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An Open Letter About Aziz Ansari - Also, I'm Sorry, Aziz

Marisa Zocco |
March 12, 2015 | 4:48 p.m. PDT

Guest Contributor

Would you recognize Aziz Ansari in public? (Twitter/@Cosmopolitan)
Would you recognize Aziz Ansari in public? (Twitter/@Cosmopolitan)
So, Aziz Ansari walks into a comedy club…

That’s the start of a bad joke—and it’s almost as bad as not recognizing the comic who my friend says is “one of the most prominent voices in comedy, right now.”

Alas, Aziz Ansari walked into a comedy club…and I had no idea. 

When I say I had no idea, I don’t mean that until someone asked for his autograph I was unaware of his presence, I mean like, I had no idea as he sat next to me, said hello and asked how I was doing.

“So is this your first time at the Laugh Factory?” he asked. 

“Yes,” I said, practically launching into my life story as a single gal taking some ‘me time,’ and thus treating myself (yes, I said this to the man who played Tom Haverford). I believe he even repeated this signature catchphrase of his to me. 

Ptshewwwwwww. That’s the sound of it flying over my head.

“Oh that’s so great,” he said, getting his friends to acknowledge how awesome it is that I came out alone, to sit first row at my first ever comedy show. 

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He went and saw a movie by himself once, he says, smiling before telling me I’m going to love it here.

Then he drops the first bomb. “This is the place that launched my career,” he says.

And without missing a beat, I ask, “So, you make a pretty good living doing stand-up around here?”

A grin crawling across his face as he looks at me, perhaps wondering if I am serious, he tells me he is an actor.

I think I asked if he did something like theater or extra work.

“Actually, I played a character in this show called Parks and Rec.”

I’m pretty sure I asked how many episodes.

“Well, we just finished our last season, recently.”

Wait for it.

Mortified, I say to this stranger, “Oh, my god. So I should totally know you?”

Chuckling in a gentle disbelief, he handles this like a pro.

“Wow. That’s kind of a strange question I’ve never been asked before. I can’t say that you should know me, but I’m definitely knowable,” says the nicest man in Hollywood, ever, without a trace of malice or ego in his voice.

I explain that I’ve always told my friends and family that if I ran into a celebrity in Hollywood I’d have no clue. I explain that I never thought it would feel quite this humiliating. 

“I mean, I’ve seen the show,” I say, “and I must be way worse with faces and names than I thought, because I just really...” 

I pause. My brain is now screaming at me to shut up. Yet, against its better judgment I continue, “I can’t place you at all.”

I don’t remember his reaction, probably because I was too busy covering my eyes and imagining I was invisible. I do remember that he didn’t seem anything save for amused.

He asked where I was from, which I now identify as trying to figure out if I was from another planet or perhaps lived under a rock. I said Long Beach, so clearly no excuse. We chatted about my friend who is trying to start a career in stand up, about how it’s rough and how he’s been very lucky. 

“So, what’s been your crowning achievement in your career so far?” I ask—a very poor, bland journalist question. 

“Well, I just launched my Netflix special,” he says. Bomb number two deployed. “And it was pretty cool to fill up Madison Square Garden.” Bomb three. Annihilation complete as he concludes calmly, almost chipper. 

Meanwhile, I am again trying to figure how to duck and cover under my chair, saying “wow” over and over. 

“So what do you do?” He asks with legitimate interest in his voice, and an expression almost inviting me to exploit him with more details of my life inappropriate for a casual conversation with someone you’ve never met in your life. I refrain.

When he asks what I am studying and I declare my two majors to be creative writing and journalism, his interest is piqued. 

“Oh! What kind of writing do you want to do when you’re done?” he asks. 

Obviously not entertainment writing.

I explain to Ansari that I want to go into smaller editorial publications. Perhaps one having to do with health and wellness, or since I love children, a parenting magazine. Something like that.

Without a breath, he asks me how I feel about immunizations. “Pro or con?” he asks.

We talked about this, autism, disease control and more. And it is in that moment I found myself thinking “this guy has substance. He’s pretty serious for a comedian.” 

As we move on to other lighter conversation, I discover we are both there to see Dane Cook. If I needed affirmation that I was in good company, this provided it. We trailed back to the subject of Ansari’s Netflix special. 

“It has four and a half stars,” he said. “I’m so excited. I’m like a child. I keep checking every two minutes.” He tells me I should watch it, and I said that I would. I really would. If I knew his name.

So I pull out my phone and looking him square in the face, I warn, “awkward moment,” as if this entire interaction hasn’t been one. “What’s your name?”

“Aziz Ansari.”

“I’m sorry. Can you spell that?”

“Aziz. A.z.i.z. Ansari. A-n.s.a-r-i”

“Cool,” I say. Only I feel not at all cool. I feel almost disrespectful, which is an interesting thing to feel when, if you boil it down, this is just another human being. Further, a gentleman.

We order drinks and as if I am a part of his posse, he cheers me, the lone girl treating herself to a night of comedy. He nudges me throughout the show, commenting on the jokes he finds funniest. Our sides split as we laugh together and cry at the performances of these talented comedians. And suddenly it hits that I do not feel alone.

The thing about Ansari, after having watched his Netflix special, is that the man sitting next to me in the audience is the same as the guy who walked onto the stage of Madison Square Garden to perform in front of 12,000 people. 

Suddenly, it made sense to me that without missing a beat he combined my interest in health and wellness with parenting and brought up immunization as a topic of conversation. This is what the man does. But beyond what he does, it’s who he is—an intelligent, concerned citizen shining light on current and complex issues.

Topics such as the struggles of first generation immigrants are brought up in a way that not only makes us chuckle, but really think about why. There is a discomfort in his material and this is what makes the audience laugh—it’s that form of release and permission to talk about subjects that otherwise may weigh us down. But even in a casual conversation, Ansari is disarming and inviting of all opinions and topics—a welcoming soul.

Later in his special, Ansari addresses disconnection in the dating world. Discussing the use of text messaging as the primary source of communication for many, he pulls a cell phone from an audience member, reading messages that illustrate the way we sound versus the way we actually are. 

The special is one to watch no matter your sense of humor. Beyond theatrics or performance there is a unique type of substance to what Ansari discusses. So whether unfamiliar with him, like me, or a pretty big fan, I highly recommend watching his new special.

Trust me. Treat yourself. And remember to review it. Ansari will be watching, and if you do, he’ll thank his lucky stars.

Contact Guest Contributor Marisa Zocco hereor follow her on Twitter here.



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