Due to some personal stuff I can’t get into right now, I went to bed around 7 p.m. last night to cope with the sickening onslaught of consciousness. At 5 a.m. with too much free time on my hands before work, I drank water and tried to read Hanya Yanagihara’s To Paradise. I quickly grew bored of both, so I fired up my television. We are so reliant on screens, as I would soon learn for the very first time.
While I slept, Aziz Ansari, television’s once-golden sweetie and DJ Roomba himself (and later the subject of a sexposé on the now-defunct website Babe Dot Net which no one has quite decided how to talk about four years later), had dropped a brand new 30-minute Netflix special filmed just last month called Aziz Ansari: Nightclub Comedian.
I hate comedy, even though I am very good at it. You might think I’d be pleased then, that Ansari’s special didn’t really have many observations or jokes, opting instead to focus on the transformational power of listening and learning. Adopting the cadence of standup comedy only to deliver insights better suited for a self-help book or Jojo Siwa’s Ted Talk, Aziz’s special most reminded me of the oeuvre of Che Diaz, the most famous comedian in the world.
Ansari’s set is mostly about how social media content mediated by algorithms that cater directly to our most base individual impulses and shopping habits breeds close-mindedness and insularity. And how bullying Aaron Rodgers about being an anti-vaxxer is wrong because he gets hit in the head for a living. In fact, animosity against those who choose not to get vaccinated stems from the kind of tribalism we would condemn from people who don’t share our political views. In short, Ansari’s focus is empathy — second only to trauma in its thematic prevalence among thinly written Netflix offerings.
That’s all fine and well, and I do find people on Twitter gloating over a vocal anti-vaxxer dying on a respirator, which Ansari mentions, to be a bad look. It is difficult to take empathy lessons seriously, however, from someone who seems to otherwise be completely divorced from reality. I know talking about celebrity friends like Frank Ocean, as he does in this special, has long been part of his schtick. I’ll even allow his fresh insights about leaving New York and owning a flip phone.
But the little guy truly lost me during a bit about what he seems to think is a universal pandemic experience. He’s trying to prove a point about why we should hand over cash to people who ask for it and have a little grace if a Chipotle in Pennsylvania is out of guacamole, when he launches into some good, old-fashioned social commentary, using his trademark funny voices to help the medicine of stone-cold truth go down:
Homelessness, et cetera. we could fix all of it just like that. You know how I know? ‘Cause two years ago, people in rich countries started dying of mysterious illnesses. And what did we do? We shut down the earth for two years! Every single one of us stayed in our fucking house every day. We didn’t even go to work.
[Doing impression of a politician I think?] “No, don’t go to work! We’ll just send you money every week!
[Doing impression of constituent] “What? But what if this keeps going?”
[Politician] “We’ll just keep sending you money every week!
[Constituent] “What if it’s six months, a year?”
[Politician] “We’ll just keep sending you money! Just stay in your house!”
[Constituent] “You have that much money?”
[Politician] “Yes, just stay in the house!”
What is this man talking about? Does he think his Parks and Recreation residuals are checks from the government? Perhaps it’s easier to blame algorithm-induced lack of empathy for societal divisions when you think everyone has been getting a steady stream of financial support since March 2020. What else could be making people so angry?
I understand that we’re all looking for lessons right now, especially to justify the last two years. Not much is funny, so relying on “kindness” seems like the right move. As far as advice from comedians goes, I guess it’s better than slurping on ivermectin.
As Ansari’s set came to an end, I did find myself empathizing with him — it’s so hard to text on that little flip phone — but somehow, I was still not laughing.