Aziz Ansari has kept a low profile in the year-plus since he was the subject of a sexual misconduct allegation. But now he’s back on stage, embarking on a new tour around the U.S. and Europe, and becoming the latest test subject for a comeback attempt in the #MeToo era.
On Wednesday night at Los Angeles’ Orpheum Theatre, “The Road to Nowhere” made its biggest stop to date, arriving in Los Angeles for the first of five sold-out shows. And any hopes for selfies with Ansari (pictured above in a 2015 photo) onstage or videos of him addressing the controversy he had been embroiled in were impossible, considering phones were prohibited and placed in locked bags. Video would surely have been taken of opening act (and Big Mouth writer) Jak Knight demolishing a female heckler who screamed, “Know your audience,” as he spent his first few minutes talking about female genitalia. Then, the more family-friendly Ron Funches followed, before ceding the stage to Ansari.
Walking out to loud cheers and bringing some audience members to their feet, an energized Ansari quickly launched into a rant on the current “wokeness” and “think piece” culture. This led to him touching on many hot button pop culture moments over the last year, including Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Hart, and The Simpsons. “Things don’t just become racist when white people figure them out,” he joked of the controversy surrounding a white man voicing the Indian character of Apu on The Simpsons.
Reflecting on his own career, Ansari admits that he looks back at some of his past work and realizes how poorly it has aged, whether it was scenes from Parks and Recreation (he points to Tom giving Ann a teddy bear with a nanny cam) or not one, but two of his stand-up specials in which he went on about how “amazing” R. Kelly is, despite what was already known about the singer’s controversial past. But after watching the recent Surviving R. Kelly docuseries (and worrying that clips from his special might pop up), Ansari decided to join those in boycotting and “muting” R. Kelly, which the crowd clapped in agreement with. This caused Ansari to point out the hypocrisy when it comes to Michael Jackson, who is also the subject of a “powerful” documentary, as not one audience member clapped when Ansari asked who would mute the late pop legend. (Kelly has long denied the sexual misconduct accusations against him, while Jackson’s estate has called the allegations in the Leaving Neverland documentary “absolutely false.”)
Much of Ansari’s career has been focused on dating, whether it be in his stand-up, his book Modern Romance, or his Netflix series Master of None, and there was noticeably less of that subject than in the past, instead opting for more of the political correctness angle. But, later in the show, he did speak about currently being in a relationship with a Danish physicist, who is white, and how tired he is of being told his whole life what race he should be dating.
With his love life now the topic, Ansari soon somberly transitioned to last year’s Babe.net story, in which a young woman wrote about a date with him and how she felt pressured to engage in sexual activity. For anyone who read what Ansari said during a pop-up show in New York City last week, the comedian stuck to the script, once again recalling a story of a man running into him on the street (this time it was in L.A., not NYC) and confusing him for Hasan Minhaj. Realizing his mistake, the “fan” said, “You had the whole thing come out last year — sexual misconduct?” to which the Ansari jokingly responded, “No, no, no, no, no, no, that’s Hasan!” Ansari said he was left “scared,” “embarrassed,” and “humiliated” by the incident, but mostly felt bad for the woman. Adding that he’s become a better person in the year since, Ansari voiced his thankfulness for people coming out to see him because he thought that might never happen again, which prompted a round of applause.
His hour-long set would end a few minutes later as he walked off to big cheers and a standing ovation. Filing out of the theater, as the crowd rushed to get their phones back for selfies in front of the marquee, the talk wasn’t about sexual misconduct or his remarks on the allegation, but how much people enjoyed seeing Ansari perform.
Ansari’s U.S. tour runs until April 28, with European dates scheduled through June.