Everyone give it up for the Jabbawockeez and your next Aziz-cap! As a special supplement to your regularly scheduled recaps of Master of None, we’ve asked New York Magazine cover star Aziz Ansari to give us the behind-the-scenes breakdown of each episode, pieced together from multiple conversations over the past several months.
Episode 5: “The Dinner Party”
There’s a ton going on in this episode: Brian (Kelvin Yu, we miss you!) finally shows up with Arnold to demonstrate their bizarre fascination with the Jabbawockeez, the dance troupe that refuses to take off their masks even though they’re guest judging Clash of the Cupcakes. We also meet Dev’s boss, the larger-than-life Chef Jeff (Bobby Cannavale). Dev has the best time running around to museums and restaurants with Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi), who’s miraculously back in New York with her boyfriend Pino, and the worst time going on a second date with Priya (Tiya Sircar), the Indian lawyer who seemed like the best of his Tinder dates in episode four. Oh, and there’s a dinner party at Chef Jeff’s house where John Legend plays piano. Better yet, Ravi (the great, hilarious Ravi Patel) shows up and shamelessly tries to sell people on his start-up, Mumbai Muscle, as “New York’s number-one, Desi-owned, non-GMO, chickpea-based protein.” Bobby Cannavale will guest star in this Aziz-cap.
Clash of the Cupcakes
Aziz Ansari: You know, Clash of the Cupcakes was a fucking idea we just had left over from season one, just him hosting this cupcake show. But when we screened episode two, when it ends with that Clash of the Cupcakes thing, people were going nuts! They were like, “Oh shit!” So then we brought in the Jabbawockeez! Those are the real Jabbawockeez, they’re not dancers in masks. I think that was maybe Aniz [Aziz’s brother, a writer on the show] and Jason Woliner’s idea to have the Jabbawockeez on the show. It just seemed like a funny visual to see those guys performing and that whole thing of Dev saying, “Oh, I don’t know where they are. They’re supposed to be here.” It just seems like something they would do on a show like that.
By the way, I don’t know what the fuck the format of Clash of the Cupcakes is! [Laughs.] They have performances, they have guest judges. It’s a very weird show. I should also mention my love for Leonard [Ouzts], who plays the producer of Clash of the Cupcakes, Lawrence. I love his performance. He always made me laugh. He was just so funny to me.
Meeting Chef Jeff
Ansari: Cannavale as Chef Jeff, he’s amazing. We just had this idea early on of the arc of what happens at the end with Chef Jeff. You meet this guy and he’s the greatest guy and he helps out Dev and then you find out he’s a monster! [Laughs.] I think it was around the time Roger Ailes was getting all these reports filed against him, and the same way it happened for Bill O’Reilly, so it was like, “Okay, what if this is one of those types of guys and we just get the audience to love him? And then pull the rug out from under them at the end and reveal that he’s actually not a good dude?” I knew Bobby personally a little bit, he’s a big fan of the show, and I just love him as an actor. We had that part, so we went to him and he was down.
Bobby Cannavale: When the show came on, I just called him right away because Rose [Byrne, his wife] and I saw it in like two nights. I loved it so much! That episode with his parents, that rocked me. I had never seen anything like that before. Aziz, at heart, is a good person. That’s why I like him personally. He asks about your family and you can tell he was just raised right. He’s not making fun of you so much as he is highlighting your specialness or complexity. I find that really cool and admirable. He’s got a great humanity, I think.
I mean, he’s just a person who’s interested in the person that’s across from him. That’s not that common in this business. I think he gets a lot of his material from things people tell him, and from his experiences of meeting really interesting, weird people in New York. It’s why he loves New York so much. That’s why I like those characters so much — his best friend and the girl. They’re their own kind of messes.
I don’t watch a lot of TV, to be honest with you. If I hook into something, it’s because it’s a take on the messiness of life. It’s why I like Louie, it’s why I like Aziz’s show, it’s why I like Transparent. You know, they’re unique, and they’re brave, and they’re about people who are constantly fucking worried about what to do next. That’s real, to me. It’s messy and they’re not the most confident people, even though they put it on. That’s why I identified with it. Aziz’s show reminds me of like Louie, if Louis C.K. was in his 30s, with some really interesting things about race and culture in there that I identify with. He’s seeing it through a different lens. He’s seeing it as what he calls a little, short, brown person, which is a different way than Louis would see himself, right? But it does remind me of Louie. Probably because it’s also set in New York, and it’s his unique take of what he runs into in the city day to day, and his dating life, all that. It’s a good companion, I think, to Louie. I mean that as the highest compliment.
I just called him and I said, “Hey, man. That show is great. Holy shit.” He remembered and, like, a year later called me and said, “Dude, would you play this part I wrote for you? I would love it.” I was like, “Yes. That’s all you got to say.” It was, like, months before before we shot it and he was just like, “I just want you to play a guy, man, that everybody loves to be around and he loves that people love to be around him.” I was like, “All right, done. I love it.”
Francesca's Trip to New York
Ansari: That’s the first time Francesca comes back to New York and they go to the art exhibit at BAM and dinner at that tapas place. I think when Dev was in Italy, it never really crossed his mind. She’s in a relationship, blah, blah, blah. And then when she’s in New York, he sees her in a different light. This is after he went through this hellish period of dating and not met anyone, and he just picks up with this woman from Italy and they just have this instant rapport and it’s just kind of sad.
Casting Alessandra, I’d been meeting all these Italian actresses and our casting person was like, “You really need to meet this woman.” But I was in Rome and she couldn’t come to Rome because she was in London. Then I randomly ended up going to London to meet with Lena to write the Thanksgiving episode, so Alessandra comes and we do the audition. The audition was a scene from the first episode, just us kind of shooting the shit in the pasta shop and talking to the policeman about trying to find the phone — and then it was the scene in the helicopter. [Laughs.] So it was two extremes. The helicopter scene I hadn’t quite written yet and it wasn’t even in a helicopter then. It was just kind of improvising that scene where this guy is going to tell you about how he’s feeling. And she was so good, both at comedic and dramatic improvisation, and our chemistry was really good from the get-go. I was very, very certain that she would be the person who we had do this. And she was really great.
So I stayed in London, I was writing with Lena, and so much of the writing comes from getting to know these people as real people. That’s a trick I learned from working on Parks and Rec, that the way to make these people feel like three-dimensional, fully formed characters is to use the real actor, because the real actor is a three-dimensional, fully formed person. So the more you know the real person, the better you are at writing a character that feels more rounded. So we started hanging out and we’d go to lunch and I was just trying to get to know her. So much of that character is her.
Dev's Date With Priya
Ansari: That’s an awkward tone to strike, where it’s like, “They’re both nice people, they’re just not clicking for some reason.” And [Tiya Sircar] did such a good job with that performance because it’s a tricky line to toe. It’s not that she stinks or that Dev stinks. For whatever reason, there’s not a chemistry or a spark there. I feel like I’ve been on that date. [Laughs.] It’s one of those frustrating things where it’s like, “This person’s great! Why is this not working?” I think everyone’s felt that.
It’s one of those things where you can see me on these dates and be like, “I’ve been there, man.” I’ve sat there with someone and been like, “How many siblings do you have?” I’ve been there sitting in the cab and been like, “Fuck …” We’ve all been there, you know? And I’ve been in a situation with being attracted to someone who’s unavailable and being like, “Do they love me, do they want to end their thing and be with me? Is that what’s happening here or am I crazy?” The most personal is the most universal.
The idea is you go out with someone you know you should be into and it’s just no chemistry there for whatever reason. And then you have this person you meet, the Francesca character, and it’s the most frustrating thing. You have amazing chemistry with them but they’re unavailable. Then you wonder by the end, is he opening up to her because she’s unavailable?
The Dinner Party
Lakshmi [Sundaram] is so funny. [Editor’s note: Sundaram plays Dev’s friend that helps him decide whom to invite to Chef Jeff’s party.] She’s one of our writers. I remembered meeting her in passing one time — she wrote on Brooklyn-Nine-Nine — and I just thought she was so funny. So between season one and season two, I thought it would be interesting to meet her because she’s Indian. I thought it would be cool to have someone else in the writers room who has that perspective of growing up Indian in America. The meeting was supposed to be an hour and we ended up just chatting for hours and hours and we just got along so well and she was just so funny. So yeah, there was more stuff I wanted to do with her character and we just didn’t have the time or place. Same with Kelvin [Yu]. I like that she just shows up and hasn’t been introduced as his friend. That’s what should happen. You don’t need an introduction. This is just a friend we didn’t see before.
That running thing of me calling Arnold and going through dating stuff, it’s so funny. Me and Eric are like high-school girls. We call each other pretty much every day with little updates about things, and that’s very much our relationship. [Laughs.] That’s very similar to our real dynamic. I don’t think Eric gets mani-pedis, but we were like, “Okay, where can we put Eric in this scene?” We were filming somewhere and we were like, “Well, why don’t we put him in this mani-pedi place that’s near this location?”
Having Ravi [Patel] back was so great. At one point, we had an idea that that could be a fun cameo to just put in a celebrity that Chef Jeff is friends with and give them a bunch of crazy stuff to do. We couldn’t really find the right person, and then we thought, “Oh, what if we bring back Ravi? That’s such a great character. And he’s so funny. It would be fun to bring him back.” I just find him so funny. He really delivers. I think Ravi is kind of one of those friends where you have to explain why you’re friends with him to other people that meet him. “Look, uh, he’s a nice guy. I know he’s weird, but he’s my friend. I don’t know what to tell you. He’s my friend.” [Laughs.] But the real guy, I really do adore.
Having John Legend isn’t based on anything real. That’s just an idea we had of how to make that night very magical for them. We just decided that Chef Jeff and John are friends, and John would perform this song and they would have that moment. I knew John a little bit and he’s a fan of the show and he was nice enough to do that. It was cool for the crew to see him perform, too. John and I were talking about what song he could do and I was like, “I want something like, ‘Can’t Help It,’ that Michael Jackson song.” And he’s like, “That would be great. You know, let me look into it.” We were able to get it, so we did it.
The Cab Ride
My favorite thing in the episode and one of my favorite things we’ve done in the whole series is that shot at the end where I’m just sitting in the car by myself. We were filming the back and forth between Alessandra and I in the car, and we were trying to do it all in one take. So after we’d film it, we’d drop her off and we’d circle back to pick her up to do the scene again. After we dropped her off, I just told Eric [Wareheim], who was directing the episode, “Hey, let’s keep rolling. I’m just going to stay in the moment. Just keep filming me while we go around to pick her up again and maybe we can use that.”
So we did that and when we’re in the edit, we’re playing around with it and we’re like, why don’t we just pop the scene in? I was like, “Let’s just put a song underneath it and just stay with me being sad for as long as we can.” I knew that Soft Cell song really well, and I knew Alan liked that song, so we put it in. It just felt like it captured that cab ride that everyone’s had, where you’re in this really sad moment and you’re just sitting in this car with a stranger. It’s such a personal moment. And it’s really long. It’s definitely a swing.
We would screen that and watch people as they realized, “Oh no, we’re going to stay here. We’re not leaving. We’re staying with him for a while.” It goes way longer than you’d expect. And if the show wasn’t on Netflix, I don’t know if we could do that. I don’t know if the show was on another network they’d let you go that far. It’s so sad!
When we screened it, so many people came up to me at the end. They were like, “That last shot, man, I’ve been in that car, I know that ride.” It was a very personal thing, this idea of being alone by yourself in a car, dwelling in this really sad moment and being there with a stranger and not being able to share that with him or her and just getting dropped off. It’s a personal moment, but everyone’s been there. Everyone’s had their version of that, you know?