Aziz Ansari gets serious about sexual misconduct allegation in Netflix comedy special
Aziz Ansari wasted no time getting to the elephant in the theater during his new Netflix standup special: Babe.net story, he talked about the aftermath.
Ansari eased into a serious conversation with a joke – it is a comedy special – about a man who mistakes him for Hasan Minhaj, another American actor and comedian of Indian heritage.
The fan tries to make up for his error with too much familiarity: "Aziz, right?"
"I was like, 'Yeah, yeah, that's me,'" Ansari said he answered.
"'Master of None'?" "Yeah, yeah, that's me." "'Parks and Rec'?" "Yeah, yeah, that's me." The man even pulls out a phrase from Ansari's "Parks" character: "Treat Yo' Self?" "Yeah, yeah, that's me."
Finally, the man says, "And you had that whole thing last year, sexual misconduct?"
"No, no, no, no, no," Ansari responded. "That was Hasan."
That got a healthy laugh, cutting the tension a bit, but then Ansari got serious, his voice quieting to almost a whisper as he sat on a stool in front of the Brooklyn Academy of Music crowd.
Allegation and response: Aziz Ansari accused of sexual misconduct: 'I took her words to heart'
"You know, I haven't said much about that whole thing, but I've talked about it on this tour, because you're here and it means a lot to me. I'm sure there are some of you that are curious how I feel about that whole situation," said Ansari, who's on his international Road to Nowhere comedy tour.
In the Babe story, the accuser, identified by a pseudonym, said the two were at his apartment on a date when he undressed her and pressured her into oral sex. She said that she was giving off physical cues to show she wasn't interested but that he didn't notice or perhaps ignored them.
At the time, Ansari said in a statement that he thought the sexual activity was consensual, but when she texted the next day that she felt uncomfortable, "I was surprised and concerned. … I took her words to heart."
The allegation led to a passionate public debate about whether the encounter approached the gravity of accusations against other men as part of the #MeToo movement.
Now, more than a year later, Ansari told the Brooklyn audience that he has had many emotions related to that experience. He did not discuss the events of the date itself or the communication that followed.
"There's times I felt scared, there's times I felt humiliated, there's times I felt embarrassed, and ultimately I just felt terrible that this person felt this way," he said.
He explained that he has thought a great deal about the incident and has tried to learn and improve. "After a year or so, I just hope it was a step forward. It moved things forward for me, made me think about a lot. I hope I've become a better person."
The idea that others may have examined their own behavior in light of his experience gives Ansari some solace.
"I always think about a conversation I had with one of my friends where he was like: 'You know what, man? That whole thing made me think about every date I've ever been on.' And I thought, wow! That's pretty incredible. If this made not just me but other people be more thoughtful, then that's a good thing, and that's how I feel about it," he said.
Ansari then acknowledged that "this isn't the most hilarious way to begin a comedy show, but it's important to me that you know how I feel."
As he shifted into the rest of his 65-minute show, Ansari found comedy in a variety of other topics, including cultural appropriation; white people "outwoking" one another; and the drawbacks of different birth-control techniques.
He spoke thoughtfully about appreciating family and talked about adjusting to his grandmother, who is battling Alzheimer's. And he spoke about his girlfriend, a white woman of Danish background, and people's judgments about interracial relationships.
At the end, however, he got quiet and serious again, expressing deep appreciation to the audience for coming to the show and explaining how the past year made him grateful for what he once might have taken for granted.
"It means the world to me, because I saw the world where I don't ever get to do this again," he said, saying he no longer is focused on minor career matters. "I realize it's all ephemeral. … All we really have is the moment we're in and the people we're with."