Aziz Ansari made history as the first Asian-American to win the Golden Globes, for none other than Best Actor in a Television Series Musical or Comedy. This award was given in honour of his performance in the Netflix series, Master of None. In the show, Ansari plays actor Dev Shah, who tries to make it big as a stand-up comedian in the city.
Not only is Anzari the first Asian-American to win the award, but also the first Indian-American to do so.
Born into a Muslim family from Tamil Nadu, Aziz Ismail Ansari grew up in Bennettsville in South Carolina. His parents immigrated from India in the early ’80s and worked in the field of medicine.
His father, Dr Shoukath Ansari, is a practising gastroenterologist who earned his medical degree from Tirunelveli Medical College in India. His mother, Fatima, works with his father at a medical clinic they run together (Sandhills Endoscopy Centre).
From an early age, Ansari was interested in performing arts and even took dance classes as a young boy.
At the same time, he ensured that his grades remained above the benchmark required for attending the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics, a state-run boarding school for gifted students.
“To meet so many kids from different backgrounds with different ideas and interests, it really influenced me,” he later told Charleston City Paper , recalling his years at the Governor’s School.
After completing his schooling, Ansari graduated from the prestigious Stern School of Business (under New York University) with a major in Marketing. It was during these years in college that he found himself drawn towards the impromptu comedy sessions organised by a fun-loving bunch of classmates.
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Ansari attended his first stand-up show at the Comedy Cellar in Greenwich Village. Inspired by what he experienced, he started doing open mics at local clubs while still a student.
He often spent his weekends at Times Square, distributing flyers about his shows to tourists.
In 2005, 22-year-old Ansari got his first major gig — hosting Crash Test (a late-night live show featuring rising alternative comedians) on Monday nights at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade (UCB) Theatre. All this while, he continued working at a day job in an internet marketing company to manage his living expenses.
Ansari’s efforts paid off when his quirkily titled experiments with stand-up comedy at the UCB Theatre (Aziz Ansari Punched a Wall, Aziz Ansari Hates Driving etc.) caught the attention of people in the right places.
Soon, the young comedian was featuring in roles — both big and small — in movies (like 30 Minutes or Less) and popular sitcoms like Cheap Seats and Flight of the Conchords. Ansari also teamed up with fellow comedians Rob Huebel, Paul Scheer, and filmmaker Jason Woliner to produce comedy shorts (or internet videos) and a uniquely unpredictable sketch show called Human Giant that guaranteed giggles galore for the audience.
In 2006, Ansari won the Jury Award for Best Stand-Up at HBO’s U.S. Comedy Arts Festival. This proved to be a turning in his life as his show, Human Giant, was picked up by MTV next year. Soon after, the quartet of Ansari, Huebel, Scheer and Woliner got their first big viral hit in “Shutterbugs“, an episode that revolved around a talent agency for children.
For Ansari, there was no looking back after that. His role as Tom Haverford (a fashion-focused, status-conscious underling) on the show, Parks and Recreation, became an instant favourite with the audience, with websites being devoted solely to his spectacular catch phrases on the show.
Over the next few years, he continued to do stand-up while focusing on subjects that were less trivial and more nuanced (e.g. immigration, racism and dating in the modern world). This was also the time when he co-authored a book with sociologist Eric Klinenberg, Modern Romance: An Investigation, that debuted on the New York Times’ best-seller list.
Thanks to the book’s enormous success, in 2015, Ansari made his debut (at No. 6) on Forbes’s list of the highest-paid comedians in the world. The same year, his new series (co-created with writer Alan Yang), Master of None, debuted on Netflix. The ‘dramedy’ series followed the story of an Indian actor Dev Shah (played by Ansari) attempting to make it in NYC.
Interestingly, Dev’s goofy parents on the show were played endearingly by Ansari’s birth parents, Shoukath and Fatima!
The series — which the New York Times called “the year’s best comedy straight out of the gate” — was hilarious yet grounded, philosophical yet relatable. Modeled on Ansari’s own life and experiences, the show’s story highlighted issues such as the subtle forms of racial prejudice in everyday life, the lack of opportunities for minority actors and the annoyingly exaggerated ‘Indianised’ accent expected from Indian actors.
While Master of None’s first season depicted the immigrant take on city life, its much-anticipated second season featured more cultural touchstones for first-generation Americans raised by immigrant families.
The sitcom’s unique worldview was never more apparent than in the episode ‘Religion’ that was inspired by Ansari’s real-life childhood memory of eating bacon at a friend’s house and receiving a scolding from devout Muslim parents.
Having successfully transitioned from a stand-up comedian into a serious power player in showbiz, Aziz Ansari has recast the idea of what a leading man should be.
His passion for using well-tailored, side-splitting references to highlight social issues is also why the impact of his work extends well beyond his television persona.
Just how much can be seen from the fact that Ansari made pop culture history with his powerful monologue as the host of Saturday Night Live (one of the world’s most popular shows) in January 2017. A Muslim American of Indian origin and the first South Asian to host the iconic show, Ansari used the platform to speak out against casual racism just a day after a man who wanted to ban Muslims from entering the country became the President of USA. In the history of comedy, there are very few performances that have left as distinctive an impact as this one.