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Throughout my life, even though we’ve never met, Aziz Ansari has consistently beaten me to the punch. It’s becoming a theme. A sometimes very annoying theme. Although, for various reasons I’ll discuss below, I do believe he has been the most important Indian Comedy Actor in the past 10 years.

In his new series on Netflix, Master of None, Aziz Ansari says “There can only be two,” referring to the idea that there can only ever be 2 Indians in one show at any point, max. Studio Executives and Networks are afraid to put any more than that, and they’re afraid most of the time, to even put one on.

I remember when I started doing stand-up in New York City in 2003, and after watching me, a fellow comic asked me “Oh, do you know Aziz Ansari? He’s an young Indian stand up as well.” Aziz was another comedian starting out in NYC at the same time as me. But even then, in 2003… in one of the biggest cities in the world, I got the feeling, “Wow, it’s like there’s only two of us.”

———————-

I love acting. Since I was a kid, it was the only thing I ever wanted to do in my life. I was good at it too. I won theatre awards in Middle School, High School, and University. It was my dream and I was determined to make it happen.

But, as an Indian guy with a British passport and an American accent due to growing up abroad, it’s been somewhat of an impossible dream living here in London. Not just because of my lack of talent with accents, but with the inherent racism that seems to quietly exist within the entertainment industry here.

The great myth I had, when I started stand-up, was that doing stand-up would lead to comedy acting. It was the only reason I was determined to compete in U.K. stand-up competitions like the Amused Moose or Jongleurs, and try and win them, which I did. And it was the only reason I continued to grind away on the circuit for 8 years, day in and day out, and do stand-up spots on TV, with the tiny hope that I would get the opportunity to act in something, which would then lead to something else. But I never enjoyed stand-up, and I did it for no other reason than I thought it would potentially guide me back to acting.

But the reality is, stand-up is not the TV or Film industry. Stand-up is a meritocracy. If you work your ass off, the best comics will, for the most part, rise. You can command audiences to come see you. And these audiences will pay regardless of your race or gender or ethnicity. They just want funny.

The same is not true in TV or Film. Stand-up was always a means to an end for me. The problem, I discovered, is that the “end”, does not exist.

In Britain, the below is the essence of every conversation I’ve ever had with a Producer or Agent or Director:

Them: We can’t cast you because of your accent.

Me: Why?

Them: Well, we’re looking for someone from London.

Me: But I live in London. I’ve lived here for over 10 years.

Them: I know. But we’re looking for someone English.

Me: I am English. I’ve lived here for 16 years of my life. I was born here.

Them: I know, but English English.

Me: What’s that mean?

Them: Someone with an English accent.

Me: Why?

Them: Because… uhhh.

END SCENE.

This has been my life as an British-Asian-American Accent actor in London for the past 11 years. There-just-aren’t-any-roles.

Of the roles on my acting showreel (Found here: https://vimeo.com/135233056), about 85% of them have come from friends and performers essentially writing parts for me: Dan Clark, Julia Davis, Noel Fielding, etc., all wrote parts specifically with me in mind. Only two roles I’ve ever gotten in 11 years have come from auditioning. One was an ITV2 series called Trinity, in which I played a University student, and the other was a BBC3 pilot called UP!, in which I played, yes, a University student. It is as though the only possible scenarios in Britain to have an American or Asian in a show is if it’s set at university or school. It’s frankly, insane.

I’m not even talking about Asians either. I’m talking about how parochially BRITISH shows are in Britain. If you were to watch English comedies, you would get the sense that there are absolutely no American or foreign people here at all.

Catastrophe, starring Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan, is one of the first comedies I’ve seen in the U.K. that stars an American. The Mighty Boosh, with Rich Fulcher, is the only other one in the past 11 years I’ve seen since living here. 11 years. 2 Americans in comedies. It’s shocking.

I remember being in a meeting at the BBC about an Australian female comic. They said it was hard to have her be a lead, however, because she was Australian, and British audiences wouldn’t understand how she ended up in London. My heart sank. What in God’s name were they talking about?!? We live in LONDON. A capital of the world. People from all over the world move here and live here. Why would an audience find it odd to have an Australian lead? It’s mind boggling.

As Aziz states in his brilliant article (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/15/arts/television/aziz-ansari-on-acting-race-and-hollywood.html?emc=eta1&_r=0), what we see on TV isn’t representative of the diversity we see in life. We don’t live in a closed world anymore. People move around. People have weird accents. People have weird names and looks. And here’s the thing: it’s not that important. In fact, it’s the least interesting thing about that person.

Kal Penn (from Harold and Kumar fame) has talked extensively about how he had to change and aglicize his name because he wasn’t getting any auditions with his real name, Kalpen Suresh Modi. After he changed it, his job offers escalated by 50% because Casting Directors couldn’t tell he was Indian from his name anymore.

Arj Barker (from Flight of the Conchords), another one of my favourite comedians of all time, also changed his name from Arjun Singh.

Why is this necessary? Why does this keep happening?

It is why I admire Aziz Ansari so much. In 2003, in New York City, you did not want a name like “Aziz Ansari.” It was still post 9/11, and the comedy climate was not good. People were still on edge, and walking on stage with a name like Aziz could not have been easy. I know that walking on stage with a name like Arnab wasn’t easy. People judged. Quick.

But he never changed his name, and he hustled. He started doing his own shows at UCB, made one of the best sketch shows I’ve ever seen in my life for MTV (Human Giant), and played Tom Haverford in Parks and Recreation. Tom Haverford. He beat a whole bunch of white dudes to land that role. He’s the man.

———————————-

As much as I support and appreciate the female fight for wage parity in Hollywood, a really awful and selfish part of me always thinks “At least you have a wage battle you can wage! We can’t even audition for any roles!”

I’m not asking anyone for anything. I’ve learned in this life that you have to hustle and bust your ass to get anything. You have to write your own scripts and make your own things. I’ve also worked in Advertising, TV writing, and as a Producer just to make a living, because I couldn’t make a living doing what I wanted to do. Not everyone in life can do what they want. Life is not fair, and I’m not going to cry about it. And there are obviously much worse off people than me in the world. But, one of the main problems for me, and for other Asian actors, is that we can’t get breaks in our careers, because there are none to be had.

There’s a problem with the industry, and it has to change. It starts with Commissioners, and it works it’s way down to Producers and Directors and Writers. It’s a group effort, but when you see shows like Master of None or BBC3’s Romesh Ranganathan: Asian Provocateur, you genuinely realize we’re neglecting a lot of interesting voices out there.

I recently wrote a comedy pilot called “International Boy” which was exactly about all the above themes that I’ve had to deal with in my life. It was a personal script about the complicated times in which we live, and how one can’t seem to be accepted because they’re just too many things. Aziz Ansari might have beaten me to the punch again about this, but that’s ok. Someone needs to get the message out there that things need to change, and he has the smarts and hustle to do it.

Arnab Chanda is a BBC Radio Comedy Producer, Writer, & Actor.
Follow Arnab on Twitter! @arnabacus
Check out his Website: http://www.arnabchanda.com 

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116 thoughts on “Why Aziz Ansari Has Destroyed My Chances, And Why He Is So So Important:

  1. That’s horrible! I’m so sorry. I don’t what I would do if my dream would be destroyed. But never give. Everybody is born for something. So don’t stop trying to get a role!

  2. Did you give a try to British accent in 11 years? AFAIK you can hire vocal trainer to learn it quickly. May be that could increase your chances. And here is some motivation . The message is loud & clear. Best of luck for future.

    • I was going to write just that! But on the other hand, can accent interfere with one’s sense of identity? Can a person actually belong speaking in an accent he doesn’t feel like he belongs with? I don’t know! Good luck anyways! 🙂

  3. Hilarious video. I wish you the best. Aziz has given us all and education. I hope you continue on that theme. Very talented.

  4. I have a feeling audiences may be several well ahead of producers on this. Ordinary people are going to know from their own lives that we’re living in a great big, exciting, multi-cultural, multi-accented world.

  5. Have you considered Broadway I know it wont fix the situation but it will give you an outlet for more exposure. Only thing I can suggest is getting in touch with whoever handles Comedy. specials on HBO and try to get in on or pitch some idea about a diverse comedian special you can be a part of. Sometimes if you posess that raw talent it has the ability to cut 1through those obsticles itself but just keep grinding i will be that ways

  6. That was a great 10 minutes, I agree with you totally, it’s not just theatre and cinema, it’s hard to live a life in those conditions, people always have some negative in their mind,I guess it’s human nature to blame off.

  7. Really great article. The representation of minorities in the media has been constantly ailing me recently. In a sea of Atlanta Housewives and one dimensional foreign exchange student character archetypes, I’m struggling to find characters that represent me and my friends, and maybe thats why millenials have stopped flocking to primetime channels

  8. I think you’re missing the point if you think he has to change his accent or speech to be successful. That’s just an excuse people give so as not to take the chance on the unknown. And in regards to the British sentiment and not wanting people with funny accents/looks, the show maybe filled in London or about London, but middle England won’t watch it unless it is something familiar to them. London is a completely different place to the rest of England and that goes for all regions outside of city areas. Otherwise persevere, we give up and there’s nothing at all.

  9. I think you’re absolutely amazing and I just stumbled across you today but you’re hilarious and so what if you have an American accent?! You’re so very talented! And not just when you’re acting but you write so well. It just flows!

  10. Great article, as an Indian American woman / overall human being, I totally agree with the lack of REAL diversity in tv and film. It’s strange that executives believe that audiences are too clueless to understand that people move ha.

    I’m not entirely sure if I agree that stand up is a meritocracy though… I think women have a more difficult time breaking into the standup scene even if they have the same type of material as a male comic. Audiences/industry peeps in general seem to be quicker to accept male comedians as funny. And to get a comedic role in a film or tv show as a female is very limited as well – esp since the roles are typically for love interests :/ It’s strange how being any different from the straight, white male with the “correct” accent can prevent someone from being seen in media. Though I suppose that’s been done even in politics and beyond. *sigh*

  11. Cue the O’Jays, Money, money, money, money. TV and film producers think white men are their target audience. They want to keep their interest and not offend them. Lots of T and A and guys who look like them. Get your own funding and network. Then you can hire whom ever you want. Think BET.

  12. I’m appalled to hear about this hope for the best. Aziz can’t take everything just keep thinking creatively. If it makes you feel better I’ve been in that kind of rut many times when thinking of electronics. I just got done with a patent tonight and I’m hoping no one has the idea. Keep working, I promise you it is across the board and unfortunately it is a way of life.

  13. You need to seek for roles in American film industry. I’m sorry to say, but if it’s that hard in the UK you might as well try here in America. I’m also an actress ( theater actress currently in hiatus due to motherhood) but I’m originally from Peru and I also have an accent as well. It’s hard for any accent here to be honest. But you have that down. You already have the American accent. So , use it to your advantage. Good luck!

  14. Great article. Hollywood is run by white men clearly aware of their agenda. I would imagine that they travel in between casting the same people for the same roles and glimpse the world in all its full color. Pun running amuck. Until that power structure changes not much else ever will. Oh sure every now and then attention is given to a nonwhite actor in one of the many homogeneous roles. But that is clear cut marketing in terms of advertising dollars. When Hollywood begins to view other qualified actors outside the parameters of cultural celebrations and display, then and only then will we see the world that “we see” truly depicted.

  15. Oh God, I am so sorry for what happened to you. It’s horrible and no one should go through it.

    I always used to think that the key to success is hard work. But I guess for an industry like yours, luck does seem to play a role.

    No matter what, keep working hard. 11 years is a long time of hard work. I believe in you and that your break will come soon one day!

    All the best 🙂

  16. Do people not understand the meaning of minority? Why would the tv/movie industry cast a bunch of minorities and show that to the majority? It wouldn’t sell. They are smarter than that. People want to relate to the character. You pulling out the race card just sounds like entitlement to me. “They have something I dont. Its my right to have it also.” And by the way I am an American and a minority and I thought your acting was good. Now quit being a cry baby and go get what you want.

  17. Reblogged this on Dolly Dastardly and commented:
    This was a really interesting read. Love Aziz Ansari to bits, and this was a fascinating perspective on what Asian actors have to go through in order to get roles. It’s terrible to think that your chances can be diminished, purely because you lack a “normal” (meaning “Anglophone” surname).

  18. I find this post quite interesting. It goes to show that people can have particular roles in life because of their talents. I have personally seen Aziz. He’s silly and I mean over the top. I don’t really know where he falls on my list though. Whether or not he’s my top comedian or at the top of the list,

  19. Really nice post. If I can say, you will have to be the change rather than wait for change to happen. Discrimination has deep roots. As a 56 year old gay man, I’ve learned I could build the awareness of diversity and acceptance by living my life as the example; to move the cause forward. It was not always easy or safe. And this may be the beginning of a wave you are creating that has not crested yet. You sound like you are doing just that and I believe you will make it happen. Be positive. Be strong. Be patient.

  20. I just wish people were looking at celebrities as people and not
    By race! I want to talk about aZiz ansari without talking now about mindy in the same sentence. I want to talk about how brilliant they were instead of “hey yeah! He was brilliant but let’s talk about the other Indian as well” I wish you all the best, and hopefully you shine through all the negativity in media industry

  21. I feel very much for your plight. It is terribly unfair. You express yourself eloquently and thoughtfully. As a woman of color, however, the line about women stung deeply. There is always someone who has it worse than you, my dear. Please remember, we are not the enemy. Our struggle against inequality is yours too. At least you at acknowledge that it is horrible you feel that way.

  22. I remember in the Brit sitcom, As Time Goes By, they had several characters that were supposed to be American. Their accents were horrible and their portrayals of Americans were really “off.” My guess is that your acting career might do better in LA than in London. But learning to do accents by hiring a vocal coach will give you more flexibility, which is important when you’re an actor.

  23. As an Indian-American woman, I’m a writer and it’s a white world especially when it comes to literary fiction. I’m tired of the pressure to pander. With acting, I rarely see Indian women but if I do, Indian women are portrayed as victims of a traditional culture. I’m sick of how people want to keep thinking that Indians don’t evolve and there are liberal Indians out there.

  24. Pingback: Why Aziz Ansari Has Destroyed My Chances, And Why He Is So So Important: – Doctrine Dominatrix

  25. Pingback: Why Aziz Ansari Has Destroyed My Chances, And Why He Is So So Important: | The Adventures of the Average American

  26. Awesome article. I usually have the attention span of a goldfish but I read all the way to the end on this. Only one question, you seem to already be in with the job as a producer at BBC? Either way good post.

  27. Reblogged this on JERI DUATI and commented:
    Great Article. I never really thought about any of this before. I guess we all tend to focus on our own struggles, mine being those of a Black-African-Woman.

  28. Write your own show, then gather some friends, film it and put it up on YouTube. Keep making new content and create your own following there. Don’t wait for some Hollywood dude to notice you. Create diversity and multiculturalism where you are with the resources you have. You are a talented guy! Keep up the hustle and disseminate the multicultural discourse. Society must change to include everyone because we live in a connected globalize world.

  29. Reblogged this on boonyeegeronimo and commented:
    I know how Chanda feels because I too was in the same shoes as he is right now. But blaming others as a stumbling block for eventual success or breakthrough is not going to alleviate matters.On the contrary, it has turned you into a hideous green eyed Monster unappreciative of others who hold the upper hand either because of sheer diligence to succeed or improve or because of perceptive foresight to grab every available opportunity.

    Those who attained eventual stardom or success often vouch or swear that they make it due to painstaking hard work that often more than not defies the basis of reason or reasoning.

  30. Really enlightening! I love Aziz. You’re right…he’s FUNNY. London (for instance) is very cosmopolitan, but the shows are certainly very non-cosmopolitan.

  31. Yes, Aziz Ansari is indeed a great actor. I see the master of none regularly. He has climbed the ladder with difficulty, and I salute him for that. You also do not let it go but keep trying.

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