In Netflix’s new original comedy series “Master of None,” Aziz Ansari forgoes the eccentric, ethnic stereotype supporting roles he’s often handed and makes history by becoming television’s first Indian-American male actor to play a romantic lead and be the center of his own show. The “Parks and Recreation” alum stars, writes and directs the semi-autobiographical series about a New York actor who is struggling to find good roles while dealing with sex, the hardships of dating and racism.
“It’s really cool,” Ansari, 32, told Variety about shattering the glass ceiling at the show’s premiere in New York City Thursday evening at the AMC Loews 19th Street East Theater. “I just hope people realize by watching ‘Master of None‘ that the every man isn’t a straight white guy. In most TV shows and in film, when you see the everyman, it’s always a straight white guy. In reality, the everyman is everybody. Everybody has an interesting, compelling narrative no matter their background, ethnicity, sexuality, gender. I wanted to represent that perspective in our show.”
Ansari co-created and co-wrote the show, which is available to stream on Netflix on Nov. 6, with former “Parks” writer Alan Yang. The collaboration between the best friends began over two years ago when Ansari decided to create his own projects due to the lack of substantial work.
“I would have never gotten a role like this if I did not come up with it on my own,” said Ansari, a South Carolina native. “Normally no one would have sent me a rich script as this. They would have sent me stuff that’s versions of things I’ve done in the past or playing a guy with an Indian accent. It’s really hard for minority actors to get roles in Hollywood. I think as more and more creators from diverse backgrounds come together, things can change.”
The half-hour, 10-episode first season of “Master of None” addresses topics such as gender issues, racism, stereotypes and growing up as a first-generation American from immigrant families. Yang promises there is no other show like theirs.
“Our show is very personal and shows different perspectives that we haven’t seen on TV before,” he said. “Part of it is the ambition in the format. We have one episode that lasts for a year. We have an episode that addresses what it’s like to be Indian or Asian on TV. We haven’t seen that in a lot of episodes on other shows. We didn’t want the show to be preachy or an op ed. We wanted the show to be fun and entertaining and tell a good story. When people talk in real life, they do talk about sex, race and other issues. So if it comes up, it comes up. It’s sort of a tightrope walk. We don’t know if we are going to succeed, but we feel like it’s worth trying.”
“It’s been a crazy week for us seeing all the good reviews,” Ansari told the crowd at the screening. “It’s really cool and since there are no ratings on Netflix, I feel like we are done and f— everybody, we won!”
Following the screening, cast members Lena Waithe, Noël Wells, Kelvin Yu and Eric Wareheim joined Ansari and Yang at the Top of the Standard Hotel’s swanky lounge for drinks and passed hors d’oeuvres that included hamburger sliders, crab spring rolls and mini fish tacos. Ansari greeted guests and spent most of the evening enjoying the sweeping Manhattan skyline from his VIP table with his brother, Aniz Ansari, and his parents, who both act in the show. Ansari hired his real-life folks to play his TV parents. “It was fantastic and a very surreal experience to have my parents be in the show,” he said. “My parents have never acted before and now my dad wants to work more and do commercials. He’s like, ‘We have to find the next project for me.’ He’s psyched. They know what it’s like to be an actor and how tiring it is. They were like, “Wow, so this is why you don’t call us when you get home.”