I went and saw Aziz Ansari a few months ago here in Portland, mostly because the staff was like, “You HAVE to go, because what if he finally addresses the allegations of sexual misconduct.” It was a weird act, one in which Ansari seemed to take issue with the woke culture that he helped to foster with Master of None. It was difficult not to view the show through the perspective of those allegations, and because he didn’t address them, the act felt defensive, even though a lot of his jokes about performative white woke people might have otherwise landed.
He’s out of the “work-in-progress” phase of his Road to Nowhere show now and hitting much bigger venues. In a pop-up show last night in New York City, he also finally addressed those allegations, via Vulture:
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.”
I know how this works, and people are going to have different perspectives on this. Was it good enough? Was it a good first step? Did he completely fail? We forgive you, Aziz! Fuck you, Aziz! I think it’s probably as much a process for his audience as it is for Ansari, and I have no doubt that in two hours, I’ll realize that I have missed something huge, for which our readers will be understandably angry.
I will say this, however. He speaks a lot in his show about performative wokeness, and it comes off as defensive in the context of his own situation. However, if he continues to address the sexual misconduct in his show, it takes the edge off of that defensiveness and helps him better sell the point he’s trying to make about performative wokeness. Namely, that woke one-upmanship often ignores the underlying bigotry in favor of a sort of competitive wokeness. Sometimes, this competition among white people to see who can be the most woke is not about addressing a systemic problem; it’s about scoring woke points. It’s annoying, but also, unhelpful.
I think that’s the point that Ansari is trying to make in his show, but it was hard to see the point because Ansari and his giant elephant were waving their arms and standing directly in front of it.