Aziz Ansari finishes his most recent Netflix stand-up special, “Right Now,” on a bit of a somber note. He thanks his audience for listening and tells them that although he has thanked many audiences before, he never really meant it until now.
He says that old Aziz who told everyone to “treat yo’self” was dead. He recounted his early success and rise to fame and said, “All that stuff, it can just go away…all we really have is the moment we’re in and the people we’re with.”
He’s right. For Ansari, everything he had worked for in his entire young life nearly vanished in an instant when he was accused of sexual misconduct in early 2018. An article posted to the website babe.net describing the account of a young woman who had been on an unpleasant date with the star and described her experience as assault. Suddenly, Ansari was trending online for all the wrong reasons.
Although the post met a great deal of skepticism for myriad reasons, Ansari’s bright star had already been tarnished. His fast-moving career hit a major barrier. But in the past year, the comic has slowly been chipping his way back in, touring all over the world with brand new material.
In “Right Now,” the Aziz who played goofy, materialistic Tom Haverford on “Parks and Recreation” and wrote jokes most often repeated in college dormitories was nowhere to be found. In his place was a man who told soulful jokes from years of trial and experience.
At 36, Ansari showed a previously unseen side of maturity and humility. He wore a relaxed, vintage Metallica tee, a much more relaxed look than the suits he had worn in previous specials. His youthful face seemed just a bit more drawn and his once-animated stage presence was significantly cooled.
He dutifully addressed the misconduct allegations quickly and without jokes to open the special. He carefully and deliberately explained that he had learned from the experience on many levels.
And then he got funny. Really funny. Ansari’s new edge took immediate whacks at the overly woke public mentality he constantly experiences. He pointed out the lunacy of constantly calling “cultural appropriation” at strangers on the internet rather than having civilized conversations.
At one point, he told a story of a viral photo in which a pizza had allegedly been made with pepperoni laid out to look like a swastika and asked the audience if they thought it was fake. People in the crowd responded that they did or that they didn’t, only for Ansari to tell them he’d made the whole thing up. “You’re the problem!” he jokingly chided.
Ansari steered clear of political pitfalls that have become all too common in modern comedy specials. He never skewered the president and never beckoned his crowd for the “clapter” that has replaced real laughing in many specials.
The comedian, no longer sourcing from the life experiences of a single 20-something who likes food and soft sheets, evoked several mid-life concerns relatable to so many. He recounted a visit to his ailing grandmother in India to whom he couldn’t help but lie—an anecdote the hit the perfect combination of tragedy and humor. He reminded others his age that future visits home to see aging parents aren’t endless, then immediately painted a hysterically accurate picture of what it’s like to visit family for many 30-somethings.
Ansari’s also apologized for “fat-shaming” his young cousin Harris in early comedy specials. The comedian famously joked repeatedly about Harris being overweight and nerdy and offered an honest apology for it. He assured the audience that Harris is now very fit and “works out all the time…probably because he’s scarred for life.”
Maturity fits Ansari. In “Right Now” he has officially entered a new phase in his career and, with specials like this one, I hope the phase lasts for a while.