The measure of success for comedians, it seems, is performing at New York’s storied Madison Square Garden.
Eddie Murphy did it. So did Louis C.K., Chris Rock and Kevin Hart. But recently, a less familiar name joined the ranks: Aziz Ansari.
Last October, the comedian best known for playing Tom Haverford on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” performed a two-night stand at the venue, which holds about 20,000 people.
“It was pretty amazing,” Ansari said during a telephone interview from New York, where he was ducking into buildings to avoid a blizzard. “It was one of the craziest shows I’ve ever done. I started my career in New York, so it was pretty cool to be able to do that.”
Aziz Ansari Live!
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: Valley View Casino Center, 3500 Sports Arena Blvd., Midway District
Tickets: $41.50 and $51.50 plus fees
Telephone: (888) 929-7849
Though Ansari may not be as mainstream as his Garden counterparts, he does boast a legion of young fans who first saw him on MTV’s 2007-08 sketch show “Human Giant.” He has more than 5 million Twitter followers, and many are up-to-date on his blog and Instagram posts.
He also signed a $3.5 million book deal, and his Madison Square Garden show “Aziz Ansari Live!” will be available on Netflix next month.
“I love performing live - it’s truly my favorite thing to do,” he said. “I know there are people who look down on stand-up and they ask me why I don’t do more movies. But why would I want to do a bad or mediocre movie when I can write my own show, talk about whatever I want, and have fun doing it?”
It’s true, Ansari’s movie credits are few and far between.
He played himself in “This Is the End,” and he had small roles in “Funny People,” “Get Him to the Greek” and “30 Minutes or Less.”
But go on Netflix and you’ll find three hourlong specials: 2013’s “Buried Alive,” 2012’s “Dangerously Delicious” and 2009’s “Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening.”
The comedian, who turns 32 this month, brings his most recent material from “Aziz Ansari Live!” to San Diego this weekend. His performance at Valley View Casino Center - almost 15,000 capacity - focuses on themes that range from pop culture to technology.
But as Ansari transitions from a jumpy millennial spokesman to mature comedy professional, he’s also talking about more controversial subjects.
Ansari has become known for calling out people who are against issues like same-sex marriage and the fair treatment of women.
“I was having dinner with my girlfriend and her friends, and they were talking about how it’s a crazy common thing to be followed by strange dudes on the street,” he said. “Like, creepy men will just follow them. I started talking about it at shows, and it’s interesting because a lot of guys aren’t even aware that this is going on.”
Just last month, Ansari mocked media magnate Rupert Murdoch on Twitter after Murdoch tweeted that the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world should be held accountable for the “growing jihadist cancer.”
“If someone is going to say something racist, I’m going to call them out on it,” said the comedian, who was born into a Muslim Indian family. “The thing is, when someone says something racist, they usually have to apologize and then they have a meeting with Al Sharpton. But there isn’t anyone like that for brown people.”
(After this interview, Ansari nominated himself to be the “brown Al Sharpton” on a “Late Show With David Letterman” appearance.)
Another sign that Ansari is crossing into the comedy elite is that multimillion-dollar book deal with Penguin Press.
But unlike recent memoirs by comedians like Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling and Tina Fey, Ansari’s won’t focus on his own life.
Instead, he’s paired with a sociologist and will tackle the subject of modern romance. He’s writing about the changing landscape of love and includes musings on online dating, texting and questioning the institution of marriage.
“I didn’t want to do a comedy book of essays, because I would just use those stories for stand-up,” he said. “I actually went out and interviewed all these smart academics and anthropologists and I learned so much. Right now I’m putting it all together and trying to make it funny. I think it’s going to be pretty unique.”
Some of those modern love topics will be discussed at the San Diego show.
Ansari is also touring with a massive screen that hangs directly behind him as he performs because he’s learned that it’s not easy holding people’s attention in arenas.
“When you play these big theaters and festivals, there are screens on the right and left and I always get distracted by all these people looking off to the side,” he said. “So I have a giant screen right behind me that keeps the show more focused. Plus it looks cooler.”
Did you know?
Though Aziz Ansari is finished shooting “Parks and Recreation,” he says the cast members still stay in touch via a big text group.