Aziz Ansari has four million Twitter followers and a recurring role on a hit TV show. He’s one of a handful of comedians to play — and sell out — at Madison Square Garden.
So he doesn’t need a whole lot of help when it comes to promotions.
But Ansari is still doing something interesting to get the word out for some of his stand-up shows, using a combination of social media, his own website and text messages. It lets him market his appearances in a way that gives his fans a real shot at getting very limited tickets.
Ansari tried this out a couple a weeks ago in San Francisco, to promote a handful of small, unannounced “pop-up” shows there. Now he’s trying it for shows in Chicago.
Here’s how it works: Ansari sends out a message from his Twitter account, telling fans who live in Chicago to head to his site, where they enter their cellphone numbers, which enters them into a lottery for tickets — all without knowing where the show will be. When Ansari did this in San Francisco, he got 35,000 signups in three days.
Fans who win get notified via their phone, then head back to the site with a code, so they can buy tickets.
If all of that sounds like a circuitous way to get to a comedy show, Ansari argues that it’s more democratic than other methods, like announcing a show on Twitter and directing fans to traditional ticket brokers.
“If I tweet out that ‘I’m doing a show at the Punchline (the small club where Ansari did his San Francisco pop-up shows)’ it would sell out really fast, like in 30 seconds,” he said. “No one would have a chance to get tickets unless they’re maniacally checking Twitter, and I didn’t want those to be the only people.”
Ansari relied on a small team led by David Cho, who has a day job as a publisher of ESPN’s Grantland site, to put the Twitter/text program together. Cho said his group was able to assemble the first promotion for Ansari in 36 hours, using a system powered by Twilio’s API.
Ansari has dipped his toe into tech before. Two years ago, in the wake of Louis C.K.’s DIY experiment, Ansari also let his fans buy one of his comedy specials directly from him. Last year, he helped Netflix kick off its move into high-profile originals, when it got the first rights to another one of his concert movies.
Cho says he and Ansari figured that a system that relied on texts instead of email would be a better way of communicating with Ansari’s fan base. “Aziz and I had been talking for a while about the different ways to reach people,” he said. “He and I text a lot, like a lot of people our age. We’re on our phones all the time.”
Right now Ansari and Cho are only using the texting/ticketing system for small venues — Live Nation’s Ticketmaster handles his sales for most of his shows (he’s added a second show at Madison Square Garden, along with other new tour dates), and it’s unlikely they’ll be interested in his system anytime soon. The intricacies and oddities of ticket sales also make it unlikely that fans will be able to buy tickets directly from their phones, either. But Ansari would be happy if Cho can figure out how to make that happen: “It would be a headache for him, but it would be cool.”
Here’s more of Ansari’s thoughts on the merits of texting, via a 2012 routine:
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.