I, truly, very sincerely, without a sarcastic undertone — or maybe a little — believe that men in stand-up comedy are under threat. And not just in America, but everywhere. We had our own share of feeling heartbroken over the calling out of the 4-member boy band that revolutionized the Indian comedy scene. Yet, nothing as devastating as it has been for the Louis CK fans and the likes of him. One such man called out during the movement was Aziz Ansari and like every other man accused of misconduct, he made his glamorous return to the stage a year later. (Side question: when was it unanimously decided that a 1-year gap period was enough for amnesia to kick in among the audience?)
Encouraged (because, triggered is a very emotional word) by a conversation at work among a few male co-workers, I decided to stop ignoring my Netflix suggestions and watch Right Now, Ansari’s comeback one hour special. I had learnt from colleagues that there was a compelling apology at the beginning of the show, along with a refreshing perspective on the scam called wokeness. Intrigued by neither aspects, I hoped to brave through it, like I did the conversation.
Seated on a high stool, Ansari and his awkward humour is almost symbolic of his take on the allegations — the comeback-me is (obviously!) better than called-out-me. He brings up the harassment smoothly sandwiched in between a joke on racism, and hits you in the face with well-crafted sentences that are pretending really hard to be an apology. Spoiler Alert: it never intends to be one.
“I just feel terrible that this person feels this way,” he says. After listing all the things the incident made him feel, he manages to squeeze in a line about the victim. There is no ownership of how he ‘made’ the person feel that way. It is a manipulative line, said with a paavam face, pleading for your forgiveness sans the apology. At no point, in this less than 2 min endeavour to address the elephant in the room, does he take responsibility or acknowledge his wrong. Instead, he positions himself for the rest of the one hour. He tells you, hey, I made you think about your dating habits. I — in my flawed glory — made you think about how to do this better. Oh celebrate with me, the gorgeous silver lining that is now the entire cloud. Aziz Ansari’s message is loud and clear: Good boys make mistakes for the greater good of the community at large.
Being the woke boi Ansari is, he deep dives into ranting about woke culture. Because if the system won’t let you in, just call the system out for being flawed, instead of yourself. But even now, he still has my attention. I, eventually, pick up my phone out of frustration only when he remarks, “It’s a weird time to be working on jokes.” God forbid a writer be held accountable if they do not think critically of their work and are oppressive in their rhetoric.
His story telling takes full shape when he pulls out his trump card — the story of 2 men whose extent of sexual crimes we are still uncovering — R Kelly and Michael Jackson. As clever as Ansari is, he spins the narrative so awkwardly, that you have been charmed before you even see through it. My problem with him talking about these serial predators is best said by Hannah Gadsby, “The very big problem I have with good men… is good men talking about the bad men.”
Good men — as Ansari would like to believe he is — for far too long have been juxtaposing themselves against the horrifyingly bad. They tell us, hey, I know I did this wrong thing, but let’s talk about that bad man there. These self-proclaimed good men, who learn to make non apology apologies and trick us with empty words that parade as changed behaviour, crawl their way back into the spotlight and never learn from their mistakes. It is this classic indifference of the woke man that Right Now reeks of.
But, why do men love this special so much? Why is his apology hailed as sensitive? Why is his one- hour performance so special? The answer, sadly, is that good men love good men. It is the United Front of the Good Men that will eventually avenge women who have been harassed by monsters like Cosby and Sajid Khan (oops, were we supposed to forget that after Houseful 4?). A quick conversation with a friend helped me answer the questions. And the reality is, most of the good boys around us have had an incident like Ansari did. Almost all of them have made a woman uncomfortable on a date. They have made a sexual advance that wasn’t consented to or just refused to accept the refusal of a woman.
So, when Ansari gets on a stage after a year, the good boys line up. They hold their breath and watch him walk the tightrope as he makes it to other side balancing on the shoulders of the bad boys. And the good boys cheer. They write stink pieces on how he “addressed the sexual assault allegations”. They turn around and tell you to learn to appreciate the candour. Because, if Ansari made it out of that tricky place, I will, too.
Ansari’s Right Now is neither original nor is it revolutionary. It is one in the long line of woke men who just refused to do better or make a decent apology yet kept a tight grasp on the mic. Because, all good men know one thing for certain, that if a woman is given that stage, they will be one of the bad men.