Going purely by his film and TV roles, Aziz Ansari would not be your go-to guy for relationship advice. Whether it's his clueless would-be ladies man Tom on Parks and Recreation or his braggart comedian Randy in Funny People, Ansari projects a certain undateable persona. But the 32-year-old comedian and actor is a romantic at heart, though one mystified by dating rituals. To help him decipher the Tinder-fied world of courtship, he partnered with sociologist Eric Klinenberg for the new book Modern Romance. The Globe and Mail spoke to Ansari about love, marriage and independence.
Why did you think comedy and sociology might make a good combination?
I just really wanted to understand the way people were acting – and I think a lot of people were confused by dating today, too. I told my editor that I wanted to write this with a legit sociologist, and he connected us. I could tell pretty quickly what I was trying to go for.
Did you ever study sociology before?
No, never one sociology class. This was a total crash course. A big part of Eric's job was getting a line on the real experiences, making sure people gave you the complete story. I'm a curious person, so I took to that quickly, but Eric was able to extract those stories in a fascinating way.
What was the most shocking statistic that you two came across?
When we talked to people in retirement homes, they were all part of a companion marriage: Finding someone who was good enough to start a family with, to get out from under their own parents' homes. For women, it was a lot of 20-year-olds who couldn't leave the house until they were married. It was their first step into adulthood – they couldn't pursue an education or career, so this was their way out. Some of them ended up being in loving marriages and developing a connection. But in terms of numbers, in 1957, 76 per cent of women said they would marry someone that they weren't actually in love with. Now, of course, that number is totally reversed.
Everyone wants romantic love.
Yes, you realize that love is a romantic luxury that we only gained recently. The search for this perfect person to get married to is a relatively new phenomenon. Now we've moved from companion marriage to soulmate marriage: Someone who provides this unbelievable source of love and millions of other things.
Are you now the de facto relationship expert among your friends and family?
I didn't try to write it from the perspective of, 'Oh, I'm an expert and I'm going to give advice now.' It was more like I was trying to understand what was going on. I'm not trying to be Steve 'Think Like a Man' Harvey.
What do you think of that current crop of advice experts?
The difference with this project is, we were trying to write a sociology book. Most dating books are like, if you're a man, here's how to get laid, or if you're a woman, here's how to lock a guy down. But for us, men and women are doing all sorts of crazy shit, and we just wanted to know why. Get a fair, balanced perspective, as Fox News would say.
Do you have an update on your own relationship? You allude to entering one in the book.
We're still together, but I don't like to get into too much detail about my own relationship.
Do you find that because you've written a book about dating, that you get asked for status updates a large amount of the time?
It's a weird balance. I understand it, because when I do stand-up, I reveal super personal details. But in an interview, I'm a bit more uncomfortable, because I'm not in control of it.
This interview has been condensed and edited.