Aziz Ansari performing standup in Nov. 2017 (AP/Shutterstock)
Since being called out for sexual misconduct a little over a year ago, comedian Aziz Ansari has mostly stayed out of the spotlight while quietly touring the country behind a new set of material. Although he’s done plenty of unannounced spots at the Comedy Cellar over the last year, he performed his first announced set in NYC last night there—interest was so high for the tickets, a Comedy Cellar source told Gothamist it crashed the Cellar’s site immediately after they went up for sale Monday morning.
Vulture reports that at the show, Ansari soberly addressed the Babe article in which a woman named “Grace” described a date-gone-wrong with Ansari, in which she says he repeatedly pressured her into having sex despite her refusals, and felt coerced into performing oral sex on him.
“There were times I felt really upset and humiliated and embarrassed, and ultimately I just felt terrible this person felt this way,” Ansari said of the experience. “But you know, after a year, how I feel about it is, I hope it was a step forward. It made me think about a lot, and I hope I’ve become a better person.”
— Aziz Ansari (@azizansari) February 7, 2019
Although Ansari, like other major comedians who have been accused of sexual misconduct or assault, asked audience members to put their phones into Yondr pouches, Vulture jotted down some of what he said. Here’s an excerpt:
A loose tone ran through the whole set, which was made up largely of the material that has been reported on over the last few weeks. This changed, however, when Ansari brought up the topic that it seemed everyone was wondering if he’d bring up. He began by saying that he loves being back in New York. He recalled a guy on the street telling him he loved his Netflix show, only to realize he was talking about Hasan Minhaj’s Patriot Act. The guy quickly realized his mistake. “‘Oh, no, Aziz, right?’ Yeah, yeah, that’s me. Master of None! Yeah, yeah, that’s me. Parks and Rec! Yeah, yeah, that’s me. ‘Treat yourself!’ Yeah, yeah, that’s me. ‘And you had the whole thing come out last year — sexual misconduct?’ No, no, no, no, no, no, that’s Hasan!”
From there, Ansari sat down, and his voice turned somber. He told the audience that there are two reasons he hasn’t really talked about that “whole thing” much, referring to the story that came out last year on Babe.net accusing him of sexual misconduct. First, he said, he wanted time to process and determine what he wanted to say. Second, “it’s a terrifying thing to talk about.” “There were times I felt really upset and humiliated and embarrassed, and ultimately I just felt terrible this person felt this way,” he continued, his voice wavering. “But you know, after a year, how I feel about it is, I hope it was a step forward. It made me think about a lot, and I hope I’ve become a better person.” Ansari recalled a conversation in which a friend told him it made him rethink every date he’s 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 that the incident gave him perspective on his life, and made him truly grateful that he gets to perform comedy for a living. “There was a moment where I was scared that I’d never be able to do this again,” he added.
The Babe article caused a flurry of debate between people who saw it as an instructive and eye-opening #MeToo conversation, to others who thought the shoddy reporting and storytelling undermined the conversation, to others who thought a “bad date” did not rise to the level of public discourse. Ansari released a statement at the time saying, “It was true that everything did seem okay to me, so when I heard that it was not the case for her, I was surprised and concerned. I took her words to heart and responded privately after taking the time to process what she had said. I continue to support the movement that is happening in our culture. It is necessary and long overdue.”
According to multiple reports, Ansari has turned “outrage fatigue” and performative wokeness into cornerstones of his new set. After seeing him perform in Connecticut, The New Yorker published a harsh review of the set last October, who wrote that he “seems to have channelled his experience into a diffuse bitterness.”
In his latest set, Ansari suggests that collective anger has overcorrected; now, rather than hold power to account, it targets the slightest and least consequential controversies. “Why is everyone weighing in on this shit?” Ansari asked of the Twitter users who flocked to debate whether an American teen-ager’s choice of prom dress constituted so-called cultural appropriation. “Everyone weighs in on everything. They don’t know anything. People don’t wanna just say, ‘I don’t know.’ ” The amused but progressive spirit that once informed Ansari’s commentary on current events seems to have crusted into suspicion about wokeness and its excesses. Without ever mentioning the #MeToo movement—or his own experience as one of its most disputed casualties—Ansari decries the destructive performativity of Internet activism and the fickle, ever-changing standards of political correctness.
But it does seem that the set has evolved into a more introspective one in the new year…unlike some people who shall not be named who have responded to being called out for sexual misconduct by embracing their heel turns and turning school shooting survivors into punchlines for their increasingly pathetic and self-pitying sets and did you really think you’d get through this article without a mention of you-know-who? See you in the comments!