There is a weird conundrum that we feel when we watch the work of an artiste who has been accused of socially, morally or legally unacceptable actions. As I started watching Aziz Ansari’s new Netflix special Aziz Ansari Right Now, I could only think of the woman who accused him of harassment via Babe.net. (Ansari admitted to the encounter and justified it as consensual.) Ansari surely knew that anyone who is attending his show or watching the Netflix special has come on board with the same thought in their mind and so, he addresses the same as he opens the show.
Given the circumstances, this was the only way that Aziz could have opened the show. And this somehow absolves the audience of their guilt as they laugh at his jokes later.
Aziz Ansari addresses many such dilemmas in his Netflix special. He talks about the Michael Jackson documentary Leaving Neverland and recollects that the first ever music he heard was “Thriller”, but it now leaves him perplexed about his childhood memories. He doesn’t put it out there but we can sense Aziz is slyly inserting a thought in the viewer’s heads, ‘Separate the art from the artiste’. Sure he has a vested interest here but is the demarcation that black and white?
Aziz recollects many of his bits from Parks and Recreation and his old comedy specials and admits that not all comedy ages well. Ansari’s message is clear here: “Become aware and slowly get better.” He repeats the understanding of cultural context and how movies and old artwork which seem offensive now were probably applauded just a few years ago. This is not an excuse but an explanation of our growing awareness.
Aziz Ansari’s special runs for 65-minutes and is a great mix of comedy and emotional storytelling. Ansari has been around for years and until last year, he was loved as the creepy Tom Haverford (Parks and Rec). But now appreciating that character puts you in a strange predicament. Ansari here is trying hard to be that goofy lovable stand-up artiste again and with the content he puts out, he deserves more than a few laughs. But does that make you forget all the chatter that brought him to the limelight during the #MeToo storm? Tough call.
Aziz Ansari Right Now is streaming on Netflix.