Season Finale. That was pretty awesome.
Most of your stand-up material has nothing to do with being Indian.
I think when I first started doing stand-up, I did do some of that stuff. But I never liked doing it. I have nothing against people who do it. It’s just not my cup of tea.
Who are some of your favorite comics working today?
The comedy scene right now is incredible. I am continually impressed by the work people are doing. Some of my favorites to watch: Louis C.K., Dave Chappelle, Daniel Kitson, Patton Oswalt, Brian Posehn, Eugene Mirman, Todd Barry, Andy Blitz, Jon Glaser, Jon Benjamin, Mary Lynn Rajskub, John Mulaney, Arj Barker, Nick Kroll, Hannibal Burress, Andy Kindler, Todd Glass, I really could go on for quite a while, so many people are doing great work right now.
What are the best things about being on the road? And what are the worst things?
I enjoy traveling to new towns and checking out local food spots. It’s also really fun to just perform a long hour set for a totally fresh audience. I also like going to music festivals a lot.
The worst things…waking up early for flights, flying bad airlines, missing out on fun stuff in LA/NY.
Do you have any advice for somebody who wants to get into comedy?
Getting into comedy is really hard. You just have to enjoy doing it and just working on getting better at the things you can control—standup, your own short films, etc.
The best thing I ever heard about doing comedy is that it’s the “business of rejection.” If you accept that, and work very hard, I think you can eventually do what you want to do… maybe.
What’s next for Human Giant?
We’ll be working on our second season, and we are also talking loosely about movie stuff. We’ll see how it pans out.
Ranjit Souri lives in Chicago and is a columnist for India Currents magazine. He teaches classes in improvisation, comedy writing, creative non-fiction, and GMAT and LSAT prep. You can reach Ranjit at [email protected]