Pet peeves about pasta

Master Of None's Aziz Ansari is critical about what makes the perfect Italian staple, having spent months working at restaurants in the country

Aziz Ansari (above) plays a New York actor in Master Of None (also starring Alessandra Mastronardi).
Aziz Ansari (above) plays a New York actor in Master Of None (also starring Alessandra Mastronardi).PHOTO: NYTIMES
Aziz Ansari plays a New York actor in Master Of None (above, also starring Alessandra Mastronardi).
Aziz Ansari plays a New York actor in Master Of None (above, also starring Alessandra Mastronardi).PHOTO: NETFLIX

NEW YORK • Do not invite Aziz Ansari to an Italian restaurant.

Having spent several months in Italy last year working in restaurants, the comedian, co-creator and star of Netflix series Master Of None is "hypercritical", he said, about what makes the perfect pasta.

Ansari's pasta-making stint - at restaurants including the tiny Hosteria Giusti in Modena - tied into Master Of None, whose first season ended with his character, Dev, jetting off to Italy on a pastamaking journey of his own.

Which came first, the storyline or Ansari's obsession?

"I secretly knew that if I wrote a story in which my character lives in a small town and learns to make pasta, I could go to a small town in Italy and justify it as research," he said.

Season 2, released last Friday, starts in Modena, where Dev is hand-rolling tortellini and having adventures.

Ansari, 34, has been a master of many pursuits - he is co-author of a best-selling book, Modern Romance, about love in the Internet age, sold out Madison Square Garden for his stand-up tour and has emerged as a thoughtful voice for South Asian artists and Muslim families.

He delivered a moment-defining monologue, hosting Saturday Night Live (SNL) the day after Mr Donald Trump's inauguration as president of the United States.

Ansari's immigrant family has been a secret weapon. His parents play scene-stealing versions of themselves on the show and his younger brother, Aniz, is a writer.

The series is personal, so do not expect Season 3 any time soon.

"I have to live my life and have some stuff happen," Ansari said by phone from Los Angeles.

These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Your Italian on the show is pretty good. Did you pick it up easily?

I did three weeks of lessons. I realised I waste so much time on the Internet that if I didn't, I could speak every language fluently.

Was the trip to Italy life-changing?

It was. I had always been scared of the idea of going to some place by myself and not knowing anyone.

How many more years of my life am I going to have where I don't have anything that keeps me tied down? I just want to explore living in these places. It helps me creatively.

You always hear that people come up with ideas in the shower - when I live in these places, it's like living my whole life in the shower.

Did it also help you disengage from social media?

When I'm shooting the show, I give my phone to my assistant. I feel it's a life-sucking force.

You read about director Christopher Nolan - he doesn't have a phone and it seems to work out for him. I saw him once and I didn't ask about Batman (Nolan directed The Dark Knight trilogy).

I asked him how it works out for him. His wife said he doesn't have a phone - but I do.

So, that's the secret: Fall in love with someone who has a phone.

How did you prepare for the SNL monologue?

I didn't go anywhere for Christmas. I just went to New York club Comedy Cellar every day.

I would do eight, nine shows a night. The mood after the election just kept changing. The monologue kept changing, even between the rehearsal and the show.

It was a lot of pressure to have on set. That's why I worked so hard on it. I think I pulled it off.

How do you feel now as an artist in the Trump era?

I have Trump fatigue. It becomes repetitive: He said this crazy thing and he didn't apologise.

You realise you don't know if this is news anymore. It's more like reading soap opera rumours.

Master Of None was an immediate critical success. What did you want to do differently this time?

Netflix wanted me to go back right away and I said we needed a break. I dumped all my ideas in the first season.

Co-creator Alan Yang and I asked ourselves which episodes we felt best about in Season 1. It was probably Parents (about being children of immigrants, which won an Emmy for its writing) and Mornings (about relationships).

We wanted all the episodes of Season 2 to have that level of ambition.

One thing you tackle is religion and being a lapsed Muslim.

I thought about doing an episode in which the humour is all based on this religion.

Larry David and Woody Allen would do Jewish humour. I've never seen that with Islam.

There are things that made me laugh with my family, where it's someone pretending to be more pious than he is - it felt like something we hadn't seen before.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 15, 2017, with the headline 'Pet peeves about pasta'. Subscribe