“I’m obsessed with love and fascinated by—” Jay Shetty said as he took the stage at the Beacon Theatre in Manhattan on Friday night. The former monk cut himself off to redirect the subject to the 3,000 or so people in the sold-out crowd.
“Anyone else here obsessed with and fascinated by love?”
The room erupted.
Shetty works at the crowded nexus of self-help and social media and has moved to its fore in recent years with a mixture of excited optimism, gentle admonitions to improve, and a claim to co-conspiring in his audience’s path to self-acceptance. Smiling, bearded, and sometimes faux-hawked, he’s a forceful narrator of his teachings and a nimble interpreter of his followers’ concerns.
Shetty has often recalled how he was 18 years old and studying business in London when a Hindu holy man visited his university. Taken with what he saw, Shetty set out to become a monk himself and eventually turned his learnings from three years at an ashram in India into a booming career as a life coach, author, and media personality.
After Arianna Huffington started watching his YouTube channel in 2016, she offered him a job. Now based in Los Angeles, Shetty, 35, has had Oprah and Will Smith on his podcast and underscored his tabloid standing last summer when he officiated the second of Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck’s three weddings.
In January, Shetty published 8 Rules of Love, his second book, and announced a 32-date tour to support it with stops in the United States, Australia, Asia, and Europe. On Friday night in New York, his third date, Shetty paced the stage in white cargo pants, a pastel technicolor cardigan, and a headset, bursting with enthusiasm but quick to prompt a reflective pause in the room. Members of the all-adult-ages crowd yelled out that they loved him.
Shetty did some light crowd work as he fielded audience submissions about the definition of “love.” The presentation circled around love broadly construed: dating, family, love of self. (Judging by an informal poll he conducted, the audience primarily consisted of couples and people who aren’t single.) Drawing from his book and recurring references to pop science, Shetty made assured and digestible recommendations about the subject and brought up audience members to the stage for a series of exercises in which he could demonstrate.
“The days of solitude make us open and curious and reflected,” Shetty said after a woman named Jessica entered a black box meant to emulate a cave. He had two single audience members enact a first date and poured tea for them: “Studies show that when you go out and you hold a warm drink, not only are you more generous and trusting of yourself, you actually have warmer feelings toward the other person.” During a game show session that tested couples’ knowledge of each other, he recalled reading a study from the Gottman Institute, a research organization focused on relationships and marriage, that showed how “the number one skill in a relationship…is knowing how each other fight.”
Shetty guided the room through a brief meditation before going into his final act. As an orchestral version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” played, Shetty walked into the audience and presented a microphone to a woman who said she hadn’t told her grandmother she loved her in years.
The woman walked on stage, held her phone into the microphone, and left her grandmother a voicemail when she didn’t pick up. “We’re always waiting for the perfect time, the perfect moment, the perfect scenario to make the perfect call,” Shetty told the crowd after returning to his counselor role. “And as you all know, there’s no perfect timing, there’s no perfect moment. As you just saw, the moment is now.”
There were some tears across the theater. I saw a woman in a Gucci baseball hat fall into the arms of her seatmate. And the evening wrapped, its promise of catharsis delivered. As the audience readied to exit, Shetty had one more request: not to spoil the show for everyone who would come to watch on the 29 dates to follow.