Aziz Ansari has cemented himself in culture as a man of many jokes, and perhaps a comparable number of suits. He has transcended his role as writer and performer in comedy into the realm of tastemaker with his close ties to fashion brand, Band of Outsiders, as well as his associations with Kanye West and Jay-Z. Once described by Jessie Einsberg as simply, “Naturally funny, even when he’s not trying to be funny,” Ansari has become perhaps the most hilarious foodie, and with his cameo in Watch the Throne’s “Otis,” perhaps the funniest person to ever grace a rap video. Ansari’s rise came from unexpected beginnings. The comedian grew up in South Carolina, not known for its impact on popular culture, and went to NYU to study the comparatively dry subject of marketing. We spoke with Aziz Ansari about his sartorial tastes, rappers, and his night with the President among other things.
Have you been up to anything interesting lately?
I’m just on tour right now. I go back to Parks [& Recreation] in August. I’ve just been touring and then I’ll go back to Parks. Sorry, I’m not going on a ghost-hunting mission or anything, [laughs] it’s pretty basic.
On Human Giant, you were involved in most of the aspects of making that show – the writing, the acting, etc. Have you written anything since then besides your standup material and do plan on writing things in the future?
I have a few screenplays and stuff in development. Most of the writing I do is standup. I have some and stuff that I’m developing but you know movie stuff is so painstakingly slow. Who knows when that stuff will be out.
You’ve hung out with Xzibit, worked with Ghostface Killah in Human Giant, met RZA, you’re tight with Jay-Z and Kanye West, and you have that bit of you listening to 50 Cent being explained what a grapefruit is. How do you come into contact with so many rappers? Do you have another funny rappers stories you’ve been holding out on?
I just asked Ghostface if he wanted be in a sketch and he was game. With the rest of the people, it’s a pretty small circle of people. You go to these things and musicians are really into comedy. Comedians really like music so you end up being fans of each other’s work and you kind of get along with people and you become friends. As far as stories, I’ve put all of my rapper stories to rest. If you go to my new tour, I don’t have any rapper stories anymore. I’ve kind of retired that. I got tired of doing that stuff. There’s some [rapper stories] in Dangerously Delicious, but none on the new tour.
Is there any reason in particular you’re tired of rapper stories?
I just kind of write what’s interesting to me. If you see the new tour, I’m just writing about totally different stuff now. If you’re a musician or anything, it’s important to change what you do and evolve so that you can’t be pinned down so you’re not like “that guy that does this…” or whatever. You know what I mean? I think it’s about changing the art and you don’t want to kind of be doing the same.
You hung out with James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem in Japan for a GQ story, and crowd surfed at LCD’s last concert. Will we ever see anything from that in joke form?
Yeah, they wrote a story about me and him and the chef David Chang. We all went to Tokyo. It was super fun; they did a pretty good job of documenting everything that happened.
When you released your last special, you released it independently on the internet for five dollars a download similarly to Louis C.K. He made a lot of money with that. Did that work out well for you too?
Yeah, I’m glad I did it that way. It was an experience for sure.
Louis C.K. donated a lot of the money he made off that to charity. Do you have a similar plan for the money? I’m not going to judge you if you don’t.
I donate a lot to charity on my own. I always have, from all the money I’ve made in my career; I donate a portion to charity. That’s what I’ve always done even before I put out the special. I donate a lot to Oxfam and on my tour they’re there a lot setting up booths for people to donate. They’re a great organization. CARE is another place. I recently did fundraisers in LA for this charity called Justin’s Group, which is this anti-gay bullying charity. Does that make sense? It doesn’t support people that bully gay people [laughs]. It supports gay kids. Those are a few I’ve donated to and worked with in the past.
You rep the brand Band of Outsiders a lot, is there any other fashion you’re into? Back in your early days, you wore a lot of khakis and hoodies. What got you into fashion?
Whenever I did the standup for Dangerously Delicious I wanted to have a suit that was different and cool. For this I even worked with [Band of Outsiders] to make it custom fit. For this tour, the vibe I kind of wanted was for the suit to look like one of those old magician posters from a long time ago. I kind of made the poster in that style and I was known as the guy that would wear these suits that would have these big flower lapels on them and stuff. I worked with [Band of Outsiders] to make that suit fit that same era. That was fun. Whenever you go on talk shows and those kinds of things, you have to wear suits, so that’s why I got more into that.
Will we ever see an Aziz signature Band of Outsiders suit or anything like that?
I’d be up for something like that. I think that would be cool, but no plans right now.
You’re tight with Kanye West. What are your thoughts on the Yeezy 1′s vs. the Yeezy 2′s?
You know I don’t have either of those shoes! I don’t know, people seem to be very excited about them [laughs]. I don’t have either one; I don’t really wear sneakers that much. I don’t really wear basketball shoes, so I wouldn’t be the right be person to ask.
You’re known for being really into food. How’d you get so into it?
A lot of it is just from traveling on tour so much. When you’re on tour, your traveling so much and one fun thing to do when you go to these cities is eat whatever is the delicious stuff there. I think from that I got known for being more and more into food. I think that whole aspect of it is being a person that tours.
What are the best restaurants you’ve been to recently?
In New York, they just opened this restaurant called Mission Chinese. It started in San Francisco but [the owner] just opened one in New York, so that’s great. Teresy in New York is great. I went to this place called Asteria Vetry in Philadelphia, that was really good. I love bunk sandwiches in Portland. I’m going there tomorrow actually. Those are a few off the top of my head.
Is there anything you look for in a restaurant besides having good food obviously?
I don’t have anything I look for in particular. I’m not that into super fancy white tablecloth type vibe. I’m more into casual places, or like small Chinese places that have amazing soup dumplings or something like that or this place has the most amazing lobster roll. I’ll try whatever’s supposed to be good in that region. If someone’s like, “This vegan place is the best place,” I’m not gonna be like “I only like greasy burgers and things like that!” I’m really pretty open-minded, I try to kind of appreciate whatevers supposed to be good in the area that I’m in.
You got to hang out with Obama, which I heard was a good time. You gave a speech, you got heckled, he got heckled by the same woman, and you felt like you could relate to him a lot. What else went down that night?
You pretty much just said it [laughs]. That whole thing was super surreal. You never think you’re gonna get to meet the president or that the president is gonna want to talk to you for a few minutes. It was pretty crazy and it was a very surreal experience for sure. He’s just as cool and nice and charming as you’d hope.
You’re perceived as the Indian guy who doesn’t fit into stereotypes. You intentionally don’t take roles that force you to speak with an accent. Do you think that’s a major portion of your success, outside of being funny and all?
That was a thing I decided early on, that I didn’t want to do. I was like, once you do one movie where your doing the accent, that’s all people are gonna want to see you do. I just didn’t want to get pigeonholed like that. With the standup it’s just not what I think is funny. I think a lot of people appreciate that I don’t do that. I have a lot of Indian people that come up, and they’re like, “Awe man, it’s so cool that you don’t go up there and do like silly accents and stuff. It’s great that you talk about stuff that you want to talk about.” I’m glad that that’s what I do.