Of all the shows in NBC’s Thursday night comedy-block, Parks and Rec is definitely the one that features Aziz Ansari in the supporting cast. Ansari’s been a presence in the world of comedy for awhile now, having started with MTV’s Human Giant, and– more recently– having appeared in a number of supporting roles in a few comedies you’ve almost certainly seen: Observe and Report, Funny People, Get Him to The Greek. We sat down with Ansari to ask some really obvious questions about Parks and Rec, the Raaaaaaaandy movie, and– of course– Ron Swanson’s mustache. Read on for the interview, my gentle Examiner readers…
When NBC premiered the first episode of Greg Daniels’ and Michael Schur’s Parks and Rec, more than a few lazy viewers (and even lazier TV critics) wrote the show off as an “Office clone”. It’s true that Schur and Daniels were both Office vets, and it’s true that all of The Office‘s trademarks appeared to be in place– the faux-documentary style, the talking head “interviews”, the universally-recognizable-workplace-humor, and so on. But from the start, Parks and Rec has always been its own beast, and two seasons later you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that would tell you that the show’s a copycat. Hell, you might even find a few people who’d tell you that Parks and Rec has become a better comedy than The Office.
That said, Parks and Rec still hasn’t achieved Office-sized success. But it did end up on a number of critics’ “Best Of” lists at the end of last year. And the series’ viewership has increased pretty steadily over the show’s past two seasons, enough so that NBC felt confident re-jiggering their Thursday-night lineup to position Parks and Rec directly after The Office. Obviously, the network was hoping that more Office fans would give Parks and Rec another shot, and so far it seems to be working: the show’s ratings are higher than they’ve ever been, and the network just announced that Parks would be getting a third season.
Some of the show’s popularity can be attributed to star Amy Poehler, who anchors the series as the perpetually-frazzled, always well-meaning Leslie Knope…but surely even more credit must be given to the show’s jaw-droppingly great supporting cast: Nick Offerman’s Ron Swanson, Aubrey Plaza’s April Ludgate, Chris Pratt’s dim-witted Andy, Rashida Jones’ Anne Perkins. These are some of the heaviest hitters in the TV comedy world, and every week they knock it out of the park. But for our money, no one on Parks and Rec is as kick-ass as Aziz Ansari’s Tom Haverford.
OK, maybe Ron Swanson’s a bigger bad-ass, but the interview below isn’t with Nick Offerman, it’s with Aziz Ansari. So, for the purposes of what you’re about to read, let’s all just play along and say that Ansari’s Parks and Rec‘s biggest bad-ass. Agreed? Good. Now, keep on reading for our exclusive interview with Aziz Ansari:
Comedy Examiner: Parks and Rec might be the best show in NBC’s Thursday night lineup, and those are big words considering who you guys are airing with: Community, The Office, and 30 Rock all air on the same night. Is there any sense of competition between the shows? Like, do you guys break each others’ balls about the ratings each week?
Aziz Ansari: I think we are all just happy to be on a good lineup of shows that are trying to do smart comedy. However, I do talk mad shit to the dudes who make Hoarders.
CE: What’d you think when people called Parks and Rec an “Office clone” early on in its run? Was that annoying for you guys?
AA: No matter what we did, simply by being a documentary show from producers of “The Office,” it was an inevitable criticism. By now though, it seems those comparisons are gone and people have found the show to be its own thing.
CE: Do you watch the show when it airs every week?
AA: I do watch the show because it’s fun to see how the other characters storylines that I wasn’t a part of turned out. It’s also fun to see what stuff that was improvised or written on set actually made it in. For example, in the Harvest Festival episode, we meet with this Native American guy and he walks in and I thought Tom would weirdly be into his Native American fashion so when he walked in with this bolo tie I just went “that’s a dope bolo.” That ended up being in.
There was another bit where the Native American gentlemen is describing this horrible massacre that happened in Pawnee and I just interrupt and go “quick question – where’d you get that bolo from?” That didn’t make it in, but I assume it must have been a bit too silly. The writer on that episode Dan Goor, had a really funny joke he pitched me where after the guy describes this Native American chief getting shot 83 times, I just go “Did he die?” and it made us crack up on set and that made it in. So that’s part of the fun of watching the episodes for me.
CE: Do you have a favorite episode? I’m particular to the telethon one…
AA: My favorite episode? Hard to pick one, I really enjoyed Sweetums and Harvest Festival was really solid too. Honestly though, my favorite ones might be the ones we shot in the tail end of Season 3 – there’s one where Tom goes on a online date that I heard turned out really great and the season finale had insane stuff for Tom to do. I really can’t wait for those episodes to air, they are going to be awesome.
CE: Paul Schneider left the show after the first season, which kinda sucks. Are there any plans to bring him back in a guest spot or something?
I’m sure we’ll bring back Mark at some point. I’d also love to see the return of Louis CK’s Officer Dave. I ran into Louis last night at a comedy club and he pitched a really funny idea for Dave to come back that hopefully we will do.
CE: Amy Poehler wrote an episode awhile back (ed. note– it was the telethon episode). Have you got any interest in writing one yourself?
In theory I’d love to write an episode, in practice, I’m too lazy and am happy just to contribute joke ideas on set.
CE: What are you hoping the writers do with your character in the future? Let’s say end of this season, next season (ed. note– this interview took place about a month ago, long before NBC announced that Parks and Rec was coming back for a third season)?
I can’t talk about that without spoiling what happens at the tail end of Season 3, but where you leave Tom at the end of Season 3 is hilarious and I hope we can see a little bit of that in Season 4. Beyond that, I love when Tom gets to sing and dance, maybe something involving him starting an R&B group?
CE: I’ll allow it. Now, awhile back, you finished working this movie with Danny McBride called 30 Minutes or Less. What can you tell us about it?
30 Minutes or Less is a film I shot over the summer which I’m very excited about. The movie is about Jesse Eisenberg and I playing two best friends that are forced to rob a bank by two bad guys played by Danny McBride and Nick Swardson. I’ve been describing it as Heat but with me and Jesse Eisenberg. Its the first major role I’ve had in a movie and it was definitely fun to be in a movie the whole time and have a character that you follow through the whole story. I’ve seen the early screenings and it turned out really funny. I think people will dig it.
CE: What about the Raaaaaaaandy movie?
That was one of 3 ideas we sold to Judd. Of those 3, the idea we are scripting now is one called Spacemen. It’s about two disgraced astronauts who have to go back to the moon to clear their names. It’s really funny. So for now, we’ve been working on that and haven’t really tinkered with the Randy idea.
CE: Is there any chance you’ll do something again with Human Giant? Or that you’ll release the show on Blu-ray, for God’s sake?
Right now we are all busy doing our own thing, but we recently did a Human Giant screening and showed our favorite sketches, it was really fun. It would be fun to make something together at some point, but we are all so busy on different things. No official plans for any DVD/Blu-Ray releases, but most of the stuff is on YouTube or Funny or Die, which I actually think is a great way to watch the show. If you haven’t seen it, the ones I’d say to watch are: Viral Videos, Shutterbugs Lil’ 9/11, Shutterbugs Bobbe J, Reenactment, Let’s Go, and Carpet Monkey.
CE: You heard him, people: watch those clips (we’ve embedded one for you on the left). OK, last question: Let’s say I’m trying to pick a personal hero, and it came down to you and Ron Swanson. Who’s the bigger bad-ass?
Swanson, no question. He’s my hero. We should all bow down to that ‘stache.
Well, that settles it, folks: Ron Swanson is the bigger bad-ass. That said, Aziz Ansari was still gracious enough to answer our all-too-stock questions, and he’s done some really awesome sh-t in the comedy world, so we’re gonna keep him high on our personal bad-ass list. Be sure to tune into Parks and Rec every Thursday night (right after The Office) on NBC, and keep your eyes peeled for future updates on Ansari’s multitude of upcoming films (30 Minutes or Less, Spacemen, and– perhaps– the Raaaaaaaandy movie).
Stay tuned for more funny videos, news, reviews, interviews, and more from Comedy Examiner HQ in the near future, folks. We’ve got all manner of nonsense to keep you informed and entertained during the week, so hit the ‘Subscribe’ button up top to get all future Comedy Examiner articles delivered straight to your inbox, free of charge, the moment they’re published…including any of our future Parks and Rec-related updates