Seven Questions for Comedian Aziz Ansari

The 'Parks and Recreation' star on conducting sociological research, getting upstaged by Beyoncé and Tom Haverford’s future


In addition to Modern Romance being the subject and title of your stand-up tour, you’re writing a book about it. What’s that process like?

It’s ambitious. I’ve been doing [stand-up] about dating and stuff, and I started meeting with sociologists and academics and got into these interesting conversations about dating and technology and how relationships have changed over the last few generations. I’ve been working with sociologist [and Going Solo author] Eric Klinenberg for more than a year. We interviewed hundreds of people and a bunch of notable academics. I don’t think there’s been anything similar to it from a comedian. It’s a really funny book, but it’s also really interesting, and I think people will dig it.

You’re also crowdsourcing on Reddit, and you promote a link to that thread on Twitter. Does it ever feel super meta to conduct research on technology and relationships using social media?

I never even thought about that until you said it, but that’s true. It’s weird. When we did these focus groups for the book, we’d have like 30 people in different cities, and we’d speak to them for an hour or so and then we started thinking, “Oh, it’d be great if we could get people from other parts of the country, because we can’t physically be everywhere.” With Reddit, you’re kind of everywhere. Everyone participates.

Since you’ve transitioned your stand-up from stories about celebrity run-ins to more universal topics such as dating and relationships, what’s been the response?

People are laughing, but they’re also like “Wow, that really speaks to me,” or “That’s an experience I’ve had in my life, too, and that’s a thing that no one really talks about.” For the upcoming dates, I wrote a bunch of new stuff. The hour has really gotten stronger.

Do people look to you for dating advice?

Not really. I’m not interested in, “Oh, should you wait to text someone?” It’s more about, “Why does [the] waiting drive people crazy? What is it about that psychologically that is so powerful?” That’s more interesting than talking out of your ass and saying, “You gotta wait like 30 minutes!” No one really knows that. But, you can hear very intelligent people explain to you why, if someone waits to text you, [how] that can have an effect on you psychologically.

You’ve said that you don’t think people respect stand-up as an art form as much as they should. Do you still feel that way?

That quote may come off a little bit harsh. Whenever I’ve done shows internationally, in London, for example, the show gets reviewed in the theater section [of newspapers] with the plays and stuff. The review is thoughtful and interesting and talks about the themes discussed. [In the U.S.], you’ll just get some blurb where somebody will just repeat and angle your jokes—it’s not really viewed with the same lens. Audiences respect it, though. A lot of work goes into it.

You followed Louis C.K.’s model of releasing stand-up specials straight to the Internet with 2012’s Dangerously Delicious. But you did it without any warning—kinda like Beyoncé did with her last album. How does it feel to know she stole your move?

This is the first time I’ve realized that Beyoncé totally stole my idea! [Laughs.] Surprise is one of the few things left in this media-saturated world. That’s why she did that, and people responded to it.

Your Parks and Recreation character, Tom Haverford, was noticeably absent from the flash-forward scene of last season’s finale. Where would you like to see him three years from now?

I imagine he’ll probably still be doing his restaurant. Hopefully that’s going well, and he’s got other new ventures going. It’d be cool to see him finally having some success as a businessman after all the failures, you know? I feel like he’s finally earned some success.

Which of his business ventures do you think is most viable?

Maybe his idea for tuxedos for babies. There’s no infant formal wear out there. He’d have 100 percent market share.

On past tours you’ve asked audience members to share their proposal stories. How would you propose to a special lady?

I don’t know. I did that on the Buried Alive tour, and I heard so many stories. As far as what I would do, anything that you do with a significant other, if you do something thoughtful and specific to them, that has so much weight. It shows you really put some thought into it. I don’t know what I would do in particular.

You never know, the lady could ask you.

That’s true! It’s 2014.

Since it’s October … last year you were Idris Elba as Thomas the Tank Engine for Halloween. What will you be this year?

I usually scrap together a costume pretty last minute. We’ll see what’s around the house in late October. It might be Thomas again because that Thomas outfit might still be around. If I can find it, that’s a pretty easy one.

That’s pretty impressive that you did have a Thomas the Tank engine costume around your house.

[Laughs.] I bought it a few years ago, and then I found it again. That would be weird if I just had a kid’s costume laying around my house.

What advice would you give someone looking to pursue a career in comedy?

There’s no real advice. You just have to keep doing it. The only advice I heard that really made sense was a quote by Steve Martin where he says, “Be undeniably good.” That’s the only thing you can really do. Even now, after I’ve been doing this for 14 years, I just keep trying to write great material so that when I perform, it was really good. If I did perform and it was bad, I’d probably get out pretty quickly. That’s the only thing to do—just try to get better.

Do you think we should have just conducted this interview via text message?

[Laughs.] No, probably not. I like having phone calls!

Modern Romance

Aziz Ansari performs at 9 p.m. Oct. 4 at Mandalay Bay Events Center, tickets start at $35,

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