By episode two of this winter’s most talked-about new Netflix series, Master of None, it’s clear that acting talent runs in co-creator and star Aziz Ansari’s family. His parents, Dr. Shoukath and Fatima Ansari, play his character’s parents on the show, and acquit themselves admirably. What’s less obvious from watching, however, is that the show also proves writing talent runs in the family. Aziz’s 25-year-old brother, Aniz Adam Ansari, was one of the writers on the series. It was his first job working in television.
“Alan Yang emailed me after Aziz and him sold the show, and they told me to quit my job and come help them do that,” Aniz tells CoCreate. “It wasn’t a hard decision to make.”
As happy as Ansari the Younger is about making his comedy bones working on Master Of None, it’s not the culmination of an elaborate master plan to become a TV writer. Rather, Aniz arrived at this point by taking the scenic route–exploring his interest in comic books and hip-hop, and gradually discovering over time that he might indeed have what it takes to be his family’s second professionally funny person.
When he was attending high school in South Carolina, Aniz was unsure what he wanted to do after graduation, beyond the vague desire to make comic books. Like many other kids, he had a cool art teacher who nurtured this ambition and convinced him to go to college for graphic design and do his own writing on the side. Unlike many other kids, Aniz was also regularly traveling up to New York to visit a brother on the cusp of being legit-famous, and hanging out with friends like Nick Kroll before they had TV shows with their names in the title. Both experiences proved formative.
“I love writing, but I never really had an interest to do comedy,” Aniz says. “I’m more interested in dramatic narrative. But in just hanging out and writing in email threads, making people laugh who were in that world, it made me see, like, ‘Oh, okay, I guess I’m kinda funny.’”
It turned out Aniz hated graphic design, but through taking classes in that field, he stumbled into the fine arts program at The Savannah College of Art and Design, and earned a degree in photography. Throughout college, he spent a lot of time riding around Atlanta taking photos and experimenting with surreal imagery. He also formed a relationship with a hip-hop promoter who started inviting Aniz to come shoot the acts at his shows. Meanwhile, he was still interested in pursuing a career in comic books, and found a hot lead in that world through an unlikely source: Andy Samberg.
It started with one of Aniz’s first times visiting his brother in LA. After having dinner with Aziz and Samberg, the Brooklyn Nine-Nine star introduced the younger Ansari to a movie producer friend who was a fellow aficionado of comic books and hip-hop. Aniz ended up interning for this friend’s production company, his first exposure to how Hollywood and TV development works. Samberg was also helpful in providing connections through Warner Brothers to DC Comics, where Aniz eventually landed a job.
It was also in emails with Samberg and his cohorts in the comedy collective, The Lonely Island, that Aniz’s sharp sense of humor found a worthy source of inspiration. He’d begun an epic email chain about actor/singer/philanthropist Tyrese Gibson, who goes by the inexplicable Twitter handle, VisionImplementer. Aniz wrote long, detailed analyses of what Gibson chose to do with his money–building a giant replica of a Benihana in his backyard, for instance, which he actually dubbed Gibsihana. Samberg and The Lonely Island crew couldn’t get enough.
“Andy was one of the guys who told Aziz and also told me that I should just start writing because I’m wasting my time doing all these Tyrese emails and I should probably do something a little more constructive with it,” Aniz says. “But I am not opposed to still writing about Tyrese, and if Tyrese ends up reading this–if he wants to reach out to me to write stuff for him–I’d love to connect and go to his home in the Valley and eat at his Benihana.”
Tyrese emails aide, Aniz spent his first year and a half in LA working at DC Comics as an editor of a special projects division that did digital comics and licensed titles like Scooby Doo and He-Man, but also working with the editors who handle the more prestige properties like Batman. It was a formal education in putting stories and dramatic arcs together, although he didn’t ended up sticking around as long as he thought he might. The idea was always to do the job for a number of years, until he found an opportunity that would allow him to pursue writing full time. It just happened a lot sooner than he’d anticipated.
“I was always aware of the project that became Master Of None,” Aniz says. “Aziz had approached me at a certain point, like, ‘Hey, if we sell this show, would you want to come write?’ And I said, ‘Fuck it, I might as well.’ So then once it was sold, I kind of started making the preparations to leave my job and get ready to jump into that whole scenario.”
Having experience in the comic book world made Aniz feel confident with story elements right away, even though he was entering a completely different world. Being surrounded in the writers room with friends and colleagues of Aziz who’d long since become his own friends, like Alan Yang, Joe Mande, and the late Harris Wittels, also made him comfortable. When the team was first breaking stories, Aniz made it a point to hang back, watch, and understand things before chipping in his two cents. As they really got into it, though, he started shouting out any ridiculous thing that came to mind and calibrating what worked and what did not.
“If I was going to write for some other TV show, there would’ve probably been that normal new job feeling, but the writers we worked with were mostly friends of mine,” Aniz says. “So we ended up writing a lot at Aziz’s house while he and Alan were sorting out office stuff, and sometimes it felt like we were just hanging out and shooting the shit and pitching jokes.”
One of the novice TV writer’s best experiences on the show was working with his friend, writer/director Jason Woliner, who pitched in eventually. Woliner and Aniz paired up to do a big joke-pass on all the lines spoken by Eric Wareheim’s character, Arnold, throughout the show. Previously, some of Aniz’s ideas had been shot down for being funny but too weird. However, Woliner operates with a similar energy, and Arnold is perhaps the weirdest character on the show. Together, the two ensured that quotable lines like ‘She’s vibin’ on those slips, brah’ made it into the script.
“Aziz really wanted it to not be so heavy with jokes. He really wanted it to have this dramatic through line but I would keep trying to push sillier stuff or weirder stuff to kind of keep a balance,” Aniz says. “And I think what Alan and Aziz landed on, in terms of the tone, ended up being this really cool hybrid of both.”
Writing on Master Of None commenced in October 2014 and finished the following April. The show was shot in New York almost immediately afterward, and it premiered on Netflix in November. It was a whirlwind process that ended with instant, overwhelmingly positive feedback, and Aniz watching people quoting on Twitter jokes that he had written. There was a certain fan-experience on Twitter that proved more gratifying than most, though.
“One of my favorite scenes in the show was when Dev [Aziz’s character] and Arnold are deciding where to get tacos,” Aniz says. “It kind of jumped around through various episodes until it ended up in the finale. There’s a joke where the taco guy is listening to a wrestling podcast, which is something Aziz wanted to put in because I’m a huge pro wrestling fan and I’m always listening to wrestling podcasts. Then I wrote this joke about Dev listening to this specific podcast with this wrestler, CM Punk, who is one of my favorite wrestlers and who’s kind of a personal hero to me from when I was in high school. So it was crazy that, A) I was able to sneak that joke in, and then, B) that CM Punk saw the show and tweeted about liking the line. It was just a surreal experience.”
As Aniz prepares to start his next job TV writing job, which he is not currently at liberty to discuss, all that’s left is for Tyrese Gibson to give him a call about hanging out at Gibsihana. Your move, Tyrese.