The second season of Master of None premieres on Netflix on May 12—assuming they don’t end up releasing stuff early because they got hacked— and in advance of the premiere, Aziz Ansari covers New York Magazine, talking about season 2, SNL, and kinda-sorta Trump. There’s a lot to unpack—Ansari is talkative—but I’m stuck on the details about Ansari apparently picking up languages like it’s nothing. To prepare for season 2, in which his character, Dev, goes to Italy to learn to cook, Ansari actually went to Italy and cooked pasta in a restaurant for a couple months, and learned at least enough Italian to make his performance in the season premiere—conducted mostly in Italian—look realistic. And then he taught himself Japanese before a trip to Japan. Aziz Ansari doesn’t do things by half.
That could be the lede of his cover profile for NY Magazine: Aziz Ansari doesn’t do things by half. Besides the languages and the pasta-making, he also put himself through a self-directed, mini-film school, absorbing the works of the Italian Neorealists before taking on more directing duties in season 2. Way to set a high bar for yourself, dude. Though setting—and exceeding—steep goals for himself seems to be Ansari’s milieu. This is a guy who has won an Emmy, sold out Madison Square Garden, and written a best seller, all before 35. In contrast, today I was proud of myself for remembering to wear socks.
Of course, the quotable bits of the interview are mostly to do with Ansari’s post-election blues, and his approach as a filmmaker and artist in the era of 45:
“Does seeing someone who looks like me starring in a show now mean something different than it did a year ago? Yeah, I would agree with that. […] But this show is not about, ‘Oh, Aziz is back to give the finger to Trump.’”
I guess that’s why he chose to cut a flashback sequence recalling an Islamophobia incident with his younger brother, Aniz (a writer on the show), after September 11th. I understand wanting to stay true to your vision regardless of external forces, and I understand not wanting to turn your largely sweet show about food and romance and New York and family into a political tirade. But I will admit to feeling some disappointment in that decision. Now is not the time to back down.
But then, as Ansari says, just his presence on television is political. Just by exercising his voice and perspective in a popular medium, he’s engaging in political discourse. (I wonder what Ansari made of Chris Pratt’s comments about how his white Middle-American perspective is underrepresented in Hollywood.)
He says: “Look, if there are kind of like these two visions of America, our show definitely takes place in the other America. […] I mean, there’s one white guy around every now and then. Most of the time, you’re following me, a brown guy, and I’m doing stuff that brown guys don’t do in the other vision of America. I’m not just working in a convenience store serving white people sodas. I’m not part of a sleeper cell. I’m not giving my white friend dating advice and totally inept with women, like, ‘Ooh, I’ve never seen a bra before!’ This show is firmly rooted in the other path the country is headed toward.”
And that is not a small thing. Through Master of None, Ansari is expanding the cultural reference for what South Asian life looks like on TV. His refusal to paint “red staters” with the same unilateral brush with which minorities are regularly painted (“Maybe I’m just very quick to react when, as a culture, we try to paint this whole large group of people as one specific thing. Because that’s what, as a minority, you deal with all the time.”) is a kindness rarely returned to his own demographic.
His SNL monologue was pretty scathing, but Ansari doesn’t want the tone of Master of None to be scathing, too. The work will speak for itself, and he’s not wrong—thinkpieces will be written about whether he’s directly confrontational or not. Because let’s face it: Today the president of the United States wondered why we even had a civil war in the first place. That’s the other America, the one Ansari defies just by existing, the Muslim-born son of South Asian immigrants, who has a TV show loosely based on his own life. A TV show that gives voice to an experience that actually IS underrepresented in Hollywood. Whether he goes for the direct cut or not, just by speaking, creating, EXISTING, Aziz Ansari is political. If he does that as well as he does everything else, he’ll probably end up the next president.
Click here to read the full Aziz Ansari interview at NY Magazine and to see more photos.