Viola! Here is your next Aziz-cap! As a special supplement to your regularly scheduled recaps of Master of None, we’ve asked New York Magazine cover star Aziz Ansari to give us the behind-the-scenes breakdown of each episode, pieced together from multiple conversations over the past several months.
Episode 4: “First Date”
This episode, directed by Eric Wareheim, follows Dev’s first foray into dating since he and Rachel (Nöel Wells) broke up at the end of season one. Like most people new to dating apps, Dev finds the whole experience a curiosity and then ultimately a drag over multiple first dates that Ansari told me he envisioned happened over a three-month period. The question of how people meet and form romantic attachments today is a constant fascination for Ansari; he co-wrote a best-selling book about it with an actual sociologist. Wareheim and Master of None co-creator Alan Yang will guest star in this Aziz-cap.
Aziz Ansari: There’s this whole fascination with dating apps. I’ve talked to friends of mine who are married and they’re like, “Oh my God, if I was single and I had those kind of things available to me, wow, what would that have been like?” We wanted to put that in Dev a little bit. You see his fascination in episode two when he’s with Arnold [in Italy], and we eventually came up with this premise about how you see every date. It was tricky because if you start this conceit and it doesn’t work, then you’re fucked. The episode sucks. So luckily, it worked. [Laughs.]
Eric Wareheim: Aziz and I talk about relationships all the time. He’s a very romantic, very good, gentlemanly kind of guy. Actually, he’s changed me the last couple of years we’ve been hanging out because he is such a good guy. He really cares about people and he really wants this idyllic relationship in his life. He’s really always looking. Like, he doesn’t care about the riffraff or the fleeting experiences. He wants something real and he’s always searching for that.
I would say he’s changed me. I really consider him — and this is not just fluffing him up, I’d tell him this to his face — I feel like he’s a next-level human. I hang out with more extreme, artistic, freaky people, and in that world there are no rules of relationships or love or anything. He comes from a more old-school version where things are simpler and a little bit more powerful and special and magical. I like that. When we talk about relationships and what you eventually want, he’s more focused on the end game, which is that perfect special union. I’m a little bit more focused on, “What’s this?” You know, I want to try a bunch of different things and find out what’s right for me. But it’s very inspiring to see him kind of focused on something a little bit more pure and magic.
Ansari: One time I went to dinner with Eric after shooting and we’re sitting at the bar at Il Buco, talking about relationship in our lives. We’re like, “What the hell, we just filmed a scene in here a couple days ago” — in the beginning of [this episode] where I’m like, “I got a match!” We were filming that and then two days later we were really talking about relationships at that same spot.
Wareheim: He’ll ask for dating advice. Like, “What do I do now? Do I send her a kissy heart? Do I do this?” And I’ll be like, “Here’s what you do. You literally send her a picture of you having fun, being normal, being silly. You know, don’t be afraid to just be silly and be yourself. You don’t have to be this cool guy all the time.” I feel like I helped him to just, you know, take off the leather jacket every once in a while and be a silly kid. That’s sort of my angle when I meet people who are girls. It’s like, “Here’s who I am like. I can look cool sometime, but I’m not that guy. I’m this guy who will, like, sing you a silly beach song when we’re frolicking around.” I think he’s absorbed some of that through our hangs.
There’s one Instagram video we made when we were traveling in Thailand and he’s just frolicking. He’s literally doing somersaults in the sand. He’s the happiest I’ve ever seen him. And I think that’s like one thing I can bring out in him. Just like, “You need to break out of working and just be totally goofy and then send that to the girl that you have a crush on and see what she thinks.”
Ansari: I pitched the idea of [Modern Romance] because no one had written a book that explained why people are so angry when they get silence on text. Whenever I sit around with my friends, this is all we talk about. My dating experience is different because of who I am and stuff, but all the advice in the book is really sound. I just think it’s sometimes hard to take. Eric and I talk about this because we’re both pretty romantic guys, and when we like someone, we just want to whisk them away and have a great time. And that never works! It’s like, “What? You like me? Get away from me!” [Laughs.] We just want to immediately send people flowers and be so romantic.
The Swiping Montage
Alan Yang: At the time we were writing it, [Aziz] was not on those apps. It’s a little different for him because he’s on TV, but it’s very much based on a lot of real people’s experiences on them. It’s definitely now become the norm. If you’re not on the apps, then you have to explain why. Before, if you were on the apps, you had to be like, “Oh, it’s good for these reasons …” Now, if you’re not, people look at you like you’re a crazy person.
Wareheim: [Raya] is a big deal among some of our friends. But it’s more like [as a famous person who’s trying to date], you communicate through social media, versus the traditional thing of going to a bar and meeting a person. Social media is definitely a new way of finding a person and hanging out with them.
Ansari: I wasn’t on them, but I had a dummy account [when I was writing Modern Romance] that I used just to see what it was, and I talked to a bunch of people that had used them. The idea was to show the other end: You never see the people when they’re swiping on your face. It’s just funny about how it takes place everywhere, in a cab, on a toilet, at a funeral. The funniest thing to me is the joke at the end where the woman, her friend hit it and Dev gets excited. That’s more of a comedy moment than a commentary moment, really. I mean, I guess there’s some inherent commentary in the idea that finding the person of your dreams is decided by someone swiping while they’re taking a shit. [Laughs.] That’s pretty funny to me, and an interesting commentary on the state of the world.
Yang: I won’t reveal who it is, but that line, “Going to Whole Foods, need me to pick you up anything?” was a real line that one of our friends used over and over again. It was incredibly effective for him. We took this guy out to lunch and were like, “Dude, we gotta talk to you, because you’re doing well on these apps.” He told us that line and we almost fell out of our chairs. It’s such a good line! It’s funny, but not trying too hard. It’s specific, but not too specific that you couldn’t use it for multiple people. We were like, “Can we use it?” He’s like, “Go ahead, man, I retired that one.”
That guy is Asian and we wanted to address that too. Because, you know, I got on the apps just to see who I’d match with and stuff, and I was like, “Wow, when it comes to matching with Asian women, I’m crushing it! This is insane!” I was like, “Is this what it’s like to be white with all people? Is this what it’s like to be a white dude?” We wanted to put that in because we did the research. We read the studies that say the people who match with the fewest people on the apps are black women and Asian men. We thought it would be funny to have them point that out when he goes on a date with Condola Rashad’s character. You know, it’s true. Those are just the numbers. You’ve got to work harder on those apps if you’re one of those two groups.
Ansari: It was a fun challenge as an actor for me to have all of these people switching and kind of remember where I’m at on all these dates. [Editor’s note: While shooting each portion of the date, Aziz would stay in one place and the women would rotate in and out.] Even beyond the apps, I think the idea of the episode was just to capture the monotony and repetitiveness and frustration of dating and not finding that connection. To me, that episode is, like, six months. It’s a long time. He doesn’t go on all those dates in two weeks. I see it as a weird short film about the monotony of trying to find someone. It’s hard to find someone you have that spark with — and then he does find that spark with [Francesca], it’s someone who’s not available. We did the table read and we had all of these people reading it and we could tell, “Okay, I think we pulled this off.” People were responding to it in a way that felt like, “Oh, this is what I feel.”
We just wanted to make all those people feel different and not feel like the same person. So it was a bunch of giving them all different personalities and having them fill different kind of pitfalls you run into when you’re dating. It’s a fun conceit because it’s just a joke bag.
We knew we wanted to have the conversation that I had with Priya [played by actress Tiya Sircar] about, “Do you date only Indians?” That whole conversation was interesting to us. [Lakshmi Sundaram], who’s one of our writers, and I were talking about this idea of clique-ish Indians and those kind of Indian posses and it seemed like a funny area I hadn’t heard people talk about before. I just think about going to NYU and everybody saying, “Oh my God, it’s so diverse!” And then you’d stand outside one of the buildings and everyone is just clumped together by ethnicity.
The WWE woman [that Aparna Nancherla plays] is full Aniz. [Editor’s note: Aziz’s younger brother, Aniz Adam Ansari, is writer on the show]. We’d always talked about basing a character on Aniz because he’s so funny and has all these various interests, like a love of WWE and Mortal Kombat, and the idea of giving all those interests to Aparna’s character made us laugh. Aniz sent me some things from Twitter where people are like, “Oh my God, where is this girl in real life?!” [Laughs.] People have fallen in love with the character that’s based on my brother.
The dog hotel, that’s something that me and Jason Woliner, who’s a good friend of mine who wrote with us a little bit, we’ve always just been joking about dog hotels and Chateau Marmutt. It’s an inside joke we’ve always had. We tried to put it in Human Giant and it never got in, so we put it in this. There’s a real Chateau Marmutt in L.A., so we kind of fictionally expanded it in the Master of None universe. [Laughs.]
That thing about guys being super gross on apps was definitely an easy joke bag and was informed by conversations I had when I wrote that book and everything. And it’s the sad state of romance in the modern era. [Laughs.]
The war photographer guy, that really made us laugh — the guy who rolls up from across the street while we’re on a date and he’s like, “Oh, hey, just got back from Syria.” The wind’s blowing in his hair and he’s like, “That was harrowing.” That guy was really good. It’s just funny to be on a date and someone clearly has a deeper connection with a passerby.
You know the part when I’m walking down the street and you see the older Asian businessman licking the lollipop, the guys fighting, and then the war photographer? That was all done in one take. It was really fun because I would do the scene with one woman, then she would run behind the camera and the other woman would run in, then that woman would run off and the other woman would run in. It was a really fun challenge and Eric did a good job directing that scene and that episode.
There’s the montage of [Dev] going for the kiss with all these women, and some go better than others. I mean, every human being on Earth has had that, haven’t they? That “I think we’re better as friends” conversation. I don’t think that’s unique to anybody.
And why does he go home with that one woman from Chateau Marmutt? Because that’s the date that seemed to have the best chemistry and they hit it off and that led where it led. That ending beat was the hardest thing to come up with. We were trying to figure out some funny way to get out of this whole thing and we were late in the writers room and I remembered one time I went over to a woman’s house — not someone I’d slept with, just someone I knew, like a friend of a friend — and I went to this person’s house and I saw a [blackface] jar like that and it was just so shocking. It was like, “What are you doing with this jar?!” We had that same conversation. And she was very defensive about the jar. It was like, “How are you defending this?” [Laughs.] “This is clearly a shade of black that’s used for racist stuff.” So we were sitting in the writers room one day and we were trying to figure it out and everyone was tired. I was like, “Look, we’re going to spend ten more minutes and figure this out,” and we just sat down and I pitched it out and people were like, “Yes, yes, that’s great.” And then we went home.