With Netflix's Right Now, Aziz Ansari enjoys the get-out-of-jail free card he demands from society
The brand of Aziz Ansari's humour has undergone a significant shift. From being the subject of his own comedy, Ansari transformed into an outward humourist, clinically making idiosyncratic observations as seen in his popular Netflix show Master of None. This journey has not been without its share of ups and downs, at least if viewers were to go by the comedian's own statements. Regarded as an ally of the feminist movement, he was considered 'woke' before his comfortable position was more than rocked when a 2018 article highlighted a sexual misconduct claim against him. His latest special, philosophically titled Right Now, deals with the aftermath of this incident.
The title Right Now does not need much thought. Considering what he's been through, it would not be surprising if Ansari simply wanted to live in the 'now', not making lofty promises for the future or revert to his past self.
He does not waste time to address the elephant in the room. About a minute into his stand-up act, the comedian opens with racial humour about a fan confusing him with Hasan Minhaj from Patriot Act. He moves on to the sexual misconduct claim (not for the first time) before a live audience and camera. He explains the spate of emotions which he underwent in the wake of the allegation — fear, humiliation and even embarrassment but ultimately, he just felt 'terrible' that the person (accuser) felt this way.
Ansari's acknowledgement of this issue right at the beginning of his set is not surprising. Being a public figure of considerable repute has its share of baggage. It must have been difficult for Ansari to achieve global success being a man of colour; he could have lost all of it as his name surfaced in the #MeToo environment and it is something he is well aware of. His "thank you all for showing up" line is now way more meaningful than an empty sign of obligatory gratitude.
One would think Ansari would prefer moving on from the murky waters to doing a safe set based on the everyday aspects of life. But Ansari surprises. He unabashedly calls out noted names embroiled in alleged sexual offence cases like R Kelly and Michael Jackson.
He begins by saying he watched the video on Kelly and the documentary on Jackson, both of which deal with the stars' sexual assault claims. He points at how such cases of sexual harassment actually make for saleable viewing content, consumed en masse by millions worldwide. But while trying to do that, the 36-year-old also draws attention to his own special Right Now, where he is discussing his feelings regarding personal allegations of a similar nature, while a cameraman deftly zooms in on his (slightly tired) face. This, in essence, makes Ansari the butt of his own joke, which could make for brilliant self-deprecating humour, but alas! Ansari continues on a hopeful note of self-transformation, telling people that he has changed from what he was — always looking over for the next big thing but never living in the moment.
He then moves on to a scathing conversation on race. He begins with a joke about an Asian man being offended by a white girl wearing an Asian dress to prom which sparked the age-old cultural appropriation debate. Ansari's treatment is a keen critique of the oversensitised scenario on social media which often leads to an atmosphere of rage and negativity on things which, according to Ansari, are non-news. "People are always trying to out-woke each other on social media," says the comedian and follows it up with sharp, poignant remarks on the overt political correctness that most people try to achieve online in vain.
He believes this widespread so-called 'change' is merely superficial and that people remain problematic from within. He takes an example of the frequent instances when he is asked about The Simpsons' Apu and the racial stereotypes that it is said to have propagated. "Yes I saw it 30 years ago," he says, feigning exhaustion. "Just call me Apu and be done with it. Things just don't become racist when white people figure it out."
However, these observations do not point towards a healthy introspection but simply border on cynicism. Ansari's tirade against superfluous wokeness, though understandable, still undermines an environment of discourse which is an obvious stepping stone to any social transformation, even if it will only happen in the next fifty years.
Aziz Ansari's stand-up set places the overarching conundrum of the 'art vs artist'. In the prism of his sexual allegations, his otherwise flawless set seems to have problematic dents. Though Ansari's commentary offers much-needed solutions to make society a better ecosystem to live in, (and in a way more human), they do take away the factor of responsibility from citizens sometimes. Ansari, probably due to personal hiccups in his life, demands a more lenient system. But credit where it's due, he confesses that he is willing to accept his shortcomings and learn from them.
Right Now is not necessarily funny, but it's relevant. Ansari successfully taps on to topical veins and squeezes all the satire from it, deliciously presenting it before his audiences. But what seems problematic is his need to continually justify his stance throughout the one-hour special, almost as if he'll be challenged on it.
That Ansari is coming from a position of privilege, is unquestionable. He still received the opportunity to feature an hour-long special in the world's leading streaming platform. His last tour Road To Nowhere, which Right Now is part of, toured globally across the US, India, Sweden, Denmark, and Australia. In fact, the comedian received a standing ovation from viewers in both Mumbai and Delhi. With his net worth reportedly standing at $18 million, the allegation then hardly impacted Ansari's reach.
This scenario stands in sharp contrast to the fate of survivors who've had the 'audacity' to challenge the power hierarchies during the #MeToo movement in India. The women who called out sexual offenders in workplaces were facing a tough situation as most company managements were informally discussing how they had become 'problem-makers.' Corporate and other sectors took a massive blow when names like Anirban Blah, MJ Akbar, Alok Nath, Vairamuthu and Suhel Seth among others began surfacing. With such a deluge of allegations, states a report, the "old male islands of imagined superiority were back." There has been widespread apprehension about hiring women with some major organisations even contemplating scaling down their women employees. There was already a layer of subtle misogyny that had to be combated at various workplaces, but with #MeToo, the fear that women could cause further issues were "hardening attitudes."
In a way, Ansari's special was yet another leeway that society agreed to give the accused but not the survivor. That is not to say the comedian should not be given a chance, only that he ought to be more grateful for it.
(All images from Twitter)
Updated Date: Jul 23, 2019 15:17:49 IST