opinion

On the Opera House stage, the first joke Aziz Ansari tells is about the most infamous 'bad date' of #metoo.

Next time someone tells you that a man’s career will be ruined if an angry woman makes allegations against them in the #metoo era, I want you to picture my Tuesday night.

I went to see the comedian Aziz Ansari. At the Sydney Opera House. It was the first of two sold-out stand-up shows he was playing to the 2000-capacity Concert Hall that night.

He was excellent. A comic at the peak of his powers. Engaging and likeable and sharp and quick.

And apologetic.

The very first thing that Aziz Ansari talks about in this show, Road To Nowhere, is his very bad year.

How do men and women avoid sexual assault every day? Post continues after video. 

Video by MMN

He opens with a story about being recognised at an airport by someone who mistakes him for Hasan Minhaj – “another” Indian-American comedian with specials on Netflix. When the airport guy realises his mistake, Ansari’s story goes, he starts back-pedalling.

“Oh, Aziz, no, I know you!” And the guy starts listing Ansari’s impressive credentials: Parks and Rec, Master Of None, his Netflix show at Madison Square Garden… and then, there was that… inappropriate conduct thing from last year.

“Nooooooo,” yells Ansari, both on stage and in his anecdote. “Not that! Shhhhhhh….”

It brings the house down.

If you’ve forgotten what happened to Aziz Ansari last year, here’s a speedy cheat-sheet.

A young woman named “Grace” told a website called Babe about a date that she had been on with Ansari in New York City in 2017. It went instantly viral. And suddenly the world knew a whole lot of things about Aziz Ansari that he wishes they didn’t.

Aziz Anzsari
In January 2018, Babe published a story by Katie Way titled, “I went on a date with Aziz Ansari and it was the worst night of my life.”
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In the essay, Grace said that Ansari had made it clear from the moment they got back to his place after a speedy, unfinished dinner, that he wanted to have sex with her.

She says she went along with certain sex acts but made repeated attempts to slow him down or reset the mood of their encounter, and that he just barrelled on through, trying clumsy move after clumsy move.

She says that he continually pushed his fingers into her mouth, something she did not enjoy.

The story says:

Throughout the course of her short time in the apartment, [Grace] says she used verbal and non-verbal cues to indicate how uncomfortable and distressed she was. “Most of my discomfort was expressed in me pulling away and mumbling. I know that my hand stopped moving at some points,” she said. “I stopped moving my lips and turned cold.”

And:

Grace compares Ansari’s sexual mannerisms to those of a horny, rough, entitled 18-year-old.

And that, on her way home in an Uber, she:

Texted a friend: “I hate men.” She continued: “I had to say no a lot. He wanted sex. He wanted to get me drunk and then fuck me.” She texted another friend after she got back to her apartment, “I’m taking a bath I’m really upset I feel weird.”

Later, Grace texted Ansari:

“I just want to take this moment to make you aware of [your] behavior and how uneasy it made me.” To that message, Ansari responds: “Clearly, I misread things in the moment and I’m truly sorry.”

As the article was shared and shared and shared, the world (or at least, the people who talk about the world on the internet) divided into two camps

1. This is ridiculous, Grace just went on a bad date with a famous person. What did she expect, couldn't she tell him to piss off and call a cab?

Or

2. This is shocking. That Aziz Ansari is a fraud and isn't it great that we live in a world where finally women are able to speak up about encounters that have made them feel shitty?

I have always been firmly in camp number two. No, I didn't believe that he was a predator whose alleged actions could sit alongside Harvey Weinstein's in the #metoo mugshot gallery. But yes, I did firmly believe that this story revealed an Aziz Ansari who was completely contradictory to the public persona that had made him rich and successful - that of a woke, feminist ally who wrote a whole book about millennial dating (it's called Modern Love) and wore a Time's Up pin to the Golden Globes.

And I also subscribe to the idea that the weird cultural moment we find ourselves in right now is mostly so uncomfortable because we're having to listen to voices "we" don't generally listen to. E.g. Young women talking about the ever-growing stink-heap of shitty sexual experiences that continually signal to them that they are worth almost nothing.

Listen to myself, Mia Freedman and Jessie Stephens talking about Aziz and the Babe story when it was first released. Post continues after audio. 

So, no, I cried no tears for Aziz Ansari as he was publicly humiliated, issued an apology, and laid-low for the appropriate amount of time for this storm to pass.

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And pass it has. Ansari is back and he has many thoughts about what just happened to him. About outrage culture and call-out culture and cancel culture. And they are all funny and brilliant and perceptive.

In the course of the Opera House show Ansari talks a lot about race, 'wokeness', and the novelty of seeing so many white people trying so hard.  He talks about knee-jerk internet outrage and the futility of getting worked up about every dumb tweet that farts out of the presidential phone.

He talks about R Kelly and Michael Jackson and the decision every individual has to make about withholding support - 'Just how many kids would have to come forward about Michael for you to stop listening to his music? Two, 10, one thousand?' - to make a point about where we stand on abhorrent behaviour.

And of course, the elephant in the room is plainly in view as he talks about whether "cancelling" someone is an appropriate response to acts you find vile and, quite possibly, criminal.

I didn't cancel Aziz Ansari, despite my feelings about Grace's essay. Nor did the other 2000 people in the auditorium, or the other 2000 at the late show, or the hundreds of thousands who've seen him on this tour from Nashville to Delhi to Auckland, now heading to Dublin and Paris and Vegas.

I didn't cancel him because I wanted to hear what he had to say. I wanted to believe that every laugh I've ever snorted out at Master Of None, a show that gives a multicultural, millennial perspective on life I'm not getting on mainstream TV, wasn't a con. I wanted to know how this smart, flawed, interesting artist sees this unsettling moment and what it's done to him.

And I wasn't disappointed. On the stage at the Sydney Opera House, Aziz Ansari said that Grace's story made him reconsider every single date he's ever been on. And he said that he knows it's caused men around him to do the same.

And I know it's caused men around me to do the same. Probably men around you, too.

So, is it possible, then, that it's time to stop silencing women for fear of what their words might do to men? Specifically, men and their careers?

Because, to be honest, taking Ansari's example, some self-reflection and a sell-out comeback tour don't seem like the worst things that could happen to a successful and influential 36-year-old man.

And maybe, just perhaps, as a result of Ansari's example, one or two - or one hundred, or one thousand - women were saved from being treated like a voiceless orifice on one or two - or one hundred, or one thousand - "bad dates".

Aziz Ansari's stand-up special 'Right Now' is available to watch on Netflix now.

Would you go to see Aziz Ansari? Let us know in the comments. 

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