The past year has been rough for Aziz Ansari and his special Right Now (out now) doesn’t want you to forget that.
Perhaps if he acknowledged explicitly that his desires did not equal her consent, then Ansari would have moved into the realm of what made Harmon’s apology successful.
In comparison, the same year as Ansari's #MeToo moment, Community and Rick and Morty creator, Dan Harmon, apologized for his own problematic conduct. Harmon publicly apologized on his podcast Harmontown for sexual harassment claims from Community writer Megan Ganz. Ganz tweeted this in response to Harmon’s apology: “[The apology]’s only seven minutes long, but it is a masterclass in how to apologize. He’s not rationalizing or justifying or making excuses. He doesn’t just vaguely acknowledge some general wrongdoing in the past. He gives a full account.”
Ansari took a more vague approach than Harmon. Actually, the comedian never really admits any wrongdoing at all. Instead, Ansari talks about the experience as something that has made him more thoughtful. That’s it. Considering a 2017 study, conducted by Binghamton University and Rush University, found that men believed if they thought a woman was interested that counted as consent, Ansari undoubtedly should've been more explicit in his description of what he had done wrong and how he had mishandled his alleged encounter with Grace. Perhaps if he acknowledged explicitly that his desires did not equal her consent, then Ansari would have moved into the realm of what made Harmon’s apology successful.
People don’t like being tricked, especially when they don’t fall for it. Just ask Grace—she was allegedly tricked into a sexual encounter, didn’t go along with it and said much about it to babe.net. Other outlets accuse babe.net of shoddy reporting (and they're not wrong), but it's difficult to conclude the story as a simple fabrication. Ansari’s pizza poll isn’t an analogous situation: Grace’s version of the 2018 events is at least said to be based in reality—corroborated by text messages, friends and photos. Ansari wasn’t condemned sans research and some due diligence. Grace is not an imaginary pizza.
While Ansari experienced the wrath of babe.net readers in 2018, Hannah Gadsby’s stand-up special Nanette dropped on Netflix to critical acclaim. It is a one-hour set that highlights the continued violence of men's words and actions toward women and nonbinary folks. In it, Gadsby says, “And artists are not these incredible, you know, mythical creatures that exist outside of the world.” In other words, artists don’t get a pass just for creating art.
People don’t like being tricked, especially when they don’t fall for it.
I bring up Gadsby since her current Douglas tour because it deals with backlash from a specific demographic, just as Ansari’s Right Now deals with his backlash from another very specific demographic. Unintentionally, Gadsby and Ansari have become counterpoints to one another by sheer temporality: After dissecting today’s outrage and cancel culture (though he never explicitly uses those names), referencing R. Kelly and Michael Jackson as examples, Ansari asserts his own brush with outrage culture almost cost him his stand-up career—and we should all enjoy the present right now because at any moment it can be taken away. The tacit addition to that is "by people we have mistreated coming back and outing us."
Adding to this sentiment, Ansari employs Spike Jonze as director, chooses a telling portion of The Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes” as intro and outro music, and uses close-ups and onstage filming to generate a feeling of intimacy. Aziz Ansari is being vulnerable and intimate. He has had a near-scrape. He is a survivor—the real victim—don’t you forget it.
I do need to clarify this: Ansari's allegations are in no way as detestable as Louis C.K's admitted and numerous altercations. Although he behaved terribly in this instance, it did not spur a large number of women to step forward and say, “Me too” as in Louis C.K.’s case. But that doesn’t change his non-apology from being what it is: a non-apology.
This isn’t to say Ansari’s special lacks humor. Just as Gadsby infused the weighty topics she covered with laughs and humorous asides, Ansari does tell jokes (like white people posting racially ‘woke’ posts on Instagram to get more ‘woke’ clout) that do land and elicit laughs—but that’s not the point. And neither is the classification of a special as comedy or not. The classification debate, as Gadsby points out in Douglas, is a distraction tactic to draw attention away from what the person is actually saying. Ansari’s crowd work provides most of the laughs as he interacts with two young boys in the front row brought by their father.
But what are those young boys really hearing as Ansari demonizes the people outraged by inappropriate behavior? Ansari may classify this special as an intimate and sobering moment of genial repenting through his packaging of it, but the actual content of his show tells a different story. Comedy is getting smarter and more socially conscious. We’re not tolerating misconduct or half-assed apologies without any real acknowledgement or atonement any longer. Set better examples for the boys in your front row.