Aziz Ansari is a much bigger name in comedy today than he was a year ago. I'm not sure if I can say what made that happen more — Ansari's co-starring role on the NBC primetime sitcom Parks and Recreation, or his scene-stealing turn as hip-hop comedian Raaaaaaaandy in Judd Apatow's 2009 movie, Funny People. But somewhere along the line, Ansari became a celebrity himself. I saw that firsthand earlier this month when Ansari returned to New York City (where he went to college and developed his stand-up) to headline at Comix for eight sold-out shows that attracted fans who knew his bits and also very famous people such as Natalie Portman and Kanye West.
Then again, I do see one big similarity between the two. Whenever I've seen Ansari offstage, he's a mild-mannered guy — even withdrawn. Keeps things close to the vest. But onstage, onscreen or on Twitter, Ansari gets excited and passionate in a very ALL CAPS, Raaaaaaaandy kind of way.
He's walking a delicate line with Raaaaaaaandy. Ansari told me once last year that he didn't feel fans were going to make him become Randy full-time and lose touch with his own stand-up persona. At the same time, though, he's moving forward with a full-fledged "Randy" movie with writing partner Jason Woliner for Apatow, and when he took the stage at the show I saw this month, audience members were shouting out for "Randy" within seconds. I think that might be part of the reason I saw Ansari take the stage in a suit and tie — making the audience relate more to him as his city parks official character, Tom, than of Randy. Or how about just as Aziz? His non-Randy material still reveals his youth as a stand-up, as it's largely based on pop cultural references (which makes his claim in one bit that he didn't know what a Jawa was completely unbelievable — Aziz doesn't know Star Wars? hmmmm). The crowd also knows Ansari well enough to applaud the mere mentions of his relatives, Harris and Darwish. And after 40 minutes of new material, Ansari told the audience he had written new "Randy" jokes, which earned even louder applause from them, followed by requests from them for places for "Randy" get pleased sexually.
Here's another sign a comedian is famous. When Comedy Central ups the ante on your promotional budget with concert-style fence signs. I don't recall seeing this for hardly any of the other recent Comedy Central Records releases.
And now Ansari, as Randy, is working on a mixtape remix of his own Randy jokes. This is the first in what likely will be several new videos.
What I'm more curious about, however, is finding out who the real Aziz Ansari is. If you agree, then let me point you to these two radio interviews Ansari gave, with The Sound of Young America, and NPR's Fresh Air. Fortunately, you can carve out some time and hear Ansari talk about his life and early rise to fame in stand-up comedy. In the TSOYA interview, I believe Ansari actually does tip his hand to some of the real influences for Raaaaaaaandy: