Aziz Ansari: An Inside Look At The Hollywood Comedian's Life

Despite the fact that he's only been alive since 1983, Aziz Ansari has already enjoyed a wildly varied and impressively successful showbiz career. As an actor, Ansari is in high demand, thanks largely to the seven seasons he spent playing entrepreneurial civil servant Tom Haverford on beloved NBC sitcom "Parks and Recreation." Meanwhile, he's also branched out behind the camera, serving as writer and producer on acclaimed Netflix comedy "Master of None," for which he's also star and co-creator. Then there's the skill that brought him to television in the first place, stand-up comedy, something at which he demonstrated his popularity when he sold out NYC's Madison Square Garden back in 2014 (one of just nine comedians to achieve that milestone). "I couldn't imagine that I'd get to play the Garden or something like that when I started out doing comedy," Ansari reflected in an interview with Vulture. "I didn't even think I'd get to do theaters or anything, so I feel fortunate enough to even have that experience."

Now, Ansari is expanding into a whole other role with "Being Mortal," a 2023 feature film that will mark his directorial debut, based on the book of the same name by surgeon Atul Gawande, and featuring a cast that also includes such Hollywood heavyweights as Bill Murray and Seth Rogen. 

To find out more about multi-talented Aziz Ansari, keep on reading for more information about the Hollywood comedian.

Aziz Ansari got his start on an MTV sketch comedy series

While attending college at NYU, Aziz Ansari began performing stand-up comedy. As he was building his chops in comedy clubs, he also appeared in a few TV series in the early 2000s, ranging from the obscure ("Uncle Morty's Dub Shack") to the ultra-hip (HBO's "Flight of the Conchords"). In 2007, Ansari teamed up with Rob Huebel and Paul Scheer for MTV sketch comedy series "Human Giant." 

After the second season of "Human Giant," Ansari was cast as Tom Haverford in NBC sitcom "Parks and Recreation." While there were some loose plans for the trio to reunite, possibly for a movie, nothing ultimately came of them — although Aziz joined Scheer and Huebel for a filmed sketch that aired during the 2010 MTV Movies Awards, which Ansari hosted

As Ansari told the AV Club that year, he felt "Human Giant" had run its course. "I think it's honestly in the past," he said. "We're all doing different things now ... Paul [Scheer] is on 'The League.' Rob [Huebel] is acting on a bunch of different stuff. I'm doing 'Parks and Rec.' Another thing is, people think we got canceled. We never got canceled. They offered us a third season and we were like, 'We could do a third season, or we could move on and do other things now, and pursue some other opportunities.' That was around the time I got the opportunity to do 'Parks And Rec.'"

His true love will always be stand-up comedy

For Aziz Ansari, performing stand-up comedy while still in college led to what must have been a somewhat unexpected television career. That could explain why, in the midst of pursuing various opportunities in film and TV, Ansari has continually returned to the stage. In 2010, he spoke with the AV Club about his stand-up special at the time, "Intimate Moments For a Sensual Evening," revealing he'd been performing stand-up for about eight years at that point.

The timing of the special, he explained, was beyond fortuitous, given that he'd been hitting the clubs hard to workshop new jokes. "I was really excited to do it," he said. "I knew that late last year would be a good time to do it, because I was doing a bunch of stand-up, so I figured I would be in good shape."

Since then, Ansari has appeared in several comedy specials, most recently 2022's "Nightclub Comedian." Interviewed by The Hollywood Reporter, Ansari felt as if he had hit the right balance of live performing and film/television projects. "I'm really happy where I'm at now," he said. "If I can just kind of keep getting to do stand-up every now and then, and put out specials and do tours, and then in between that, work on writing and directing projects that I'm passionate about, whether they're films or other seasons of 'Master of None' or whatever, that would be a dream for me. I'm all good."

He went viral with a fake Twitter account about Homeland

In fall 2011, Showtime premiered "Homeland," in which Claire Danes starred as a brilliant but mentally unstable CIA agent who suspects war American war hero and former PoW Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) had been brainwashed by his captors in order to be the unwitting agent behind a terror attack. The show quickly became a ratings hit, even something of a pop-culture phenom that both reflected and predicted actual events. 

This became clear when an anonymous Twitter account with the handle @SergeantBrody wound up going viral for its hilarious commentary, mirroring reactions that viewers were having to characters such as Brody's teenage son Chris. "Spending time with my boring son Chris is almost worse torture than I experienced in Iraq. #MySonisSoBoring," read one tweet, while another opined, "Being in captivity sucked, but to come back and go straight to an iPhone? F**KING NUTS! This thing is amazing."

The cat leapt out of the bag, reported E! News, when Ansari accidentally tweeted a message meant for his personal account to his fake "Homeland" account; he immediately deleted it, but the internet never forgets. Then again, Anzari pretty much outed himself to anyone who was paying attention when he issued an earlier tweet that was a shameless plug for the @SergeantBrody account, writing, "HOMELAND FANS: If you are all caught up, follow my friend @SergeantBrody on Twitter."

Why he decided to unplug from social media

Aziz Ansari was an early adopter to social media, and quickly established himself as a singular voice on Twitter. As of October 2022, he boasted an impressive 9.9 million followers. "It's an interesting way to kind of connect with your audience," he told Forbes in 2010, sharing his views on social media. "It's weird because now, if you like a celebrity you can know so much about them through social media, like what TV shows and music they like, things like that. When I was a kid, I had no idea what kind of music Arnold Schwarzenegger or Bruce Willis liked."

However, there was a point when Ansari made the voluntary choice to pull himself back from social media entirely. According to a 2017 profile in GQ, he'd stepped away from every form of social media. "Whenever you check for a new post on Instagram or whenever you go on The New York Times to see if there's a new thing, it's not even about the content. It's just about seeing a new thing. You get addicted to that feeling," he explained. "I wanted to stop that thing where I get home and look at websites for an hour and a half, checking to see if there's a new thing. And read a book instead ... It feels so much better than just reading the Internet and not remembering anything."

Why he bypassed television to release one of his stand-up specials online

In 2012, Aziz Ansari released his stand-up comedy special "Dangerously Delicious," which he'd taped the previous year during a stop on his Dangerously Delicious comedy tour. Rather than craft a deal with Comedy Central or HBO to broadcast the special, Ansari decided to take a different route: fans could purchase a digital download of the special for just $5, a deal that he detailed in a tongue-in-cheek promotional video

As Ansari explained in an interview with NPR's "Fresh Air," he got the idea for releasing the special directly to fans from fellow comic Louis C.K., who had done the same thing the previous year — and raked in more than $1 million by doing so. "Obviously, it was a tremendous success when [Louis C.K.] released it that way, and I started getting tweets and things saying, 'Can you release your standup special this way? I think it'd be great if you did it,'" Ansari said. "I thought, 'Well, if that really worked and people are really behind it, why try to fight that trend?' [Louis C.K.] clearly hit a nerve with that release strategy. So I did it and as soon as I did it, the overwhelming response was, 'I'm so glad you did it, too. I hope more comedians do this.'"

He transformed into auteur with Master of None

After the series finale of "Parks and Recreation" in 2015, Aziz Ansari embarked on an ambitious passion project that took him well out of his comfort zone but into exactly what he'd always envisioned himself doing. The result debuted on Netflix, titled "Master of None," in which Ansari was co-creator, writer and star, portraying a 30-year-old actor named Dev looking for love in New York City. In the second season, Ansari became even more ambitious by sending Dev to Italy after a bad breakup, resulting in a black-and-white episode that serves as an homage to Vittorio de Sica's 1948 cinematic masterpiece "The Bicycle Thieves."

The deeply personal show was both a critical and commercial success, winning two Emmys, two Golden Globes and a Peabody Award. Speaking with GQ, Ansari mused on the show's evolution. "You get an incredibly different perspective when you do the second season of a show," he explained. "You know what worked — you know what you were most excited about that you made." 

When it came time to write the second season, he and series co-creator Alan Yang looked to the first season's most ambitious episodes, and then set the bar accordingly. "So this season, we're like, 'Let's just make every episode something like that.' Not that we didn't try to do that the first season, but we were like, 'Let's be really aggressive about it.' There are a lot of crazy things we tried."

He wrote a book about modern romance

Yearning for love and connection is at the heart of "Master of None," and Aziz Ansari unraveled the mysteries of love in the 21st century in "Modern Romance," the 2016 book he co-authored with sociologist Eric Klinenberg. Ansari has a somewhat unique perspective, as he pointed out in an essay he wrote for Time, pointing to his own parents' arranged marriage and recalling how his father and mother decided to tie the knot after knowing each other for about a half-hour. Referencing his well-documented reputation as a devoted foodie, Ansari explained that he would typically spend far more time than 30 minutes researching restaurants in preparation for going out to for a meal; as he joked, "it was quicker for my dad to find a wife than it is for me to decide where to eat dinner."

Promoting the book, Ansari answered questions from BuzzFeed readers about some of the wisdom he'd gleaned from the research he undertook for "Modern Romance." One thing he noted was that, after speaking with multiple women, he'd come to realize how low the bar has been set for men, with a woman's criteria primarily focusing on kindness and hygiene. "That's pretty much it — a nice guy that regularly showers," Ansari declared. "You're, like, the cream of the crop."

He experienced a #MeToo scandal

Having achieved mainstream success from "Parks and Recreation," Aziz Ansari then received critical acclaim for "Master of None," but the true gauge of his popularity could be seen in the increasing size of the audiences attending his stand-up comedy shows. Case in point: in 2014, Ansari sold out Madison Square Garden, documenting the performance for a 2015 Netflix special

Ansari's celebrity was at its peak in January 2018 when an article was published on the Babe website, in which an anonymous woman wrote about going on a disastrous date with him, in which they'd had consensual sex that she immediately regretted. Afterwards, she said, "It really hit me that I was violated." Coming about three months after Ronan Farrow's explosive expose of Harvey Weinstein in The New Yorker, and the subsequent emergence of the #MeToo movement, the woman's allegations about Ansari made international headlines.

The Babe article inspired debates, such as a segment on NPR's "All Things Considered" whether the woman had been the victim of sexual assault or simply experienced a bad date. Conflating the negative experience of one woman during one night with Farrow's exhaustive reporting of multiple women accusing Weinstein of being a serial predator, a think piece in Vox pointed out, was something of an apples-and-oranges comparison. In any case, debate or not, the allegations had an instant impact that immediately chilled Ansari's red-hot career. 

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

He was forced to step away from Hollywood

In the wake of Aziz Ansari's #MeToo scandal, he addressed the accusations in a statement to People. "We went out to dinner, and afterwards we ended up engaging in sexual activity, which by all indications was completely consensual," Ansari wrote. "The next day, I got a text from her saying that although 'it may have seemed okay,' upon further reflection, she felt uncomfortable. It was true that everything did seem okay to me, so when I heard that it was not the case for her, I was surprised and concerned. I took her words to heart and responded privately after taking the time to process what she had said. I continue to support the movement that is happening in our culture. It is necessary and long overdue."

Then, Ansari dropped off the radar. As weeks went by, information about him surfaced. "Aziz is doing great. He's a great, lovely guy," Ansari's "Parks and Recreation" former co-star Adam Scott told Vulture, while his "Master of None" co-star Lena Waithe told ET Canada she'd recently texted with him. 

Two months after the Babe article, reported IndieWire, Ansari made his first public appearance, performing an unscheduled stand-up set at the Comedy Cellar in Greenwich Village. By summer, noted Vulture, Ansari was now regularly performing, but had yet to reference the scandal in his act.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

He confronted his scandal in a Netflix comedy special

In the summer of 2017, about a year-and-a-half after the Babe allegations were published, Aziz Ansari emerged with a brand-new stand-up comedy special for Netflix. As Variety reported, the special — titled "Aziz Ansari: Right Now" — was directed by Spike Jonze, whose films include "Being John Malkovich," and "Her."

Not only did the special represent Ansari's return to the spotlight, it also contained his first public remarks about the allegations since he issued that initial statement. "There's times I felt scared. There's times I felt humiliated. There's times I felt embarrassed," he told the audience, as reported by Buzzfeed. "And ultimately, I just felt terrible that this person felt this way." He also recalled speaking with a friend who confessed that what Ansari had gone through had made him reassess his own dating history. "It's made not just me but other people be more thoughtful, and that's a good thing," he said, adding, "And I know this isn't the most hilarious way to begin a comedy show. But it's important to me that you know how I feel about that whole thing before we share this night together."

Near the end of the special, reported CNN, Ansari shared his gratitude to fans who came out to watch him perform. "It means the world to me because I saw the world where I don't ever get to do this again," he said. "And it almost felt like I died."

He's not afraid to get political

In his stand-up comedy, Aziz Ansari tends to gravitate more toward the personal than the political. When he hosted "Saturday Night Live," on the day after the 2017 inauguration of Donald Trump, however, Ansari had no choice but to get political. "Pretty cool to know though he's probably at home now watching a brown guy make fun of him though, right?" Ansari said of the newly installed president in his show-opening monologue. "I'm sure there's a lot of people voted for Trump the same way a lot of people listen to the music of Chris Brown, where it's like: 'Hey, man! I'm just here for the tunes. I'm just here for the tunes! I don't know about that other stuff. I just like the dancing and the music, I don't condone the extracurriculars.'"

As a rule, though, Ansari tends to avoid political comedy. Interviewed by The Guardian, he recalled at one point, in the wake of 9/11, he'd become immersed in watching news and began working on material that reflected that — but ultimately didn't pursue it. "I would try to write political material and then I kind of got tired of it, because it's like, when you read the news all the time it just kind of puts you in a negative mood," he explained. "I don't know. If every day you're starting your day reading this stuff, that's just such a bummer."

His favorite band is Nirvana

When it comes to music, Aziz Ansari's tastes are eclectic. In a 2011 interview with Dazed & Confused, he declares his two favorite songs to be John Lennon's "Imagine," and R. Kelly's "Real Talk." He also reveals his favorite band during his early teen years was Metallica, but that his tastes had shifted in a grungier direction. "Love Nirvana. My favorite band ever," he declared. "My favorite Nirvana song is probably 'Drain You.'"

Ansari has also demonstrated a love of hip hop. In the course of answering 73 random questions for Vogue, he took a stab at ranking Kanye West's albums from best to worst. He also shared an anecdote about hanging out with West, recalling, "the time I walked into his house and he's listening to '808s & Heartbreaks,' and I said, 'Are you listening to your own music?' And he said, 'Yeah, these beats are dope.'"

During that same interview, he was asked to single out one song he never again wants to hear sung during a karaoke performance. "'American Pie,'" he declared without hesitation.

He gave a hilarious Reddit AMA

Aziz Ansari is one of the many celebrities to take questions from fans via a Reddit AMA, and he was in rare form. Among the many revelations he shared was that when people bump into him in the street and quote some of Tom Haverford's choicest "Parks and Recs" bon mots back at him, they're barking up the wrong tree. 

"Sometimes people say random things to me on the street, that are kind of obscure Aziz references, and I have no idea why they said it," Ansari wrote. "Example: Stranger: 'Hey off to go sell baby tuxedos?' Me: 'Huh?' Stranger: 'I said, are you off to go sell baby tuxedos!?' Me: 'No...?' Stranger: 'Dude you said that in "Parks and Rec."' Me: 'Oh s**t, I'm sorry. I forgot.' Stranger walks off confused and disappointed."

He also recalled a mishap during one of his stand-up comedy performances that wound up costing him a few bucks. "One time at some old theater somewhere I was holding a dude's phone to read his text messages and it slipped from my hand and fell through a crack in the floor and went into some deep, deep basement and broke," Ansari wrote, adding that he wound up buying the guy a whole new phone.

He has no formal training as an actor

A quick spin through Aziz Ansari's IMDb credits demonstrates that he's had some major acting roles, including seven seasons of "Parks and Recreation," and his starring roles in "Master of None" and the feature film "30 Minutes or Less." Despite all those acting credits, Ansari is a self-taught thespian. "It all started with standup," he revealed in an interview with Backstage. "I've had no proper, formal training as an actor, really."

He credits Ricky Gervais' original British version of "The Office" as being hugely influential in his personal approach to acting. "That probably has affected me more than a lot of things I've seen," he says. "They displayed things to be real. I always feel like if you play things real, that ends up being very funny, as opposed to hamming it up." 

That, he said, was particularly true of his "Parks and Recreation" role; as over-the-top as Tom Haverford and his nutty business ideas could get, Ansari always approached the character from a place of authenticity. "He's kind of a silly guy," said Ansari of his "Parks and Rec" alter ego. "There's still a way to do that in a real way. All these characters are pretty weird, but you play them as real people.