Aziz Ansari: The Country Life Interview

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In last week's dead tree edition, I interviewed comedian Aziz Ansari as part of our larger preview of the Wild West Comedy Festival, a five-day-long joke deluge that kicks off in earnest on Wednesday with shows by comedians like Eugene Mirman, Daniel Kitson, Dick Gregory, Ron White and more.

Ansari returns to Nashville for the first time since last year's surprise gig at Third Man Records, an exercise at working out the material that would eventually become Modern Romantics, the tour he brings to Andrew Jackson Hall on Thursday as part of Music City's first ever comedy festival. In the full interview, we talked Third Man, Tinder and Prince's Hot Chicken.

Peep the full interview after the jump. For ticket details on either of Ansari's shows on Thursday, check WWCF's line-up page.

So, the last time you were in Nashville, you did a last-minute show at Third Man Records. How did that come together?

That was fun. I just know the Third Man folks a little bit, and I was in Nashville for something, I think I was doing a college show or something in town. They told me they do secret shows there. I was like, "Oh, why don't we do one? I've been working on some new material. It might be fun to do." So that's what we did.

Do you like doing shows in those kind of nontraditional comedy venues for working up material? It seems like it'd be harder to do the crowd work you were doing at Third Man at a theater.

Well that's a trick you've got to figure out, and I think I did. You'll see how I do it in the show. With the Third Man thing my kind of thought was, when you're in New York or in L.A., you see, like, crazy comedians dropping in. Like Louie [C.K.] or Chris Rock or whoever will drop in and work on material. And that's kind of how I work on material now too. I kind of drop in unannounced and work on stuff. So I was always like, "Man, that sucks that other cities don't get to really experience that as much, so why don't I try to do that?" So I did that in Nashville.

The plan at one point was to try to do that everywhere, but I didn't have the time to do it as much as I would have liked. But that's what we did in Nashville. It was a lot of fun. It was a very preliminary version of what I'm going to do when I come do the theater show in Nashville.

At that show and on the last special, you really swung toward talking about relationships and dating, and away from more varied stories and bits. You're on this sort of Louie C.K. annual schedule, working out new material almost yearly. Is it easier to shoot for a theme when you do that sort of thing?

In my show I kind of just talk about what I'm dealing with in my life, and what's in my head. And right now, it's relationship stuff, the frustrations of being single, and getting into relationships and things like that. So that's ended up becoming what the show is about. My next show, I don't what it will be about. But I don't know if I can do another relationship show. It'd be hard. I feel like with modern romance, I really kind of get a lot of ideas I have from relationships and I'd probably get kind of annoyed if I did another one about relationships. But we'll see what happens. Maybe the next show we'll be all about, like, prisons and stuff. Wouldn't that be crazy if I did a whole tour about prisons? The prison tour. "Man, he talked about prisons for an hour! Who cares, it's hilarious, but his jokes about prisons, it gets a little heavy."

I heard some interview once with Chris Rock where he's talking about that he was listening to this preacher, and he did a whole hour about jealousy. And I was like, "Damn, that's fucking cool to be able to talk about jealousy for an hour? Just the concept of jealousy? How the fuck do you do that? That's kind of what I ended up doing with this show, accidentally. I mean, love's a little broader than jealousy, but still.

There have been a lot if interviews that have pointed out, this is what Aziz is doing now, lots of relationship stuff, very deliberately. But was it really more accidental? "This is what's going on, so let's follow this for a while."

Yeah, it's more accidental. But I don't see what would be wrong with saying, "Oh this is what he's doing now. He's changed what he does to this." The frustrating thing is if you're an interesting artist, you're constantly changing what you do, right? So at a certain point you get sick of talking about this on the stage and in interviews and everything, and then I'll move on to something else. But, you know, this is the time I do like talking about this stuff. I have this book coming out next year, and I'm sure when I do interviews, they'll talk to me about my ideas on this stuff. At the moment it's cool, and I'm very excited.

It's a really interesting, weird world to be in, dating now. It's strange that we live in a world where something like Tinder exists, and you can just rapid-fire reject people on your phone without really thinking about it.

Well, Tinder, I don't think it's that crazy. I think people are like, "Oh my God! You just see someone's face and you say yes or no." Well that's what people do when they walk into a bar, right? They just kind of see someone, and they're like, "No." And they see someone else and they're like, "Yeah." And they go talk to them. And if that persons says yeah, they keep talking. So that's not that crazy of a thing. But the idea that you can do that activity while you're, like, in line at the grocery story, that's pretty crazy.

And it's also crazy that you have to think about whether you want to settle down with someone when you know at any point you can flip on your phone and there's like 30 girls who you can look at and see if you're attracted to them. That's what's interesting — what happens to someone when they have that opportunity in their lives? What happens to them in regard to their desire to settle down?

Is the book you're writing an elaboration on these thoughts that you've been having? I saw that you're writing it with an NYU professor.

So the idea for the book is, I talk about all this shit in the show, and I have all these questions, and I don't really understand certain things. So the book is like, what happens when I talk to really smart academics and professors and sociologists and social psychologists, and ask them the same questions I ask in the show, and actually try to learn something. And I've learned a lot from doing that. I think the book's going to be really cool. The book, it's fun, but it's probably more serious than you expect. It's not like Tina Fey's book or Mindy Kaling's book. I would never write a book like that because, my stand-up is my version of that. There wouldn't be a point in me writing a bunch of funny essays. That's what I do in stand-up, essentially. But those guys, they don't do stand-up, so it's a really cool thing. The book, I'm really excited about it. I think it's going to be cool.

It definitely looked more — I don't know if "academic" is quite the right word, but from that subreddit that was started, trying to find stories and information, it definitely came off less like, "Let me hear your jokes about these things," but I'm really interested in knowing ...

It's definitely not like [in a zany TV-announcer voice] "What's your worst date? What's the silliest thing that's happened to you on a date?" I would hate that. That's not what it is.

Even in the show, in the Third Man show particularly, those were treated more respectfully than, "Let's make fun of this guy who's in a text-message conversation with this British lady who he just met.

Yeah. The funny thing about that is not like, "Oh, this guy's dumb, look at what he's doing." The funny thing is, we've all done this. Everyone single one of us in this audience has gone through some version of this, and that's what's funny. It's like, "Oh shit, I've been there, trying to figure out what to text to some girl." You could go through any single person's phone in that show, in that audience, and you would find that same nonsense. And that's what's funny. It's funny to know that we're all in the same boat together. That's what's kind of nice. And when everyone laughs, that's what I hope they feel deeper inside — "Oh, man, we're all in the same shit together." All this nonsense, all this bullshit, we're all dealing with the same thing. Maybe we can all recognize that and be a little bit better to each other.

I think that kind of sentiment tends to be where comedians go, looking for that central truth, that thing that everybody kind of relates to, but making it funny.

When you're really successful in stand-up is when you can say something super personal, and make the whole entire audience realize that it's actually universal, and that we're all going through the same thing.

Switching gears, you've performed in Nashville a handful of times, and I think you may be the only person who's ever been to Santa's Pub and The Catbird Seat in the same weekend.

Wait, what was the other place? I've been to Nashville and what?

Santa's Pub and Catbird Seat.

Oh, Catbird Seat! The fancy restaurant. And the other place, the bar in a trailer with Santa Claus. That's how I like to roll. (laughs)

Do you get time to explore the cities you play in? I know the touring life is hard, city-to-city-to-city life.

It kind of just depends. Sometimes we have the night to hang out. And other times, it's, like, as soon as the show finishes we've got to get on the bus and start driving to the next city. Or I've got to go to the hotel and just rest to get ready for the next one. It really just depends. Ideally, when I'm in Nashville, I'll get to hang out. You know what's fun, is even if you're in a place that doesn't immediately jump out to you, "Oh, this will be a fun city," like Durham, North Carolina, or something, you end up getting surprised. "Oh, there's tons of cool shit here! That's cool."

Do you have a favorite restaurant in Nashville?

I can't remember where all I've been there. Catbird Seat was great. I've been to Prince's. That place waws good. Is that the right name? Prince's? The hot chicken place?

Yeah.

Oh my God. Before I did that show that show at Third Man, I'm friends with this chef, you know that restaurant Husk? The guy that does that restaurant, Sean Brock, he's from Charleston, South Carolina. I'm from South Carolina. We became friends. And before the show he brought me a bunch of Prince's hot chicken. I was like, "Are you fucking kidding me? You're going to make me eat Prince's hot chicken and then perform? This is the worst idea ever. You're the worst."

Do you remember what the order was? Mild or medium, or God forbid, extra hot?

I think he got me mild or medium. But it's still not the ideal pre-show food. No pre-stage ritual is like you get your water, eat some Prince's hot chicken, and walk onstage.

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