Aziz Ansari has graduated from small comedy clubs to big-time stardom.When two TV producers approached Aziz Ansari about joining the cast of their new show in 2008, he had just completed the second season of Human Giant, an MTV sketch show that had developed a cult following. But the pair pursuing Ansari weren’t just any producers — they were Greg Daniels and Michael Schur, the duo that helped adapt the American version of The Office, which was Ansari’s favorite sitcom on TV at the time.
“I flat-out told them, ‘If you guys are creating it, it would be my dream job to be involved,’ ” Ansari says. Within weeks, he was cast as Tom Haverford, the sharply dressed, sarcastic government employee on NBC’s Parks and Recreation.
Though a fresh-faced 25-year-old at the time, Ansari had already spent the better part of a decade trying to break into the world of comedy. The Amy Poehler–led sitcom provided him not only crucial exposure but also his first chance to explore a character in-depth. “It’s interesting to really flesh out a character like that — to figure out his world and his backstory,” he says. “There are so many things you don’t know about Tom yet.”
Now 28 and a household name, Ansari’s latest venture is the just-released big-screen comedy 30 Minutes or Less, which co-stars Academy Award nominee Jesse Eisenberg. Ansari plays Chet, the best friend of a pizza boy who is abducted by two bumbling bad guys and ordered to rob a bank. Ansari and Eisenberg had never worked together before, and despite their opposite dispositions, the two quickly clicked.
“I think that’s kind of why it worked, because we had different energies,” he says. “That’s what made it fun.”
Though he’s juggling a busy filming schedule, Ansari plans to maintain his hugely popular stand-up act, having recorded a second hourlong special in June and now already working on material for a third. His stand-up work even took him through Carnegie Hall in January, which he says was one of the highlights of his career.
“At one point, I was doing comedy in front of three people in the back of some bar in the middle of nowhere,” he says. “So when I played Carnegie Hall, I felt like, ‘Wow, I’ve actually done something.’ ”