Aziz Ansari Right Now director: Spike Jonze
Aziz Ansari Right Now rating: Two stars
He walks in, with shoulders drooping, almost nonchalantly — wearing a grey Metallica t-shirt and an equally grey pair of stone-washed jeans, and sneakers with skeleton toes painted on them — and plomps himself awkwardly on a bar stool that’s placed dead centre on the stage and faces a packed hall in Brooklyn. For Aziz Ansari, actor and stand-up comedian, New York is almost home. His show Master of None was set here and he attended school close by in Greenwich, and he couldn’t have asked for a better place for his latest stand up Right Now for Netflix. But no, the show in Brooklyn is the acid test for Ansari, who in early 2018 was accused of sexual misconduct by a woman whom he went out on a date. And yes, he did address that scandal head on in the first two minutes of the hour-long act.
“I felt so many things, in the last year or so. There’s times I felt scared. There’s times I felt humiliated. There’s times I felt embarrassed. And ultimately, I just felt terrible that this person felt this way. And after a year or so, I just hope it was a step forward. And it moved things forward for me; it made me think about a lot. I hope I’ve become a better person.” By the end of this line, Ansari, whose pitched, excitable voice is a kind of signature, had lowered his voice to a stage whisper — something which he does repeatedly in the stand-up act — and he leaned closer, shoulders hunched, as if beckoning the audience to come closer to him as he shared with them the tragedy that he suffered for the past year-and-a-half.
Ansari moved on to jokes that included Crazy Rich Asians, wokeness, him being brown and dating a Danish white girl and male IUDs. Michael Jackson and R Kelly controversies too are mentioned. There was an interesting bit about how ‘woke’ white people have a grading system where they mark themselves for the good deed of the day — “Like a secret, progressive candy crush we don’t know about. Like how I told one of my African-American friends that I thought Black Panther should have won best picture”. None of the lines are laugh out funny, nor are they so on point with being politically incorrect. They are just there.
What’s conspicuous by its absence is Ansari’s energy, that makes the stand-up seem more drawn out than needed. The energy that made his character Tom Haverford in Parks and Recreation so endearing, complete with big eyes and an even wider smile. That energy alone made the confidence and excitement of Dev — his autobiographical character from the show Master of None — believable.
Ansari in Right Now engages a lot with the audience, just like his 2015 Netflix special Aziz Ansari: Live at Madison Square Garden. Here, raising hands has been replaced by clapping, and the energy and the tone is more philosophical than cheeky. There is even a time when he asks the audience to close their eyes and remember their one happy memory from a recent weekend spent with their family, and then to raise their hands. There’s a heavy silence because everyone is trying hard to concentrate. “There’s like five hands up right now. You know why? Because we all had the same shitty weekend, okay. I know what you did, because I did the same thing,” he chuckles.
Right Now is a slight departure from the usual array of stand-up specials that are streaming on Netflix. For starters, it’s not at all glamorous and has a rugged feel to it. Spike Jonze, who was up on stage filming Ansari, was at times so close to him that one could see the four o’clock shadow on his face. There were awkward camera angles and some quirky framing. One could even see some people — the production crew presumably — who were watching the show from the wings.
Ansari circles back to sexual misconduct in the end as he thanked the audience for coming out to see him. He was ready to move on from the mishaps of last year, and was stating the same for the world at large. “I wasn’t grateful enough. I didn’t really think what it means that you all guys came…I saw the world where I don’t get to do this anymore and it almost felt like I had died. In a way I did. That old Aziz who’d say ‘treat yo self’, whatever is dead.”
Ansari seems to have risen from the ashes like a phoenix, but he is still flying with baby wings. Till then, it’s a flap here and there.
Aziz Ansari: Right Now streams on Netflix