Aziz Ansari, a 22-year old comedian with a high-pitched voice and a fondness for hooded sweatshirts, performs every Monday night at the Upright Citizens Brigade in Chelsea. Some of his best routines involve pretending to be a bigger, angrier version of himself: he woos imaginary girls by snapping dogs’ necks, wielding bricks, and acting, as he puts it, “quite ruthless.” I recently met him for drinks at 288 Bar, and we talked about how hard it is to find a good joke comprised of perfect “little bits of stupidity and ridiculousness.”
What’s an instance where you actively sought out some stupidity?
I was at Croxley Ales a couple months ago with my friends, and we noticed Scarlet Johansson sitting there. So I took out a napkin and wrote, “I think you’re really cute. You should definitely come to my show tonight.” And I put something about the Rolling Stone thing [they called him the “Hot Stand-up” for 2005] so she’d know I was legit. I dropped the flier right in front of her and then skidaddled off. She never came, of course. But I made a joke about it that night.
In one of my favorite routines, you talk about Googling yourself—the first thing that pops up online is a sentence about how you look like a nerd and do nothing to stop this. Do you feel obligated to play up the nerdy image?
I actually don’t think I act that nerdy.
I liked in your act when you used the word “nerd-dom.”
But that was when I was talking about my little brother.
So you were annoyed by the sentence?
I just thought it was funny—it seemed so random. I’m not the hippest guy in the world or anything. I definitely don’t like going to hip bars . . . It’s not cool to think that you’re cool or want to be cool—that’s the whole conundrum.
Is it easier to perform at a bar with a drink minimum? Are people more willing to laugh?
No, I don’t like the idea of people having to pay so much. It shouldn’t be $50 to see a show. It should be five bucks, or free, like at Upright Citizens Brigade, Pianos,
and Rififi, and other—although I hate the word—”alternative” rooms—
What’s wrong with the word?
Because it doesn’t mean anything. I perform in both types of places. But I’ve never seen anyone have to be thrown out of an alternative room because they’re being too drunk or rowdy or trying to be funny, but that happens at comedy clubs almost every night.
How do you usually come up with your routines?
I can’t sit down and force myself to write. I wait until something happens. Like the other day I was at a grocery store—I probably won’t be able to get a joke out of this—but I bought five things: some Hi-C, oatmeal, iced tea, cookie dough and toasted strudels, and I thought it was interesting because 40 percent of the things I bought had the Pillsbury doughboy on it. And I was like, “that’s so weird.”
When you’re meeting strangers, do you feel like you shouldn’t be funny—it’d be showing off?
Yeah, I never tell jokes. I think it comes off weird. Especially if you’re a comedian and it’s like “oh fucking comedian guy.”
But doesn’t everyone try to be at least a little funny?
Oh no, I’m always trying. But I didn’t come here thinking, “OK, I should really impress this girl so she’ll think, “Wow, I had a drink with a comedian.” If I wasn’t doing comedy I’d just be my friend’s “funny friend,” nothing more. Or, I don’t know, maybe a little bit funnier than that.