If you’ve watched Aziz Ansari’s early stand-up specials or read his pioneering Tumblr blog AzizIsBored from 2009, you probably know and love a recurring character he calls “my chubby cousin Harris.” What you may not have noticed, though, is that that same cousin, Harris Gani — now all grown up and not chubby at all — plays Navid, the Muslim cousin Dev takes to a Brooklyn barbecue festival for copious pork-eating, during Ramadan fasting no less, in the “Religion” episode of Master of None season two. “That’s a little Easter egg for people who’ve followed Aziz’s stand-up for a while,” says MON co-creator Alan Yang. “Harris is looking very different these days!”
Oh, did Aziz love bugging the hell out of Harris, which he detailed in an extended bit about how, as a grown man with a full beard, he’d joined the Facebook group for Harris’s high-school world-history class just to troll him, in 2010’s Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening.
Seven years ago, during Intimate Moments, Harris’s main characteristic as a 14-year-old, other than being a rare chubby Indian kid with a hilariously short fuse, was a bizarre love of hour-long dramas on USA and TNT. “You know how you see billboards for shows like Burn Notice and you’re like, ‘Who the heck watches Burn Notice?’ Harris watches Burn Notice! He loves it!” When Aziz asked Harris to review The Dark Knight, Harris declared it better than Burn Notice, but not as good as Cinnabon.
Two years later, as Aziz reported in 2012’s Dangerously Delicious, Harris was still doing idiotic things on Facebook, like quoting himself (“Life’s a dirty game, you’ve got to play dirty to win it”), and had moved on from Cinnabon to Hot Pockets as his favorite food. He was also applying to college, and Aziz had agreed to help him with his college essay for the express purpose of being able to make fun of it in his stand-up act. “I said, ‘Yes, because you’re a weirdo, and whatever you’re gonna write is going to be insane so I can read it to people in public and it will help me with my job.’”
The essay was entitled “All the Small Things” and began with musing about the thumb as the most important of all fingers. “Already the essay makes no sense,” said Ansari. “When’s the last time something interesting happened in your life and you were like, ‘This reminds me of my thumb?’” It went on to compare the atom bomb’s killing of 200,000 people to how Redbox had “revolutionized” the movie industry. And finally, it ended with a story about how Harris had been flabbergasted to meet an illiterate man while volunteering at a local hospital. “What if I couldn’t read?” Harris had contemplated in his essay. “I wouldn’t be able to text my friends movie times or even order cheese biscuits from Red Lobster.” “These are the things that come to Harris’s mind when he imagines he can’t read,” Aziz commented. “First of all, you could easily do both those things if you couldn’t read. I don’t think illiterate people see movie posters and numbers and are like, ‘No clue what that means! Can’t piece that together.’ Now, the Red Lobster thing is weird also because I don’t know how many of you have been to Red Lobster, but if you’ve been there, you know that no one orders the cheese biscuits. Those are complimentary!”
Now Harris and his older brother Darwish — who also made it into “Dangerously Delicious” for sending Aziz unsolicited critiques of Kanye West’s music that Aziz then forwarded to Kanye himself — are out of college and in their early 20s.
According to his Twitter bio, Harris lives in New York and works as a software engineer for the video-sharing service frame.io. He and Darwish are also “super into fitness,” says Aziz, “which is part of the inspiration for the Anush character [from season one] because there’s this whole, like, Indian-dude fitness scene that I didn’t know about until I heard about it through them.”
Aziz says he cast Harris as Dev’s cousin for the same reason he’d cast his actual parents as his own parents on the show: “We had people audition and no one kind of had the charm that Harris had. So I just asked Harris if he would do it. And he was down. He’d never acted in anything before.”
As for Harris, he wrote on Instagram that he’d been trepidatious about auditioning (“I’m such a shy person and really hate pushing myself out there”), but was ultimately glad he did — especially because he got to work with his family. Let’s hope they all celebrated with Cinnabon and Hot Pockets.