Ansari’s name came up. My cousin James gave me the rather esoteric clue “He wrote the book Modern Romance”. Nada. I had no idea who he was going on about.
And then my partner yelled out, “He’s bad at sex!”
Did Ansari’s so-called crime belong in the same pantheon as all the ratbag Hollywood men called out by Me Too? Or was it simply a case of bad sex?
The Ansari case wasn’t an easy one to reckon with, that’s why it was so controversial.
It was a case of alleged sexual misconduct in the widest possible definition of the term. And even then, maybe.
The story came from a now-defunct youth website babe.net and it told, in lurid detail, of a date between a 23-year-old woman and Ansari.
She called it “the worst experience with a man I’ve ever had” and accused Ansari of pressuring her to go along with sexual activity. She said he missed her non-verbal cues that she wasn’t comfortable.
The story immediately sparked furious conversations about the limitations of the Me Too movement, but also about generations of unequal dynamics between men and women, even in consensual sexual activity.
Ansari released a statement acknowledging the date and his continued support for the Me Too movement.
Then he disappeared from public view. He was at the height of his career so far, coming off the back of accolades for his acclaimed Netflix series Master of None.
Ansari quietly started to mount his comeback tour some months ago, taking his new stand-up routine around the world, including to Melbourne and Sydney where he graced the Opera House stage in early June.
But it’s one thing to tour and present yourself to people who are fans enough to pay $90 to see you; it’s another to put that show out on Netflix for 149 million paying subscribers.
The filmed performance that drops on Netflix today is his set from the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York, and was directed by Spike Jonze.
Ansari and his partners, which includes Netflix, must feel confident enough that now is the time for a real comeback. 3
I saw the show in Sydney after we bought pre-sale tickets. Amid the biting laughs about performative wokeness like white people feeling compelled to love Crazy Rich Asians is a thoughtful and smart Ansari.
He addresses his Me Too moment early in the set.
He says, “I’ve felt so many things in the last year or so, there were times I felt scared, there were times I felt humiliated, there were times I felt embarrassed and ultimately, I felt terrible this person felt this way.
“After a year or so, I just hope it was a step forward. It moved things forward for me, it made me think about a lot.”
He relays a conversation he had with a mate in which the friend says that Ansari’s experience made him think about every date he’s ever been on.
“And I thought that was incredible. This made not just me but other people more thoughtful, then that’s a good thing.”
Ansari stands in stark contrast to another comedian brought down by Me Too: Louis C.K.
C.K.’s scandal was infinitely more egregious and clear-cut, admitting he masturbated in front of numerous female co-workers over years. But his comeback is marked by petulant rage, entitlement and cruel taunts at mass shooting survivors.
The Ansari that’s on stage is humbled and he’s chastened. And he honestly seems like a changed person — Ansari is also not good enough of an actor to fake it.
The Ansari of old had a much more hyperactive energy onstage but here, he’s grounded. He spends half the set sitting on a stool.
You could argue that some of his material is calculated to make us forgive him. He talks about his girlfriend a lot, as if signalling if this particular woman can be with him, then he can’t be a bad man.
But it’s only one small aspect of a show that reflects a man who’s been transformed. He ends the show by expressing gratitude to the audience. He says he now truly understands how lucky he is.
Isn’t that the point of movements like Me Too? Not just to call out the bad behaviour but to offer a way forward, a way to change not just society but individuals. Ansari is a prime example of how to do that with grace and remorse.
His show is funny and insightful, but it’s also emotional.
It’s enough to make you forgive him for his sins.
Aziz Ansari: Right Now is streaming now on Netflix
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