Aziz Ansari

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Aziz Ansari takes on dating on 'Buried Alive' tour

  • Article by: Jessica Goldstein Washington Post
  • March 31, 2013 - 7:29 AM


Aziz Ansari is a dozen years into his stand-up career and five years into his role as technophile and wannabe entrepreneur Tom Haverford on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation.” Even though he just turned 30, he still has a kidlike vibe about him. He’s small and spry, about 5 feet 6, with the kind of face a grandma would grab in both hands and squeeze. His voice is just-so-nasal, with a slight Southern twang, and he has a cadence to his speech that simply makes everything sound funnier when he says it.

Last year, Ansari performed at Carnegie Hall, a pretty great whoa-look-at-me-now moment for a guy from Bennettsville, S.C. — “where the idea of saying you wanted to be an actor or something would be so ludicrous,” he said — who got his start doing open-mike nights at almost-empty clubs. He recently found himself on Forbes magazine’s “30 under 30” list, a roster of rising talent that can often double as a who’s who of the next decade’s superstars.

But there are still some things that scare Aziz Ansari. Which is exactly where his “Buried Alive” tour came from: “The idea that people I know are getting married and having babies and how scared I would be to have a baby. ... I’m not ready to get married, either. I guess because I’m 30, I have to pick one person to stay with for the rest of my life?”

Turns out he’s not alone. “I just started talking about that, and it seemed to strike a chord with people,” said Ansari.

Nick Offerman, who plays mustachioed government-hating government employee Ron Swanson on “Parks and Recreation,” was a fan of Ansari’s before they even met, when he caught “Human Giant” on MTV. Offerman didn’t seem too surprised that Ansari is filling his routine with ruminations on holy matrimony instead of, say, bits about 50 Cent ordering a grapefruit soda and asking the waiter, “Why isn’t this purple?”

“I think when you achieve success, you’re sort of faced with a choice,” Offerman said. “So I think, faced with the opportunity to become one of the leading comedians of our day, that seems to have made him say, ‘I’d like to talk about something a little more real and give my show a little more weight.’ Which I think will serve him well in the long run.”

Maybe texting isn’t ideal

“Buried Alive” ends where we all must start: dating.

“The last chunk of the show is kind of, where do you meet someone now that you really form this deep connection with?” Ansari said. “And the frustration that the place we’ve designated in our culture to meet people is bars. And how weird that is.”

Ansari described a segment in “Buried Alive” in which he asks, by show of applause, how many people have tried online dating. “In an audience of thousands of people, 30 people are clapping. ... But if you ask how many people go to bars and meet people, no one is shy about answering that.”

He’s never tried online dating (“because I’m a public person or whatever”) but has plenty of personal material to inform his riffs on text messaging, yet another confounding aspect of modern romance.

“No other generation of people has used texting so much in courtship,” he said. “And maybe it’s not the ideal medium for getting to know people in the initial stages of courtship.”

Ansari connected with Sherry Turkle, a psychology professor at MIT, whose book “Alone Together” analyzes how young people have come to rely so heavily on texting that they’re losing the ability to communicate in person. He loved her book so much that he blogged about it, and Turkle’s students, along with her 21-year-old daughter, insisted she contact him. Turkle and Ansari wound up speaking by phone and meeting in Los Angeles, where Ansari set up a special performance of his act so she could see his work in action.

“He was spot-on,” Turkle said. “He is a student of online communication. And what I really like about what he does is that he doesn’t do something very different than what I do. ... He interviews people, and, in his act, he asks them for their phones and actually looks at what their text conversations are.”

“In one of the shows I did,” Ansari said, “I just saw how one wrong text can really sour someone on a person. This girl said that she met this guy at a bar, had a lot of fun, and the next day he called her and left a voice mail. Then he texted her and said, ‘Hey, did you get my voice mail?’ And that immediately turned her off. And there’s no equivalent of that in a real conversation. You’d have to say something really racist or offensive to get someone to shut down. ... But for that guy, it was like, BOOM. He was overeager; it’s done.”

Ansari’s parents had an arranged marriage, something he said “I personally don’t think I could do.” But the idea of it — of saying to someone, “I will deeply invest in you and see if we can make things work forever,” as opposed to casually dating around and seeing what sticks to the wall of your love life — is intriguing to him.

It’s an old-soul perspective for a young guy to have, but Offerman said that’s how Ansari has been for years. When Offerman met Ansari, “I found his dapper demeanor and his maturity to be rather irksome because he’s so young. You want your 26-year-old to be a little more of a clown, a little more of a bum, so they require your advice and guidance. Then instead, I almost immediately started asking Aziz for advice on everything from career choices to barbecue restaurants. For the funniest guy around, he’s all business when it comes time to work.”

Ansari records all of his performances and will, “in an almost Beyoncé-like way, listen to shows to see if there’s any changes I want to make.” The show he’s preparing now, which will be his fourth stand-up special, has him doing even more research into relationships and adulthood.

Touring, researching and working on “Parks and Rec” keep him busy, but not too busy — he still has time to be, as Offerman describes, “an excellent gift-giver.” In addition, “I’ve watched him turn into an even classier grown-up.”

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