Aziz Ansari Aims For Redemption With His New Stand-Up Special, 'Right Now'

 (Netflix)

As far as #MeToo revelations go, none have been more controversial or more divisive than the Babe article in which a woman calling herself Grace described a terrible night with Aziz Ansari. The piece—titled "I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It turned into the worst night of my life"—caused such a furor when it came out, some critics believed it was misguided enough to bring #MeToo crashing to a halt forever. It didn't of course, but it did prove to be a disaster for everyone involved.

Ansari disappeared from the public eye, Grace's true identity was revealed online and the reputation of Babe.net was annihilated almost overnight, a process sped up by how poorly the author of the piece responded to criticism after the fact. There were pros and cons on both sides of the Grace/Ansari dispute, but ultimately the only good gleaned from it was the jumping-off point it gave the nation to start talking, in a wider context, about consent.

Eighteen months on and Ansari is back on our screens with a new Netflix special titled Right Now. Early reviews have focused on the reflections Ansari bookends his set with, about the sexual misconduct claims; his acknowledgment that "I just felt terrible that this person felt this way"; and the descriptions of how his life has changed since. But the most revealing material of all is hidden within the core content of the hour-long stand-up special.

Right Now is ultimately about learning curves, taking responsibility for mistakes and the individual reckonings that are part and parcel of social progress. Ansari spends much of the set examining his own less-heard-of missteps. Everything from not hanging out with his grandma enough ("I'm one afternoon good, I'm not two nights good") to fat-shaming his little cousin "on a global scale" in previous comedy specials ("He's super buff. He goes to the gym all the time. Probably because he was scarred for life"). Of praising R. Kelly in his first two specials, he says: "I’m watching this [Surviving R. Kelly] documentary. I’m terrified. I’m like ‘Man, they better not pull up them clips! I’ve had a tricky year as it is!'”

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Ansari even reflects on a 2010 episode of Parks and Recreation in which his character, Tom, gives a teddy bear with a nanny cam in it to Anne, in order to spy on her. "I feel like if I got that script today, I’d be like ‘Yeeeeeah, I’m not doing this one, guys! I’m pretty sure Tom would go to jail for that.’ But back then I was like ‘Oh, I get it! Now I can see inside her house! Hahaha!'”

In exploring these moments, Ansari is publicly accepting and owning his flaws, but the set is not all humility and self-examination. Much of the hour is spent dissecting the absurd nature of people "out-woking" one another, particularly online. He gives the audience a number of tests about their own moral compasses too, including a comparison of the number of people "done" with R. Kelly vs. Michael Jackson (which plays out exactly as you might imagine). At one point, Ansari explicitly states: "Look, we’re all shitty people, okay? We have our blind spots and we slowly get better. We’re all on a journey."

What this all boils down to is Ansari indirectly asking the public to stop judging him so harshly, when learning and growing and making mistakes is the very essence of being human. If there was a comedy special attached to Jon Ronson's excellent So You've Been Publicly Shamed book, this would be it.

In much the same way that Grace and Ansari's disastrous night became an opportunity to talk about communication between intimate partners, Ansari has taken his own public humiliation as a means to more widely explore communication in the modern world and the often judgmental nature of it. For Ansari's detractors, it will all mean very little; a brief glance at Twitter will tell you as much. But taking a personal crisis and making it meaningful on this broad a scale is an impressive feat whichever way you slice it. "All we really have," he says at the end of Right Now, "is the moment we’re in and the people we’re with.” Ansari has clearly learned a lot from Grace sharing her story. We could all learn something from hearing his too.

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