He might be best-known as a standup comedian and as an actor on Parks and Recreation, but Aziz Ansari is much more than that: He's an astute chronicler of this era's romantic bullshit and the unique challenges of dating in the time of hashtags and push notifications. (Read our Q&A and watch his bit on how texting has ruined dating for proof.) Some of Ansari's material is going towards a more academic project—he's at work on a book with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg about love and sex in the current age and recently created a fascinating subreddit as part of his research—but he's also showcasing much of it in a new tour titled Modern Romance, which is in Portland this week. (There's one more show on Friday; find tickets here.)
Last night, dressed in a velvety, burgundy-colored blazer, the 31-year-old Ansari began his show by flinging bags of Kettle potato chips into the audience. "Man, this is funner than telling jokes!" he squealed, whirling himself into circles as if competing in shot put. Out of breath, he put his hands on his knees and shook his head. "That was fun as shit!"
Once the box of chips had been emptied, Ansari unleashed an ebullient hour of standup, galloping about the stage, ragging on the blonde in the front row who wouldn't shut up, and laying out his observations and arguments about the mess that is modern-day dating.
1. It is statistically impossible to be busy all the time.
So just be honest and text him that you're not interested, OK?
2. And get off social media if you're freezing somebody out.
Nobody wants to see you Instagramming puppies and tweeting about how you're watching Dexter and eating ice cream (#ireallyneedaman) while waiting for you to reply to a text.
3. We're all dealing with the same nonsense.
As much as we might like to think our love lives are unique little snowflakes—or unique little piles of shit—we're all swimming in the same nebulous sea of romantic baloney. "We are the flakiest people ever!" Ansari yelled, barely finishing the line before the Keller erupted in applause, confirming everyone's suspicion that Portlanders are a particularly flaky breed (and love-hate themselves for it). Ansari chalked up much of our flakiness to FOMO, or fear of missing out: "What am I going to do if one of my top-tier friends—don't pretend that you don't have top-tier friends!—comes in with top-tier plans?!" he asked, his gaze darting frantically.
4. That's why being in a relationship has its perks.
Want to know the peak of human happiness? Spend three to 10 hours watching a critically acclaimed drama with someone you love. "Fuck the Grand Canyon," Ansari added.
5. Our texts are phenomenally inane.
But hilarious when read aloud. In one of the show's golden moments, Ansari summoned audience members to the front of the stage who'd recently met a potential love interest. He proceeded to read their text messages aloud, providing off-the-cuff, on-point commentary about some girl's co-worker (a dude named "Duddy" whose first text of "What's up!" and subsequent, highly enthusiastic message about Lady Gaga and the Muppets made it mightily clear he was way more into her than she was into him) and the budding romance between an audience member named Thomas and a man he'd met at Holocene. "I've got to be honest with you, I've never done this with a gay black dude," Ansari said. (He went on to discover that there's as much murky nonsense between two men, just with some added "jedi mind trick gay shit.) As Ansari scrolled through the texts, commenting on the other man's "power moves"—his first text simply read "groovy"—the suspense mounted, with Thomas hovering near the edge of the stage and flailing his arms in a stew of embarrassment, delight and disbelief. Once Ansari reached Thomas' good-night text—an emoji-only missive of flowers and leaves—he pronounced himself done. "I don't mean this the wrong way, Thomas," he said, "but that's the gayest text ever."
6. And yet there are moments that make it worth it.
In one of the revealing, endearing moments that add emotional depth to Ansari's standup, he talked with candor about his new girlfriend, reading aloud a lovey-dovey text about how every moment with her is the emotional opposite of stepping into a mud puddle in Manhattan. He also described a date that involved a late-night swim in a public pool and a romantic make-out sesh that was interrupted when a cop shone his headlights on them...and then drove away, leaving the waterlogged lovers alone.
7. In the end, though, we're paralyzed by choice.
Hand a dude three chocolates and ask for his favorite, and he'll eagerly choose one and be supremely satisfied. Hand a dude 30 chocolates, though, and he'll be far less confident about which one is best. Dating is the same. "Basically it's statistically impossible to find happiness," Ansari said, "and we should all just jerk off and go to bed."
GO: Aziz Ansari is at the Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St., 800-273-1530. 7 pm Friday, March 28. $46.50. Tickets here.