“Aziz Ansari Is Everywhere”

By James Yeh, originally published in VICE Magazine (2015)

Illustration by Elizabeth Renstrom / courtesy of Netflix

Sometime around 2008, the website began redirecting to the more straight-ahead Old website names can tell you something about their creators, in this case, actor and comedian Aziz Ansari. When was first purchased, in 2005, Ansari was finishing up a marketing degree at NYU, hitting up open mics and comedy nights around the city. Since then, he's become one of America's most popular stand-ups and distinctive comedic actors, selling out national tours and starring alongside Amy Poehler for seven seasons on the hit TV show Parks and Recreation. Since this time last year, Ansari has published Modern Romance, an engaging and unexpectedly research-driven pop-psychology book on relationships in the digital age; sold out Madison Square Garden twice in the same night; toured with Amy Schumer; and, not least of all, created and starred in a new show, Master of None, which debuted ten episodes in November to wide acclaim and a slew of media coverage, from Fresh Air to Fallon. These days, it seems safe to assume, the prolific 32-year-old has been less bored. Aziz Is Really Busy would seem more like it.

A few days before the show's release, I met Ansari for lunch at an upscale bagel spot in SoHo, where the hostesses and server greeted him with familiarity (whether it was as a celebrity or a regular customer was hard to say). Although he now lives in Manhattan—and has on and off since enrolling at NYU in 2001—a lot is made of Ansari's being a native son of South Carolina, where I was born and raised, also by Asian immigrant parents. I wanted to know what his experience of growing up in Bennettsville, a town of 9,000 with an Asian population of less than 0.5 percent, was like.

"It was weird," he said, "but it was one of those things where I'd never lived anywhere else or had a frame of reference to know it was weird at the time. I was the only minority; it was only white kids in my school. People always ask me, like, 'Were people racist?' And I'm like, 'No, not really.' I mean, occasionally, but it was never super mean, not as mean as, like, other crazy stories I've heard from friends."

This wasn't the answer I had expected, given my own experience of small-town South Carolina, which I found to be a fairly antagonistic place, more in line with the nuanced if blunt observations to be found in Ansari's act, when he describes the state as a crossroads between racism and good biscuits.

Read more in VICE Magazine.