It’s not uncommon for comics to test out new material in small clubs before they go on national tours. What’s interesting is how Aziz Ansari, best known for his starring role as Tom Haverford on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” made those comedy workouts a bit more intentional.
In advance of his current “Modern Romance” tour, the 31-year-old comedian/actor cherry-picked audiences for roughly 100-person shows, setting up Internet forms that asked potential crowd members to write in their demographic info. His aim? To observe how specific groups responded to material about love and dating.
An idea for a book sprouted from all that tour preparation. Ansari had questions — about love, dating, relationships — but he couldn’t find answers. So, naturally, he felt compelled to fill in the gaps himself.
“I was like, oh man, I feel like this is all anyone’s dealing with,” he said by phone ahead of stand-up gigs Saturday and Sunday at the Orpheum. “So maybe I can try to write this book.”
The book, due next year, will be informational, while retaining Ansari’s signature voice — uniquely energetic, curious and exclamatory.
“I’ve been interviewing all these different, you know, sociologists, social psychologists, anthropologists,” he reported. “I’ve interviewed a lot of people in New York and L.A., and smaller towns like Monroe, N.Y., and Wichita, Kan. I went to Japan and interviewed people there. I’m going to Paris next week to interview people there.”
Ansari also took to Reddit, asking users to chime in on questions ranging from “Do you ever strategically ‘wait’ to text someone back, in order to make yourself more desirable?” to “Has anyone done an arranged marriage? How did that go?” He explained that the process was an extension of his workshop shows — but for the book, not the tour.
Despite smooth (read: not smooth) attempts, Ansari good-naturedly refused to give up the details of his own dating life. But the native South Carolinian did offer up some of the insights he’s gained through his research. Ansari said the overwhelming number of tools available to daters — texting, online dating, etc. — actually may be detrimental.
“Whenever [experts] look at decisionmaking, they find that the more options you have, the hardest it is to make a choice,” he said. “And when you do make a choice, you’re less satisfied.”
Another thing: People tend to waste time on dating apps like Tinder without ever making the crucial moves.
“When I interview the people who are unhappy with online dating, they’re the ones who sit there and send messages all day and never actually meet up with the person,” Ansari said. “You’re not going to fall in love with someone over the course of 10 messages.”
Often it seems comics assemble their sets by picking out the funniest material they have on hand at the moment, cohesion arising only by happenstance. That once was true of Ansari, who began his stand-up career in 2000 while a student at New York University. His first Comedy Central special, 2010’s “Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening,” was a hilarious and honest collection of jokes, but that’s exactly what it was — a collection.
These days, Ansari is more focused, moving away from the good-but-random-jokes mentality that marked his earlier material. As he gains momentum in the world of TV and film, he isn’t neglecting stand-up comedy; he compared maintaining his onstage chops to working out a muscle.
“Stand-up is always going to be an important thing to me, just because I feel like there’s something so special about it,” he said. “I can talk about whatever’s going on in my life, and it’s really me, and I can make something that’s just my own.”