"That guy has some thoughts about texting," said one audience member after the conclusion of Ansari's roughly hour-long set. Indeed, the comic — who's of course known for his active social-media presence — riffed at great length on the rudeness of ignoring text messages, the apparent desperation of double-texting and the ease with which social obligations are now shirked thanks to, you guessed it, text messaging.
Shortly before midnight, Third Man honcho Ben Swank took the stage to introduce Brooklyn's Max Silvestri, who had also opened for Ansari at last night's Tennessee Tech gig in Cookeville. Silvestri proceeded to break in the crowd with bits about eating too much and measuring his penis — relatively typical Generation-Y type material, but couched in a fast-paced, likable, stream-of-consciousness delivery that warmed the crowd well.
Just seconds before Ansari started his set, Jack White slipped into the VIP area, from where he'd watch most of the performance. The at-capacity crowd was clearly ready to LOL as soon as the diminutive South Carolinian took the mic — as with any TMR show, the audience seemed to consist largely of Third Man diehards, anxious to gobble up any performance the Blue Room can throw at them with puppy-like excitement. While the "Recording" light over the stage stayed illuminated throughout Ansari's performance, there was no one present in the record-cutting-lathe room, nor did there appear to be any staff present in the crow's nest sound room near the stage; if the show was indeed being recorded, it seems likely that it was for Ansari's purposes alone.
I'd caught Ansari backstage flipping through a small notebook shortly before his performance — whether or not he was nervous about testing out new material, he dove in seemingly without reticence, poking light fun at attendees for standing in line for hours just to see him. No pressure, right? He riffed on the futility of seeking a soul mate at bars — poison yourself a little bit at a time for a thousand nights in hopes of meeting someone you kind of like, or stay home to "jerk it" and watch Mrs. Doubtfire?
But the bulk of Ansari's material was about how text messaging is chipping away at our communicative skills. In an almost too serendipitous turn, the comic ended up reading one audience member's text-message exchange with a young lady he'd met at a bar over the weekend. The mystery woman was a Brit whose number was stored under "Steph London," and that made for excellent callback fodder throughout the remainder of Ansari's performance.
According to fellow Cream contributor Lance Conzett, while last night's jokes were new, the general theme and approach of Ansari's set were largely the same as at his performance last year at TPAC. As the clock ticked past 1 a.m., Ansari exhausted his material a bit, eventually asking the crowd if there was anything he'd spoken about that we'd like to hear more on. He was clearly feeling us out, seeing what worked and what didn't (to be expected at a free, new-material performance), but he certainly managed to bring his set to a close well before our collective patience had been tested.