Netflix released Aziz Ansari’s new comedy special, Aziz Ansari: Right Now, without much notice. That’s really not unusual these days, for the streaming giant doesn’t follow the traditional movie studio or network format of dropping trailers to launch publicity campaigns months in advance. There are exceptions to this process, but in the case of the Master of None star’s return to Netflix, the drop feels swifter and quieter than usual. We saw a trailer close to the Fourth of July with a vague “next week” note, and boom, the special, directed by Spike Jonze, dropped from the sky a few days later. One could overthink the timing of this “surprise” or just go with it because that’s exactly what the comedian in question is doing.
Obviously, most of the people interested in watching this special (or not) are aware of the sexual misconduct allegations made against Ansari. Given the timing of those claims, his nuanced response has been compared to that of Louis C.K., whose angry onstage outbursts differ greatly from Ansari’s recent muted return to the spotlight. I won’t go down the road of comparing the accusations against both comedians, which would feel flippant other than to say, yes, there’s a spectrum within which such cases should be discussed. What we do know is this: Ansari was accused in 2018 of sexual misconduct by an anonymous woman, whose claims were published on a website that doesn’t exist anymore. The alleged circumstances led to a furiously embattled discussion about sexual consent and whether Ansari committed sexual misconduct or simply had an embarrassingly bad date. That debate still rages on social media, and the subject of this outcry knows damn well this will be the case.
All of this presents a very difficult position, not only for Ansari but for anyone who must critically evaluate his comedy special. It’s almost impossible to go in objectively here. Fortunately, Ansari does — after arriving onstage to an enthused NYC crowd — confront the proverbial elephant in the room head-on, but he does not prostrate or martyr himself. He doesn’t apologize or admit guilt, either, but he doesn’t waste time before acknowledging what everyone is thinking, and he admits that he feels terrible about making someone else feel awful. No denials surface, but there’s also no pretense at hand, and no wizardry, for Jonze shoots his subject starkly and largely in close-up. And Ansari doesn’t overstretch, argue, or ask anyone to take his side. However, it remains apparent that the comedian was stunned at how distanced he felt from the perspective of his accuser.