Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang's 'Master of None' Gets Personal
The 'Parks and Recreation' alums and co-creators of the new Netflix series discuss their inspirations for the show.
Alan Yang was slightly skeptical when he first met Aziz Ansari on Parks and Recreation, as he explained at the Master of None premiere in New York City on Thursday evening. An afterparty followed the screening at the top of the Standard Hotel.
“Everyone told me, ‘You’re going to be best friends with this dude Aziz!’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, we’ll see what happens,’ ” the writer recalled, re-creating his incredulous tone. However, turns out, his friends were right. “We really have spent way too much time together in the last couple years — and we don’t hate each other, so that’s something!”
And when Ansari was trying to figure out what he wanted to do after the NBC series ended, Yang was the first person he approached. “I knew we were on the same wavelength comedically, and so I asked him to do it, and he agreed, and then we made this show,” Ansari told The Hollywood Reporter.
The show is Master of None, a single-camera comedy focused on a struggling, 30-something actor in New York named Dev, played by Ansari. The show began streaming on Netflix on Friday.
The series also reunites co-creators Ansari and Yang with Michael Schur from Parks, who serves as an executive producer on Master of None. Ansari was inspired by 1970s films, like Woody Allen movies and Elaine May’s The Heartbreak Kid, and much of the show is autobiographical from Ansari and Yang’s experience as children of immigrants. In fact, Ansari’s own parents, Shoukath and Fatima Ansari, star as Dev’s parents on the show.
“It was a very surreal experience; they’re fantastic,” Ansari said of working with his parents, adding that his dad might have gotten bitten by the acting bug. “Oh yeah, he’s psyched! I’m surprised he’s not doing the carpet!” Ansari joked.
In the episode “Parents,” which was shown at the premiere, Dev and his best friend Brian, a stand-in for Yang played by Kelvin Yu, take their parents out to dinner to learn more about their lives before they came to America. “Today, we had a lunch with our parents, and we did the real version of what’s in the episode,” Ansari said. “The only similarity was my dad was a goofy guy in both situations!"
And Ansari isn’t the only one playing a “heightened version” of themselves. Lena Waithe, who stars as Dev’s friend Denise, first met with Ansari to talk about playing a straightforward female best friend part, and the role evolved around her own sensibilities, from her “androgynous look” to her friendship loyalty. “Whenever I would say something silly, they would make note of it and put it in,” Waithe said.
Eric Wareheim channeled his own personality as Dev’s “token white friend.” “I love being the only white boy in the room because it’s a very rare thing, and it was so smart for him to set that dynamic up,” Wareheim said.
And that was an experience everyone felt on set. “When you’re a person of color, you never feel like you’re breaking down a door. You’re sort of inhaling and exhaling and digesting your food and living your life, and it’s up to other people to go, 'This is revolutionary,' " said Yu. "And when you get into acting as a 10-year-old Aziz or a 10-year-old Kelvin Yu, you don’t necessarily see a bunch of posters of people who look like you. So this is really cool to be able to stand here and say, 'We’re going to do this.' "
And when Yang and Ansari initially conceived the show, it focused more on dating as a young person in the city, but they realized their personal journeys and backgrounds brought up issues that they wanted to discuss on this platform.
“We never want to be preachy; we want to be funny and entertaining and tell a good story, but the truth is when people talk in real life, they do talk about these issues,” Yang said, adding that working with Netflix has been a dream, as “They don’t force you to do anything you don’t want to do!”
“Neither of us are older white guys,” Yang continued. “We’re younger minorities, and that does inform our world views in some ways. Not everything is viewed through that prism, but it does affect how we move through society, so we want to be honest about that and put that in the show.”
While there might be some pressure to succeed with another series so close to Parks, Ansari and Yang are not worried. “Hey man, we got great reviews — there are no ratings with Netflix. We won — it’s done!” Ansari says.