Love, Hate, and Skittles
Comedian Aziz Ansari’s “Modern Romance Tour” tickles fans at the Riverside.
Aziz Ansari is a little guy, but he’s a big deal. The only other time I’d seen him before Monday night at the Riverside Theater was at a small club in Brooklyn as a guest at a special edition of Hannibal Buress’ weekly show. Ansari walked right by me on his way to the stage and I can confirm he is one short dude. For comedians like him and Kevin Hart, their height seems inverse to their audience size.
Due to overwhelming demand a second show was added to the Milwaukee stop of Ansari’s fourth major outing, “The Modern Romance Tour.” From my observation, the rise to stand-up stardom for the Parks and Recreation feature player and South Carolina native has been modeled after (arguably) the most successful comic of the last decade, Louis CK. This includes his style of cultural observation, self-releasing a special, his strict policy to create a new hour of material every year and even his pre-show rules, announced with a voice of God flavor, which Ansari extended with great hilarity Monday night. There were the usual no recording or shouting out catchphrases, but Ansari added in prohibitions against any caricature painting booths in the lobby or outside on the street.
St. Paul native and Parks and Recreation writer Joe Mande opened the show, walking out to the theme song from That’s So Raven. When I interviewed Mande a couple years ago in NYC he referenced the same Milwaukee connections that he told the crowd: he has fond memories of Jewish summer camp in Oconomowoc and can recall the heyday of local hip hop artists Coo Coo Cal and the Rusty Pelicans. He also let it be known that unlike so many non-Brewers fans he is pro-Ryan Braun: “If you’re Jewish and you want to play sports, you should be allowed to take as many steroids as you want.”
Mande’s strong 20-minute set included sometimes playing with a “$20 iPad app” full of sound effects typically used by hip hop radio DJs (explosions, airhorns, slowed-down name drops and using the latter, made a “Ryan Braun” one just for us).
Then the lights got sexy and it was time for our headliner, the little man in the crushed velvet jacket. Though their formula is similar, what sets Ansari apart from Louis CK is his energy. (To be fair, Louis is 15 years older.) When Louis gets worked up about something he furrows his brow and massages his bald head. Ansari runs around stage and shouts in a nasally nerd voice. Ansari also has an advanced sense of rhythm, which was noticeable during his “bullshitting” before getting into his latest tried-and-true material.
As its name suggests, “The Modern Romance Tour” is heavy on relationship humor. Ansari is known for his bitter single guy bits, but this time around we were thrown for a loop; he is actually in the midst of a nine-month relationship. Even so, the bulk of his jokes were about how difficult it is to be single and how much relationship etiquette has devolved in the era of the smartphone. He even invited audience members who are in a fresh relationship to let him read their initial texts onstage. One girl got ridiculed, rightfully so, for texting back and forth with a potential suitor about the highway construction around Highway 45 and Watertown Plank Road.
Flaunting his new role as boyfriend Ansari emphatically described his conception of “the pinnacle of human happiness, binge-watching three to ten episodes of a critically-acclaimed drama snuggled up in bed with a person you love.” Having spent a good chunk of my latest failed relationship doing just that, the line hit me like a Ryan Braun four-bagger. Ansari balanced the lovey-dovey talk with his belief that humans are not made to be in monogamous relationships, using a hilarious skittles versus salad analogy.
Before his underwhelming encore, Ansari’s big closer was an energetic representation of the peaks and valleys involved in the life/love graph of a single person, and then that of a person in a happy relationship. Both ended sadly (jerking off and going to bed for the single guy, dead wife for the married guy), and this showed how cynical Ansari still is. He bemoaned FOMO (the Fear of Missing Out), which drives our smartphone generation to rude and awkward social behavior. But it seems that Ansari’s biggest fear is fear itself. Yet it has helped fuel a unique brand of Southern American, second-generation, Indian-neurotic comedy that has solidified his standing among the best.