Aziz Ansari's latest stand-up special is introspective, funny and awkward.
Aziz Ansari returns with a new stand-up special. Called Right Now, Ansari tackles wokeness, his grandmother and, yes, that elephant in the room that is his sexual misconduct accusation. Oh, the lols.
Here be spoilers…
What we like
Unlike Aziz Ansari's previous specials where he struts about the stage in a suit, Right Now, is more intimate and personal. The braggadocio still remains but it's kept back by a Metallica T-shirt, jeans and a lot of sitting on the stool. The decision to have the camera being up-close to him was jarring at first but it gets across the closeness of his set.
He also does something that wasn't present or prevalent in his previous specials—crowd work. Usually, stand-up comedy is laughter in reaction to a joke, that's the social contract. With crowd work, Ansari bridged the gap between the audience and himself. Now they are part of the act. Now they set up the jokes and later, down the line, Ansari puts out a callback.
There are some stand-out bits from the special—swastika pizza, jazzy Osama Bin, his Danish girlfriend—but the best ones are the lessons gleaned from the punchlines. Ansari muses about 'cancel culture' or how everybody has an opinion on things that they do not even have knowledge about ("Did you hear about the image of a slice of Domino's pizza that looks like it had a swastika sign on it?") Ansari raises questions but he's also questioning it himself.
Unlike wine, jokes don't age well. What seems funny then, might be unfunny now. People tend to play the 'freedom of speech' and 'people should take a joke' cards but our culture does not exist in a vacuum. There are upheavals and with that, there needs to be adaptation with these contextual times. So, before anyone could lay blame, Ansari does it himself. He referenced his own character, Tom Haverford, from Parks and Recreation. How his character's actions on a show that aired years ago, wouldn't fly now. He puts up an example of a joke about his cousin Harris, about fat-shaming him and calls himself out for it. I don't think I've seen a comedian do an introspection of his or her past work.
It's one thing to keep evolving with the times but to actually look back at your own jokes and offer a critique? Now that's something.
One other thing was Ansari opening with his acknowledgement of the scandal that he was embroiled in. While he didn't go into so many details, he didn't lay blame on the victim nor was he trying to weasel his way out of it. It is a ballsy salvo to a comedy show.
What we didn't like
How do you apologise and move on, especially for someone who is in the national spotlight? Who does the forgiving, the aggrieved or the public? These are the questions that came up while watching the special. Ansari seems sincere and contrite. But his acknowledgement was already highlighted in early reports during his Road to Nowhere tour, every show he does, his concession is delivered in the same penitent manner and almost verbatim. Wouldn't it be better if it was delivered unrehearsed? Is Ansari virtue signalling? Is it all a well-orchestrated act? Did he lower his voice to give it some sort of sombreness? ARRRRRGH.
But maybe I'm looking at this with a cynical eye. And I don't like that because it means that I've already entered into this with distrust. It's not fair to someone who is genuinely trying to better oneself.
I guess, in a confessional spirit, what I didn't like is my pre-conceived cynicism.
What to look out for
Every time Ansari picks on a white person in the crowd. I feed off that white guilt.
Aziz Ansari: Right Now is out in Netflix.