Features & Columns

Aziz Ansari

Born in 1983, Ansari is old
enough to look back with genuine nostalgia on a time when children used to knock on their friends' front doors unannounced, and yet he is young enough that the entirety of his adult life has been intertwined with the non-stop world of the Internet, mobile devices and the 24-hour news cycle.

"I've just started realizing how flaky people in my generation are," he says. "We're flakier because we have cell phones and we don't have to plan as much. These devices are making us flakier people."

Ansari also has an interesting vantage on the subject of immigration. Growing up the son of immigrants in the solidly red state of South Carolina, the comedian is familiar with discrimination. But he has also benefitted from—and is clearly a passionate participant in—American pop culture. Over the course of his career, he has used his position as an American of Indian descent to highlight and lampoon racial stereotypes, while also drawing on pop culture, as he did on his Slumdog Millionaire bit during his 2010 Comedy Central special.

"I was doing an interview once and this guy goes, 'You must be psyched by all this Slumdog Millionaire stuff.' And I was like, umm... Yeah! I am! I have no idea why, though. I had nothing to do with that movie! It's just that some people who kinda look like me are in this movie that everyone loves and is winning Oscars and stuff. And then I was like, whoa, whoa, whoa! Are white people just psyched all the time? It's like, Back to the Future—that's us! Godfather—that's us! Jaws—that's us!"

Ansari has continued to explore what it means to be a minority and an immigrant on the "Modern Romance" tour, although he says now he is looking to his parents for inspiration. "It's kind of amazing how people make the decision to leave their country and come to America," he says.

Immigration isn't the only sensitive subject Ansari has been taking on of late. During an October appearance on Late Night with David Letterman, Ansari launched some of his new material on feminism. After proclaiming that he was a feminist to tepid applause, he sought to set the record straight, explaining that the people who didn't clap are just misinformed about what feminism truly is.

"You're a feminist if you go to a Jay Z and Beyonce concert, and you're not like, 'Hmm, I feel like Beyonce should get 23 percent less than Jay Z,'" he says, adding that feminism doesn't mean "some woman is gonna start yelling at [you]."

Explaining his increased interest in feminism and gender equality, Ansari credited his girlfriend, professional chef Courtney McBroom, as well as media outlets that have worked to put the conversation of women's rights front and center over the past five years or so.

"My girlfriend and all these women I know have told me they've been followed by creepy dudes or seen dudes masturbate at them from a car," he says, noting that just a few years ago he had no clue about the harassment women face on a daily basis.

In addition to the things he's learned from McBroom, Ansari says he has also come across more articles on the subject of gender inequality. "It's just so much more in the air than it was a few years ago," he says. "I think dudes are becoming more aware of things that they just weren't aware of."

But there is more to it than that. Ansari is older and wiser. Soon to be 32, Ansari has moved on from telling jokes about how lame it is that the girl he asked out via text never responded. Now he's telling jokes about how lame it is for guys to expect that a woman has an obligation to respond to their advances at all.

It's a long way from 2010's Sensual Evening, and Ansari feels he's come pretty far since his last special. He's hopeful audiences will notice and appreciate it.

"As you become older you just figure shit out—just from experiencing more things," Ansari says. "I hope that I come through in my stand-up and these specials as a more mature kind of guy who has evolved his thinking. I hope that you see me in a different mind space than I was in Buried Alive."

Then again, while he is content with being a part of the political dialog, Ansari is reluctant to call himself a political comedian.

"I don't mind being a part of that conversation, and I'd like to talk about things that are interesting to me," he says. "And if people watch the special that i'm putting out in March and see that bit about women and say, 'Holy shit, I didn't know women get followed around like that!' or, 'I've never thought about how shitty it is the way women are treated on the Internet versus how men are treated on the Internet—if it makes them think about that stuff: great. I think that's one of the coolest things about stand-up: it can make you think about all these interesting issues. But I'm mostly just concerned with doing things that are really funny and interesting."

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