The comedian reflects on how ‘wokeness’ has influenced the comedy scene.
“It’s a weird time to be working on jokes,” muses Aziz Ansari in his latest Netflix special Right Now. “Gotta be very careful about what you say, right?”
This much is especially true for Ansari, who has remained fairly silent since allegations of sexual misconduct emerged against him last year. When Ansari brings up “that whole thing” fewer than five minutes into his hour-long special, it appears Right Now may be the vehicle for a conversation around #MeToo and his own experience.
“This isn’t the most hilarious way to begin a comedy show,” he admits, though he’s barely danced around the subject before swiftly moving on to a lighter topic.
Instead, Right Now is a conversation around 2019’s climate of wokeness, self-righteousness and ‘cancelling’ those who fail to fall in line with such standards. Though Ansari largely spends the remainder of his set looking outwards, he frequently swings the spotlight back on himself in a bid for accountability.
While, at times, it feels as though the comedian is being evasive, it’s obvious his intent was never to use Right Now as a means of justifying himself against his brush with #MeToo. Instead, he prods us to consider our own moral compasses. Are we still good people if we condemn R Kelly but continue listening to Michael Jackson’s music? At what point are we willing to draw the line? Sifting through the hypocrisies of the modern conscience, Ansari makes it abundantly clear that not everything exists in black and white.
Though he does well not to directly address the allegations against him after his opening spiel, it remains as an unspoken undercurrent throughout Right Now. Even as Ansari fires off jokes, there’s a weight to the entire bit; a sombre atmosphere furthered by director Spike Jonze’s use of grainy, raw footage set against The Velvet Underground’s ‘Pale Blue Eyes’.
It feels wrong to compare Right Now to Hannah Gadsby’s career-defining special Nanette — especially considering that the comics’ perspectives are from opposite ends of the #MeToo movement — though the two aren’t dissimilar in some ways. Both marry comedic effect with subject matter so poignant, it feels uncomfortable to react to the humour. Often, there’s no gag at all and the audience is left to sit in the prickly lull awaiting a punchline that isn’t coming.
If anything, the increasing level of ‘political correctness’ that so many comedians blame for killing their craft when their jokes rub someone the wrong way has created a space for this new brand of comedy we’re seeing with Nanette and Right Now. It’s one that relies not on cheap bits and easy laughs but causes us to think and reflect with each jest.
As Ansari points out, we’re all shitty people trying our best to be a little less shitty, and those who are self-assured that they hold the moral high ground are the shittiest because they’ve stopped listening and asking questions, certain that they have all the answers.
Right Now is streaming on Netflix now.