Clad in what looked like a multi-thousand dollar grey and black suit, comedian Aziz Ansari strolled onto the Staller stage Wednesday night to an explosive crowd. Even Aziz himself didn’t quite know how to receive the fervor, spouting coy and sarcastic stabs like, “Believe me, I’m only here for the money.” Unfortunately, Aziz’s demeanor throughout the remainder of the show, which granted was absolutely hilarious, made it pretty clear that that statement may have actually been somewhat true.
Aziz Ansari, known best for his lead role on NBC comedy Parks and Recreations and the outrageous, in-your-face comic Randy in Judd Apatow’s Funny People, was given a $51,000 check that night for only one hour of stand-up. He was original contracted for an even 50, but asked for an additional thousand for additional travel expenses after the show was pushed back a week due to the weather. Aziz even requested to be flown onto campus via helicopter (the helicopter landing required clearing out the entire South P lot, which would have been impossible at that point).
This level of sensitivity about his performance, arrival and paycheck gave Aziz a heightened image of being high maintenance, and a bit of an asshole, to those clued in to the pre-show arrangements. But none of the crowd members who eagerly lined up outside Staller in the biting cold were aware of these facts. They had beat the absurd rush during the first few days back on campus, and that meant they were claiming their auditorium seat without reservation.
Aziz’s pre-show press interview was a clear foreshadowing of his attitude towards college-level performances and a discomforting amount of insight into the real Aziz Ansari. Like he would at the beginning of his performance on the Staller stage, Aziz repeated his line about just being here for the money after campus media reporters thanked him for coming through. When asked questions, whether tongue-and-cheek ones about upcoming Valentine’s Day or serious inquiries about whether or not he takes his ethnicity into account when writing jokes, Aziz gave straight-forward two or three line answers while infusing little to no wit at all.
He really didn’t seem like he wanted to be there. But then again, it was the pre-show interview and Aziz, an infamous foodie whose frequent tweets about restaurants and homemade dishes decorate his Twitter account, didn’t have his food yet.
All things considered, the performance was amazing. All of his jokes were fresh and delivered in Aziz’s trademark style, which involves a variety of outlandish voices and loud and ridiculous deliveries. Sure, there was a lot of dick jokes, maybe too many if you eavesdropped on a few of the conversations drifting outside Staller at the end of the show. But that’s what makes Aziz a modern, and highly popular, comedian – reviving something as seemingly profane and childish as dick jokes and spinning them into a hilarious reoccurring theme in your stand-up is both difficult and ironic (I highly doubt any crowd member would say yes if asked before the show if they would laugh at a joke revolving around hippopotamus ejaculation). The beauty is that these trademark Aziz jokes are both absurd on the surface and self-critical on a deeper level of the comedian and of comedy in general.
The shining moment of the performance was Aziz’s now-famous family update on his cousin Harris. Whether or not he is that ridiculous in real life (he does exist, as well as his almost-as-funny older brother Darwish, whom a friend of mine actually met at Northwestern University), Harris is painted as a nerdy disillusioned American teenager with a love of bagel bites and B-list sitcoms. Aziz was kind enough to read his college essay draft and the revision he offered Harris, making for easily the most enjoyable string of jokes that night.
One of the sour moments of the show, and apparently of Aziz’s sensitivity, trickled in at three separate moments. Prior to starting his performance, Aziz gave a small speech about hating flash bulbs in his crowds while he tries to meander around his act with a little improvisation here and there. It’s understandable, and the crowd didn’t seem to mind, especially considering the fact that Aziz posed for the camera as if he were telling jokes (even one that made it look like he was arguing violently with a crowd member).
It was a funny and smooth way of getting a pet peeve out in the open, but it unfortunately came back to haunt the remainder of the show when rude crowd members didn’t heed his warning. Twice throughout the first 50 minutes of the hour-long act, Aziz had to stop practically mid-punch line to remind people to stop taking pictures. The first was with a little jest, and everyone was able to shrug it off and continue laughing. The second reminder was a shouted outburst of, “Please stop taking pictures!” that startled a great many attendees.
With ten minutes left in his stand-up, Aziz cut himself off, said a thank you and walked off stage with mic in hand. The whole crowd fell silent for a few seconds, and then the murmuring began. No one could tell if it were an encore situation, which honestly makes no sense with a comedian, but no one seemed to want to believe that Stony Brook students actually pissed him off enough to make him walk off stage. Turns out we did.
Aziz came back on and explained that yet another person had emitted a camera flash and that was apparently enough to disrupt his flow. He delivered a few more rushed jokes, but not before resuming his stand-up with a disgruntled, “So what else do you guys want to talk about?”
Aziz was absolutely justified to despise the rudeness of the crowd considering how many times he had to explain his hatred of cameras, but it felt like a bit of an overreaction. For $51,000, it doesn’t seem unreasonable that you bend to your audience. After all, as a performer, and one now as fast growing and popular as Aziz Ansari, you have an obligation to suck it up and at least pretend like you want to be there, despite the pitfalls and annoyances. It’s an age-old illusion, but at the same time a word-less contract that entertainers and their audiences sign up for. Aziz may be able to make any dick joke in the world the funniest stand-up bit you’ve ever heard, but a look at his personality is about as disenchanting as a stereotypical Hollywood face can get.