Aziz Ansari on Finding Success: "You Have to Make Your Own Way"
"I really believe the idea that the most personal things end up being the most universal," said Ansari said about the personal nature of his Netflix comedy series 'Master of None.'
“When we were doing the show, I never really thought about this stuff," said Aziz Ansari during The Hollywood Reporter's Comedy Actor Roundtable, in regard to representing the underrepresented on his show, Master of None. "What’s interesting about the show coming on Netflix is, everybody watched every episode in one weekend and the reaction was like, 'Oh, my God. I’ve never seen Indian people, or Asian people, or African American lesbian women depicted in this way, like normal people.' "
He said most people are used to seeing "and Indian guy or an Asian guy" only when they’re fitting into certain tropes. "You never see like an Asian guy who’s capable with women or anything like that," Ansari told THR.
Ansari recalled hearing Lee Daniels speak on this Roundtable episode about how white writers writing for black performers was insulting, and he said the same holds true for Indian characters. "A lot of times when people write for Indian actors or Asian actors or anybody, someone different, it is insulting, because they have a certain view of how this person can help our plot."
When it comes to creating storylines for Master of None, Ansari keeps it close to home. "We were just being true to ourselves and writing things that were just very true to us. I really believe the idea that the most personal things end up being the most universal," he said, noting one very specific relationship scene that rang so true it caused fights between real-life couples.
The actor, a Parks and Recreation alum, credited that show's creator and star, Amy Poehler, as being one of the most influential comedic greats in his career, "not only just in terms of comedic acting, but just as far as being a leader on set. She was our leader in so many ways and ran that show with such class. I was always in awe of her and stole whatever wisdom I can." He said the entire cast helped make him a better actor, "Everyone in that cast, there was just such a wide variety of different types of comedic talent, Rob [Lowe, a Roundtable co-star] included. I just learned so much from watching all these different amazing performers and their different styles. It was a treat to work on that show and learn from all those people.”
Ansari said he finally found the secret to success in Hollywood with creating his own show. "You kind of have to make your own way," he said. "No one would have given me a show like [Master of None], no one would have believed I could have done that. It definitely would have gone to some white guy. If you look at people who have really done interesting stuff, they’re people who make their own doors all the time, and then hopefully, something opens.”
More roundtables featuring comedy actresses, drama actresses and actors and reality hosts and producers will roll out throughout June in print and online. Tune in to new episodes of Close Up With the Hollywood Reporter starting June 26 on SundanceTV, with the premiere of the Comedy Actors Roundtable on Sunday, July 17. And look for clips at THR.com/roundtables with full episodes on THR.com after broadcast.