“The old Aziz is dead,” the 36-year old comedian remarks in his brand-new Netflix special. He is, of course, referring to the January 2018 babe.net article in which a young woman going by the pseudonym “Grace” accused him of committing sexual misconduct. It has been a year and a half since the divisive article came out, immediately sending readers and fans of Aziz Ansari into two camps: those who believe the victim’s allegations of sexual misconduct and those who consider the events “a bad date” riddled with miscommunication, even some making him out to be a victim of #MeToo. The babe.net article facilitated a compelling conversation regarding the issues of consent and communication, highlighting an often-overlooked element of the #MeToo discussion—the act of having the conversation at all. Mr. Ansari recognizes this too:
“I always think about a conversation I had with one of my friends where he was like, ‘You know what, man? That whole thing made me think about every date I’ve ever been on.’ And I thought, ‘Wow! That’s pretty incredible. If this made not just me but other people be more thoughtful, then that’s a good thing, and that’s how I feel about it.’”
While Ansari does almost immediately address the dialogue surrounding his own actions, his near-apology doesn’t feel quite complete.
“It’s a tricky thing for me to answer,” he says. “‘Cause I’ve felt so many things in the last year, 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… I hope I’ve become a better person.”
Obviously, remorse in this case is a good thing, because it means he is capable of learning from his mistakes. What more can we ask of someone who has done something wrong? After all, they do say that “The best apology is changed behavior.”
And he has certainly had plenty of time to reflect. After almost a year and a half with few public appearances, Ansari began his Road to Nowhere tour in April, performing in Europe, the United States, India, Australia, Japan, and New Zealand, with many shows selling out completely. It would appear that his success has not been hurt by Grace’s allegations at all; in fact, some think he was literally “rewarded” with a Netflix special despite the misconduct.
In today’s cultural climate, analyzing contentious humor can pose a challenge. But one thing that Ansari does in Right Now to combat that challenge is that when he talks about the sensitive stuff, he makes fun of himself—the powerful, or otherwise privileged character in Grace’s story. He does not make fun of her, but rather of his own embarrassment at having been involved at all. That being said, the alternative would have been an obvious career-ending move, further contributing to Ansari’s demonization.
Right Now is more subdued than Ansari’s previous standup specials. Even his attire was more casual, as he wore a Metallica t-shirt instead of his more formal suits and tuxedos to the Brooklyn venue where the special was filmed. He also did something different with his performance style; when bringing up serious discussions, he sat on the bar stool onstage and lowered his voice to a whisper—an unusual choice for Ansari, who is recognizable by his high-pitched voice and lovable (if zany) characters. Yet different as it may be, Right Now unfortunately does not live up to the sophisticated and special humor of Master of None, and is tough to compare well with his older standup performances because of its more serious tone.
Politically, the special seems a bit middle-of-the-road, trying to cater to all audiences at once, which does not leave the viewer totally satisfied with his musings. He considers fake wokeness and how “things don’t just become racist when white people figure it out.” Ansari further imagines how white people might be “playing a game where they’re, like, tallying up points for doing nice stuff”. But he seems almost too careful with some of his arguments, as if afraid of saying the wrong thing to an audience that is already more hostile than it was two years ago. While he is capable of addressing the many voices that exist in life in 2019, his ruminations do not convincingly pick a side. Instead he focuses on living in the moment, which is how he concludes the show.
Ending on that note suggests that Ansari is eager to move on from his past, while asking the audience to move on as well. But this contradicts his earlier argument, when he said that having more conversations about consent is a good thing.
Not all predators will be Harvey Weinsteins or Kevin Spaceys or Matt Lauers. But there are many in-between, gray areas in the spectrum of sexual activity, power, and consent that should continue to be discussed. And it seems like Aziz Ansari might be getting there, and that is the best we can hope for.
Aziz Ansari: Right Now is streaming on Netflix.
Jackie Hajdenberg is a writer based in New York and an alum of Barnard College. You can follow her on Twitter @DrJackieMrsHajd.