Aziz Ansari’s comeback comedy show, Road to Nowhere, questions if our 'wokeness' has gone too far
This is Aziz Ansari’s first major international tour after staying out of the public eye following sexual misconduct allegations.
Surprise. Surprise. Aziz Ansari isn’t averse to talking about sexual misconduct. In fact, it’s all he seems to talk about.
Michael Jackson, R Kelly, the cringe-inducing office romance between Jim and Pam in The Office (Now Pam ‘would be bringing a landmark sexual harassment case’, he mused) or the scene in his own show Parks & Rec, in which his character Tom Haverford gets a nanny cam to spy on Rashida Jones’ character Ann (Tom would ‘go to jail’, he joked) — all of this came up during his first ever show in India. It was meant to be a show each in Mumbai and Delhi but that ballooned into four in Mumbai, including a surprise set. The Indian-American even got a standing ovation from audiences in both cities. This was part of Ansari’s Road to Nowhere tour that’s already taken him to the UK, Sweden and Denmark, Australia being next on the list.
This is Ansari’s first major international tour after staying out of the public eye following sexual misconduct allegations.
In January 2018, the website babe.net published the article ‘I Went On a Date With Aziz Ansari. It Turned Into the Worst Night of My Life’, a twenty-three-year-old woman’s account of a harrowing date with the comedian. The young woman described their date as ‘violating and painful’, adding Ansari repeatedly misread signals and pressured her into sexual activity that she was uncomfortable with. She eventually left his apartment crying, in a car that he called for her. The following day, when the young woman sent Ansari a lengthy text telling him of her discomfort the previous night, Ansari apologised.
The article, that relied completely on the account of the accuser, came at the back of the #MeToo reckoning that was sweeping through Hollywood at the time. It became a cultural Rorschach test. Many interpreted the encounter as a bad date and a prime example of a famous man’s ignorance of sexual consent; others lumped him in the same category as Harvey Weinstein and follow comedian Louis CK. In a statement issued shortly after the account was published, Ansari said, “everything did seem Ok to me, so when I heard that it was not the case for her, I was surprised and concerned’. He described the interaction being ‘by all indications completely consensual’.
Regardless of which side one believes, there’s no denying that Ansari’s image as a woke feminist ally has taken a major hit. And, that’s exactly where the Master of None star trained his sights, riffing on the fast-changing standards of political correctness and superficial cultural wokeness.
Early in his 90-minute set, comedian-actor-writer Aziz Ansari did a choice gag about the ‘secret progressive Candy Crush’ game liberals play to outdo one another’s wokeness. One player earned a point by taking their black friend to see Black Panther and another wrote a lengthy Instagram post shaming his own privilege. Even when he seemingly changed the subject to his Alzheimer’s-inflicted grandmother in Tamil Nadu, he didn’t lose the routine’s underlying thread of fast-changing variables of socially acceptable behaviour and moral censure.
‘We’re all just shitty people, but we keep trying to do better,’ was a sentiment that Ansari repeated often during the second half of his set as he got closer to addressing his own #MeToo allegations. He began by recalling a fan he met in Mumbai who told him he loved Ansari’s Netflix show, only to realise that the fan had confused him with Hasan Minhaj. The fan quickly corrected himself and identified Ansari as the star of Parks & Rec and Master of None before adding, ‘And that whole thing that came out last year – sexual misconduct?’ ‘No, no, no, no, no, no that’s Hasan!’
Laughter echoed through the 1200-seater Liberty Theatre (even though half the audience had to suffer through terrible audio) one last time before the mood turned sombre. “There were times I felt really upset, humiliated, embarrassed and ultimately, I just felt terrible this person felt this way,” he told the crowd. He recalled a conversation with a friend who told him that the allegations made him rethink every date he’d been on. ‘If that has made not just me but other guys think about this, and just be more thoughtful and aware and willing to go that extra mile, and make sure someone else is comfortable in that moment, that’s a good thing.”
Ansari added how, in the past, he’d end every show with ‘Thanks so much’ because it was the done thing but he never meant it. After a yearlong forced hiatus when he wasn’t sure if he could still perform comedy for a living, seeing a theatre full of people filled him with gratitude. ‘You cancelled whatever you were supposed to do tonight, just to hear me talk, and it means the world to me, so thank you so much’. And, a visibly moved audience gave him a standing ovation.
Dressed casually in a Metallica t-shirt, jeans and Vans, Ansari spent most of his set seated on a (faulty) barstool. It was a far cry from his crisp, high-energy Netflix special in 2015 at Madison Square Garden that had helped him built a reputation as an ardent feminist. His Emmy-winning Netflix series, Master of None cemented his image as a politically correct funny man.
As Ansari attempts to piece together his career in the post #MeToo world, he is questioning if our wokeness has gone too far.
If the audience reactions at the shows in India were anything to go by, there’s no doubt that Ansari is back. His new material and the new post-woke persona, though, are still in a stage of redevelopment.
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