Boy, are we psyched to have way more of our friend Ajay Naidu in our life: the actor most loved as Samir in “Office Space” has teamed up with Ashok Kondabolu (aka Dapwell of Das Racist) for a web series that launched yesterday on MTV Desi.
Naidu – whose directorial debut, “Ashes,” was filmed in part in the East Village – was thinking his next movie would be something “completely personal” when Kondabolu came to him with the idea for the web series. “I thought rather than make the film it’d be good for someone to ask me questions that I actually wanted to answer and do something that was almost live therapy,” says Naidu. “Something free-form, free-flowing.”
Bedford + Bowery spoke to Naidu about getting mistaken for Aziz Ansari five times in one day, and why he chose to stay in the East Village when everyone else is moving to Brooklyn.
I’m not sure whether it’s going to be about balding or the time I went to lunch with Nell Carter and Gary Coleman when I was young. I was dear friends with Lara Jill Miller who was Samantha on “Gimme a Break!” and I used to go to a bunch of tapings and stuff like that and one time we had lunch with Nell Carter and Gary Coleman, and Nell Carter ordered the biggest piece of cake you’ve ever seen and like an entire chicken and Gary Coleman had a hamburger as big as his head. He had to climb up onto the seat. He was a really gregarious guy. But it’s the delivery of it that’s funny.
I loved the promo you did for Hari [brother of Ashop] Kondabolu’s comedy special, where you talk about “the South Asian Council that chooses which South Asian gets to be famous every year.” Are you going to be hitting on those topics here?
I think we’re going to talk about things like that. For instance there’s an episode coming up where I talk about Aziz Ansari. One day five different people called me Aziz and then I got in a cab and the dude’s name was Aziz and then I was at the Bowery Hotel and Aziz walked in and I think he thought I was the maître d’ and I sat him. I just felt like going with it. I’m not sure whether or not he knew me or recognized me. I just said, “Oh hey, man, come in.”
I think that people don’t confuse me, they just know they’ve seen me and they’re racist enough to lump most brown people together. There’s a big difference between Jack Nicholson and someone else white, but I think people definitely have a tendency to put brown dudes together. And that’s fine – I just want to be noticed by society so maybe it won’t happen all the time.
That was really wonderful, actually. It was great to see everybody — the only people who didn’t make the big 10-year reunion were Ron Livingston and Jennifer Aniston. That was a bummer because I really love Ron – he’s a wonderful guy. And Jenny is a really, really nice girl. I had a good time hanging out with her. David Herman and I arrived in a big stretch limo and we got out of that and they were bumping “Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangsta,” and they put out a fax, passed out bats and we had to bust it up for them on the red carpet.
That’s the most gratifying work I’ve done in my life, is working on and off with them over the last decade in the theater – it goes beyond theater and performance art into the highest realm of storytelling I’ve ever been involved with. “Master and Margarita” was easily the best role and easily the best play I’ve ever been involved in. I played Azazello, the devil’s barroom brawling sidekick.
We built the entire piece from scratch, with no adaptation – we’d come together in the morning and work out for two hours and play what we call “ballie,” which is basically a highly competitive form of 9-Square, and then we’d take lunch, come back and then just get out whatever chapter we were doing amongst ourselves in the afternoon, with a really, really great budget and all the technical support and props you needed.
“Master and Margarita” was such a deeply hallucinatory and difficult piece to realize – we’d have to make a woman take flight across the city and realize all these incredibly difficult scenarios from scratch and we’d do them physically and then at the end of the day Simon McBurney would pick and chose what would work. We’d watch each other do these things and little by little we’d piece it together.
That was an interesting time, because Heather [Burns, his wife] was doing her TV show [“Save Me”] and I was in Europe and we were going back and forth and we had to let go of our place on St. Marks and now we’ve come back to the city and we planted on C and Ninth.
We always wanted to stay in the East Village. I grew up here – I’m from here now. I would’ve taken a smaller place – I don’t mind a smaller place. I just love my neighborhood. I feel at home here. People are kind to me here and people are respectful. It’s New York City – it’s why I came here, is to be exactly in this area. I’ve been around the world and there’s still nowhere better than the East Village.
It’s one of the only places in this city that has trees and a history of producing great art and culture – that’s the reason I’m here, because I feel like in the words of Mos Def, while most people are trying to find where it is I’m on the Ave where it lives and dies. And it’s one of the few places I’ve been to that actually reciprocates the love you give. If you’re giving the right energy to this neighborhood it will give it back.
You actually got to perform in the neighborhood, at The Public — when Philip Seymour Hoffman directed “The Little Flower of East Orange,” by Stephen Adly Guirgis. Must’ve been nice, walking a few blocks to work.
That was a dream job. Back then I was living on St. Marks. I used to walk right over and go home every day for lunch. It was wonderful, but I’ve played in other little places around, too – like on Fourth Street. I’ve done everything – probably even street performed and I don’t remember it. I used to dance at Joe’s Pub, the first year that it was open. Me and my friends had the Friday-night party and I was the resident impresario – we had a live drum and bass party and in those days everyone was in there: Puffy and all these people. And then the second year we had it was all of their secretaries.
I can’t let you go without asking about “Bored to Death,” in which you played the limo driver that tried to hold up the old Relish diner in Williamsburg. Rumor has it there might be a comeback in the works?
I do know that Jonathan Ames was working on a movie of “Bored to Death.” I’m really hoping they make it because it would be wonderful for Heather [who played Ray’s girlfriend Leah]. That was such a wonderful show and they had a lot of good fans and it was really sucky that it went off. I’d cross my fingers that I’d be in it but I wasn’t even in the third season so I don’t know if I’d be in the movie. But I know that they’re still working towards it.
The other thing I do know is they’re writing a sequel to “Bad Santa,” and I’m really hoping they’ll find a part for the Hindustani troublemaker.