“Imagine if marriage didn't exist, and you're a guy and you ask someone to get married,” proposes comedian Aziz Ansari in his new Netflix stand-up special, Buried Alive, which premieres Nov. 1. “‘Hey, so we've been hanging out all the time, spending a lot of time together. I want to keep doing that … until you're dead. … I want to keep hanging out with you until one of us dies. … Put this ring on your finger so people know we have an arrangement,’” he menaces in his best Bluebeard impression.
Buried Alive is the Parks and Recreation scene-stealer's third special, and it channels Ansari's anxieties of being a single, childless 30-year-old watching everyone around him get hitched and pop out newborns. His hilarious introspection on the pressures of maturity coincides with a huge leap in the comedian's stand-up skills, which have evolved away from his youthful reliance on funny faces and beta-male swagger toward a newfound wistfulness. Now, Ansari's just a regular schmo facing the universal problems of finding love, being inundated by unwanted photos of friends' babies, and hate-watching MTV's 16 and Pregnant.
Ansari shares what he learned about dating and growing up during the Buried Alive taping and tour, including the absurd frequency of dick pics, the depressing banality of most proposals, and the revelation that he's nowhere near as alone as he'd once thought.
Buried Alive is about struggling not to be buried alive by the pressures of adulthood. How did the seeds of the special come about?
As I got older and more friends started getting married and having children, I thought, “Wow, I'm so not ready for that stuff.” Those seem like scary commitments, such huge, strange ideas, and it seems weird to me that so many people are able to do it without any hesitation. Once I started working on the material, I realized there's plenty of people who felt the same [way].
I mean this in the best possible way, but a lot of your subject matter — dating after 30, the peer pressure to marry and have children, the nastiness of dudes today — are topics traditionally associated with female stand-ups. You also explore certain aspects of dating, like dick pics and Grindr, from a female perspective. Is that inclusively gendered POV something you actively try to cultivate?
No, but I see what you mean. That definitely is something you hear from females, not just comics but in life. I definitely empathize with women, because I see dumb dudes around me all the time and I think, “Wow, it must really suck to have to find a decent dude.” But I would say the fear [of romantic hardship] is something men deal with as well. The one thing I've learned from doing this show is that I'm not alone. There's plenty of people that are very scared of this stuff, dudes who feel daunted as much as I do.
In one of the more romantic segments, you ask a married couple how they got engaged. What did you learn from that?
I did that on every city on the tour, and there were so many great ones. But there were definitely ones that were better than others. While I was filming the special, I was, like, “Man, I hope whoever it is that ends up being [on the special] has a good [proposal story]. And the people ended up being so great. It was definitely one of my favorites, if not the favorite, of all the proposal stories.
There was also one guy who said he got a bunch of puppies to wear different shirts that had a different letter on it to spell “Will you marry me?” I asked, “Whoa, how did you get the puppies to line up?” He was, like, “Oh, I couldn't. It was a disaster.” [Laughs]
When I first started asking people about that, I thought, like, OK, at least 60 percent, 65 percent would [do] a grand gesture. Skywriting, or, “She came home and [there was] toothpaste on the floor [to propose],” whatever dumb thing.
What I realized is, 80 percent of them were, “Oh, we were at the house, we just came back from dinner, I just asked.” It wasn't that spectacular. What's funny is you're asking this grand thing of someone. And you're in this very mundane setting. There's all this pressure. You don't know what's going to happen. It's a very interesting position for two people to be in.
Asking so many people about their marriage proposals, did it make you lean either way, toward the spectacular or the intimate?
It comes out a little bit in the special, but I'm definitely a romantic at heart. I think whatever I do, it will be a gesture that's special and unique.
Another big chunk of Buried Alive is about the strangeness of dick pics. Why did you choose to make it such a sizable segment in the special?
I was just talking about how dumb guys are nowadays, and the idea that people are sending dick pics — it's so crazy to me. When I started asking audiences, “Clap if you're a single woman and a guy sent you a dick pic,” I was very surprised.
What percentage would you think would get a dick pic? I would guess 40 percent. But it seemed like every city I went to, it was at least 80 percent. And that was startling, that such a high percentage of them had something that absurd happen to them. It seems like such a dumb thing. I say this in the special, but I just don't understand the logic behind it. A dick is a very dumb-looking, boring thing.
You tend to focus more on seduction techniques, like dick pics, rather than on sex. Is that a conscious decision?
You're giving dick pics a lot of weight by calling them a “seduction technique.” [Laughs] I'm more interested in the whole idea of how you meet someone and [how] that becomes a relationship. Courtship and frustration. I don't feel like I have anything that interesting to say about sex. Or this ends up being really blue material.
Your material feels really autobiographical. How different is your stage persona from your actual self?
There's no deliberate thought put into, like, what do I want to make my stage persona? That's never been a thought in my head. But no matter what I do onstage, it's gonna be different than how I am in real life. No one in real life is trying to make you laugh really hard every 30 seconds. That sounds like a very strange way to be a person. People who meet me go, “Damn, you're really quiet.” “Yeah, because I'm not trying to get an applause break from you.” If you meet super-energetic comedians like Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle, they're very quiet, thoughtful.
Why did you choose to adopt suits as part of your stage look?
When I started doing theater tours, it just felt like, I should wear a suit. These were really nice, beautiful venues and I wanted it to be a big show. It would seem weird to come out in just a button-down shirt and pants. I like wearing suits, too, so it seemed a no-brainer to go for that look. Whenever I do a tour, I think about what would be a good “tour suit.” Then I design what I think would look good for the tour. That becomes what I wear on the tour every day.
Have you had any friends who are parents approach you to gush or lecture you about the joys of parenthood?
No, not really. I have friends who have kids and they're super-happy. Since I've written this special, my views on this stuff has changed: I'm not quite as certain I definitely won't have kids. I do see how much fun people are having with their kids and how it does seem to be a very life-changing experience. So it's definitely something I'm open to.