With three highly enjoyable specials, a regular role on a critically acclaimed network comedy, and a decade of stage-time beneath his (increasingly more expensive) belt, Aziz Ansari faces the difficult task of staying true to his technology- and rejection-oriented staples, despite being in his 30s and enjoying immense popularity. In the first of two well-attended Riverside Theater performances Monday, a gracious Ansari dispelled any concern that his still-rising star has rendered his humor any less identifiable, with a sage 80-minute redressing of his self-deprecating, text message-analyzing mainstays—this time from the vantage point of an omniscient outsider in a happy relationship.
Following a brief pre-show warm-up that came equipped with his thoughts on deer hunting, and posing for pre-show cell phone photographs (a repeated request from his stop two years ago, seemingly done to eliminate disruptions), Ansari confidently ambled into his bread and butter: material about the hardships of being single. He touched on people’s proclivity for dodging plans via text, which was a pillar of his assertion that we are both the rudest and flakiest generation, as well as the least lonely one. Comparing it with punctuality of landline-made plans of 40 years ago, he professed, “The only polite way to cancel back then was to die!”
Staying with the modern rudeness motif, Ansari supported his claim that “we’re all really shitty people” with apt assessment of how people let one another down today (“Just pretend to be busy forever,”) with the animated flailing and shouting of a person who’d obviously endured such treatment. The text tirade continued, as he reduced every potential partner down to the status of a “bubble on a screen” amongst various other bubbles (who, too, are talking to various other bubbles), complete with a hilarious reenactment of a guy calling a woman he’d just met instead of texting.
He asked the audience to lend legitimacy to his claims, as he solicited a phone from a theatergoer to read the painfully awkward text message transcript between her and a man she’d met over the weekend. “This guy sounds so weird!” Ansari said as he dictated the phone record, “Oh my God, enough of this shit. Just fuck each other already!”
Since his last time in town, the usually self-effacing stand-up entered a relationship. Now happily taken, Ansari’s status also suited him superbly as a sidesplitting stopgap between desperate single guy status, and doomed married couple. He likened monogamy to avoiding a tempting bowl of Skittles in favor of the “nice, nutritious salad” of fidelity—a bit that culminated in him shoving imaginary Skittles (even “crusty ones”) into his mouth frantically before breaking into an intensifying chant of “Breakfast, lunch, and dinner! Nice, nutritious salad!” He also posited that most people lie in their wedding vows, and offered realist readings of what he perceived would be a husband’s and wife’s true relational realizations.
Following a physical traversing of the stage (to plot a graph comparing highs and lows of passionate love to those of companion love), Ansari momentarily stopped his set to issue thanks, before staying on stage for an encore. In his only misstep of the night, he asked for requests of old jokes. Minutes after the Riverside finally acknowledged his pleas to stop yelling things, he reprised his famed bits about investigating bed sheet thread counts and black dudes being amazed by magic. Thankfully, he quickly boxed up the old material and finished—fittingly—with a story about a phone misunderstanding that caused the only fight of his relationship before he thanked the theater profusely. In all, Ansari showed it doesn’t matter how big he becomes or what percentage of his material skirts old themes—he’s still capable of churning out new and incomparably funny observational comedy at an astounding rate.