Emmy Talk: 'Master of None' Co-Creator Alan Yang on the Importance of 'Parents'

·Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
(Credit: Netflix)
‘Master of None’ co-creator Alan Yang (Credit: Netflix)

How did the minds behind Master of None celebrate the acclaimed Netflix comedy’s four Emmy nominations? With their usual vice of choice: Food. During a recent Facebook Live chat with Yahoo TV, Master of None co-creator Alan Yang revealed that he and his collaborator, star Aziz Ansari, treated the writers and crew to a feast at the renowned New York eatery The Spotted Pig after learning that their show had scored a nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series, as well as nods in the Lead Actor, Directing, and Writing categories. It’s just another example of how seriously these two collaborators — who first met on the late, great NBC series Parks and Recreation — take their eating habits. “It’s so crazy; during lunch breaks [when we’re shooting], we’ll be talking about where we might go and Yelping places,” Yang says, laughing. “I’m shocked I’m not overweight.”

It’s hard to begrudge them their celebratory chow sessions; during its first season, which is currently streaming on Netflix, Master of None instantly distinguished itself from the cluttered TV comedy landscape by telling thoughtful, hilarious stories that expertly balance cultural specificity and universal appeal. Drawing on its creators’ shared backgrounds as second-generation immigrants — Ansari’s India-born parents moved to South Carolina in the early ‘80s, while Yang’s mother and father hailed from Taiwan before emigrating to California — the series repeatedly disproves the prevailing Hollywood mindset that a mass (re: predominantly white) audience won’t be able to relate to the experiences of characters hailing from different ethnic backgrounds.

At the same time, what makes Master of None a particularly effective statement about the importance of diversity on television is that it doesn’t go out of its way to make that statement. “I don’t think it was ever our intent to make a statement,” Yang says. “We’re just doing the stories that are interesting and natural to us. And that, to me, makes a case for putting different people behind the camera. By that very nature, [the message] comes across in the show.” You can watch our full interview with Yang below, and scroll down for some other highlights from the conversation.

*One of Master of None’s standout episodes is “Parents,” which Yang and Ansari wrote together and incorporated their own biographical details into the script. (They share a nomination for Outstanding Writing, and Ansari, who made his directorial debut with that episode, is also an Outstanding Director nominee.) “That’s one of the very first episodes we wrote and it broke open what the show could be to us,” Yang explains. To make the episode even more of a family affair, Ansari ended up casting his real-life mom and dad as his fictional counterpart’s parents. While Yang’s father didn’t make a similar cameo, the details about his hardscrabble life in Taiwan — including a time when he was forced to kill his own pet chicken for a family meal — are faithfully preserved. “That entire flashback is my dad’s real story,” Yang says.

L to R: Clem Cheung and Kelvin Yu play the lightly fictionalized versions of Yang's father and Yang in the 'Parents' episode of 'Master of None' (Credit: Netflix)
L to R: Clem Cheung and Kelvin Yu play the lightly fictionalized versions of Yang’s father and Yang in the ‘Parents’ episode of ‘Master of None’ (Credit: Netflix)

*Real life provided the inspiration for another memorable episode, “Nashville,” where Ansari’s struggling actor, Dev Shah, invites the girl he likes (Noel Wells) on a memorable first date trip to Music City. “That’s based on a real story involving one of our writers,” Yang reveals. “We were there for maybe two days, shooting guerilla style on the streets. There’s also great food there. We ate our faces off!”

Related: Emmy Talk: ‘Master of None’ Co-Creators Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang on ‘Parents’ and ‘Indians on TV’

*Parks and Recreation marked Yang’s first full-time writing gig, and he couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the business. “I feel like I won the lottery,” he says of that seven season wonder. “Aziz and I always say that one of the lessons we learned from that show was to keep it positive [on set]. Being on set was so great; you want to talk about strife and conflict and drama, but honestly I still remember the only problem was that when we had all the actors in a scene together they just wanted to hang out and talk. Which is a great problem to have! You’re like, “Hey guys, can you stop being so nice?”

*Yang and Ansari are making like J.J. Abrams and keeping what they have planned for Season 2 in a tightly shut Mystery Box. “I think that one of the things that people enjoyed about Season 1 was that it was unpredictable, so we want to continue that this season,” he says. That said, he will let one detail slip: Ansari’s parents will be back by popular demand. “Aziz’s dad has been clamoring for another appearance!”

Season 1 of Master of None is streaming on Netflix.

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