Aziz Ansari is a very funny man. His standup never fails to make me laugh, and his Netflix show, Master of None, is full of chuckle-worthy moments. I picked up Modern Romance with a (perhaps mistaken) expectation of humour, and after reading nothing but rave reviews of the book by critics and friends.
Modern Romance is not funny. This would not be a problem if it limited itself to being a sociological treatise on the state of dating and attachment in our current era, but the largest issue is that Mr. Ansari actually tries to be humorous throughout the book, and fails. His interjections about eating ramen in Japan or his incessant “lawyer’s advice” belie his usual irreverent humor: in this case, they comes across as someone trying too hard to be funny, to add unnecessary levity to a subject matter that is engrossing enough on a social theory level.
I met my wife before the age of Tinder. We met online, like many do these days, but our courtship didn’t involve swiping left and right and waiting ages for a text messages to arrive. Our online interaction was brief, and we both knew, fairly quickly after meeting each other, that we would be willing to build a life together. As such, much of the content in Modern Romance isn’t as applicable or relevant as it would be to someone currently trying to navigate the waters of romance in the digital age. It is, however, resonant: the information in Modern Romance touches on the wider social and cultural issues of our generation (albeit with a decidedly heteronormative lens) and presents an interesting window on societal mores in the age of digital connection.
If written as a typical cultural studies book à la Nassim Taleb or Chuck Klosterman, Modern Romance could have been infinitely better. Cultural insights with poignant anecdotes are an excellent recipe for this kind of book; trying to infuse it (and failing in the process) with irreverent humor that is better delivered via voice rather text lessens the impact and interestingness.
Then again, as a happily-married man who isn’t looking for love online, maybe I’m just not the target audience. Modern Romance may have failed for me, but I’ll still be watching Mr. Ansari’s standup, laughing loudly all the way.