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Aziz Ansari on the perils of modern romance

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Having penned his first book, a sociological exploration of the perils of modern romance, comedian Aziz Ansari is happy to pick up the phone and tell us where we’re all going horribly wrong

First things first, where in the world are you?
New York. It’s, like, 6am here, man.

Is this the earliest interview you’ve ever done?
It’s right up there.

Is the phone call a dying art?
We live in a text-message age. The younger the person, the more terrified they are of the phone. Youngsters need that gap you don’t get on the phone, in which they can figure out what to say, how to reply.

Following the research for your book, what’s the biggest mistake a guy makes texting a girl?
We talked to a sh*tload of women and the biggest problem was that most guys were just texting, like: “Hey, what’s going on? What you up to?” Boring texts that don’t seem bad when you send them, but at the other end, if the recipient is getting five guys sending the same generic sh*t, it’s crazy boring.

What should we be saying?
If you ask a woman to go to a specific thing at a specific time, that alone is enough to make her vagina explode. During our research women would be saying to me, “Oh my god, if a guy actually invited me to a thing, I’d be so thrilled.” Then, if you take that and finesse it a little, make it more interesting, throw in some humour, you’re on to a winner.

Did researching the book help you with women?
Actually, I started dating someone when I was writing the book, but I was making all these mistakes!

And you went all over the world interviewing people, right?
Yeah. Did you know that Japan is going through this crisis where marriage rates are dangerously low, birth rates are way down and the government is so worried about the population of the country they’re investing in programmes to get people to date? I’m serious, a large chunk of the population is just not interested in dating or sex at all. But then we went to Buenos Aires, a culture at the other extreme, where everything is really sexual.

Are people bigger jerks on the phone than in real life?
A smartphone facilitates you being ruder, absolutely. Sherry Turkle wrote a book called Alone Together, and she gives an example of a kid who had a weekly dinner with his grandparents and every week he didn’t want to go. So his parents tell him to call his grandma and tell her he doesn’t want to do it any more. And he’s like “No, I don’t want to do that, I’ll just go.” And this happened every week because he didn’t want to hear the disappointment in her voice. But imagine if he could just text grandma! He’d be like: “Sorry grandma, I’m not coming to dinner. F*ck off.” He wouldn’t have thought twice about it because you forget that there’s another person with emotions on the end of a text.

Should we be using our most attractive profile picture for Tinder, or are there obvious dangers in showing up uglier than you’ve portrayed yourself?
The photos that did really well in helping people engage the opposite sex in an intelligent way were photos that go beyond just the face – photos that show you doing something. Maybe it’s a guy scuba diving, or a woman playing a guitar. Something that reveals personality. And if a guy holds a pet, his photo does better, but if a woman holds a pet hers does worse. And guys looking away from the camera have more success than those staring at it. So, grab a puppy and a camera and go spelunking in some dark cave, stop grinning down the lens stood next to a f*cking tree.

Is there too much choice now?
Have you heard of the paradox of choice? The idea is that you think having more options makes things better, right? But studies show that the more options we have, the harder it is to make a choice and the less satisfied we are when we finally do.

It’s why, in Kitchen Nightmares, Gordon Ramsay is always making menus smaller.
Right! There are all these dating options and the people who are the most miserable are the ones who try to sample them all. They go on a million first dates and never get to know any of them.

Your character in Parks And Recreation, Tom Haverford, was always coming up with daft business ideas. Which idea do you think actually had legs?
[Giggling uncontrollably] Contact lenses that show you your text messages.

Your co-star Chris Pratt utterly transformed his body. Did you think he had it in him?
Oh man, that guy is a genius. He can do whatever he wants. I wasn’t surprised at all. I always thought it would be hilarious, between seasons of Parks, if I just got massively ripped and I came to work on the first day of shooting completely jacked – it would have screwed everything up. “Oh what? Now we’ve gotta say like Tom’s a bodybuilder? What the hell are you doing, Aziz?” But instead I came back on set just a bit chubbier.

Before you go, remember when people used to take out ‘lonely hearts’ adverts in newspapers?
It was huge.

What would your ‘lonely hearts’ profile say?
“HBM (handsome brown man) seeks nice person who enjoys food to cuddle up with and watch critically acclaimed dramas for insanely long periods of time.”

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg is out now (Allen Lane) 

(Image: Rex)

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