You may know him as Tom Haverford, or Raaaaaaaandy (with 8 A’s), or that dude from Human Giant, or maybe you just know him as who’s-that-guy-with-all-the-energy? No matter how you know or don’t know Aziz Ansari, something tells me you’re about to know him a lot better. With the Best Comedy Series Emmy nomination for his NBC sitcom, Parks and Recreation, and a hefty role in this week’s 30 Minutes or Less, there’s no better time to get on the Ansari bandwagon. We’ve got a comedy crush on him and by the end of this, we’ll bet you’ll have one too.
Just a few years ago in 2001, Ansari was going to NYU, hoping someday he’d realize his comedic potential and performing at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre (which also gave us Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Zach Galifianakis, Bill Hader, Donald Glover and basically every other funny person you can think of) and here he is, in a big-budget movie with Jesse Eisenberg and Danny McBride and starring in one of the best shows on television. It doesn’t get much better than that.
So, what did he do to deserve our admiration and giggle fits? We’ve got a few ideas.
In 2007, Ansari along with comedians Paul Scheer and Rob Huebel, started the MTV series Human Giant alongside their weekly UCB comedy show, Crash Test. Known for its over-the-top, boundless range of comedy, the sketch show ran for two seasons and there are murmurs of a potential full-length feature version, though that may be somewhere in no man’s land with the Arrested Development movie, so we’re not holding our breath. But what was it about this early Aziz comedy that made us want more? For me, it was the fact that while he wasn’t exactly the king of physical comedy and his timing was never perfect, his delivery and tone were offbeat and awkward enough that it brought something hilarious, even when the sketches were just a little too Generation X for my tastes.
Ansari’s got this strange combination of styles that somehow find harmony when he’s performing. He’s got the mousy, nerdy delivery alongside high-pitched, overzealous reactions. He pits the everyday mundane against the Hollywood life. He’ll spend part of his set talking about his younger cousins and come back out as Raaaaaaaandy and tell jokes about getting blow jobs. And somehow, all this hodgepodge of mismatched items works together in wonderful cacophony.
Now, this alter ego isn’t exactly the opposite of Ansari’s normal persona, but rather a hyper-stylized douchetastic version of Aziz. After debuting in the movie Funny People, as that typical terrible comic who’s somehow successful despite being disgusting, obsessed with talking about sex, vacuous, and makes up for these failings with flashy, ridiculousness. The character gained some cult popularity thanks to a few viral videos on Funny or Die, including one in with Raaaaaaaandy claims Justin Bieber stole “Baby” from him. Raaaaaaaandy’s standup is obviously deliberately rude and uninspired, but Aziz’s delivery is so committed, so spastic and so perfect for poking fun at flashy gimics that it just works.
It’s his over-the-top range, awkward delivery, fake swagger, screaming reactions and the almost childlike obsession with all things “classy as shit” that combine beautifully on NBC’s critically acclaimed series, Parks and Recreation, when Ansari steps in as Tom Haverford. Part of what’s so great about Tom is the writing behind his character, but Ansari really brings it home. Tom’s like a small-town, muted version of Raaaaaaaandy, but minus the bold-faced, obnoxious arrogance, plus a little character development that makes him more of a likeable human being. Of course, besides the “Tom Haverford face” and his food nicknames, the thing that ties it all together for me are his little ditties. Whether he’s on the phone, singing along to the hold music so he can complain about his eye cream or serenading his boss with a tune about “dating” these little made-up songs hold all the innocence of a five-year-old’s bathtub tune tinged with adult humor and Aziz’s signature tone. It’s what we love about him in a nutshell.