The allegations against comedian Aziz Ansari might have been some of the trickiest to emerge so far during the #MeToo movement. In January, a 23-year-old using the pseudonym "Grace" spoke to the website Babe.net about a sexual experience she says she had with Ansari that made her uncomfortable. The account prompted a larger and necessary conversation about consent and sexual etiquette. The comedian released a statement confirming that this encounter did occur, but that he had perceived it as entirely consensual. He subsequently went into veritable hiding, but it now appears he's ready for his comeback. Several audience members at NYC's Comedy Cellar reported that Ansari performed multiple times over this past week (as first noticed by Brooklyn Vegan), suggesting the Master Of None star is ready to make his return to comedy — and the public eye. But what does he have to joke about?
According to two audience members who spoke to Refinery29 via direct messages on Twitter, Ansari did not address the controversy in his new material. Unlike his previous work, which often touched on dating and lead to a whole book about sex and romance, 24-year-old Brooklyn resident Hershlay Raymond says she doesn't remember him touching on the subject of sex at all during last Wednesday's performance.
"If you had no idea about the allegations before he came out [onstage], you still wouldn't know about them after he finished his set," she said.
Although Ansari didn't mention the situation with Grace, it was still on audience members' minds. Twenty-three-year-old Houston, Texas, native Candy Hernandez says the crowd last Thursday definitely seemed surprised he was performing.
"I think we were even more shocked to see him since we haven't heard much about him since the babe.net incident," she said.
While this may have left some audience members conflicted ("There was some trepidation [about what he would say]," Raymond said), Ansari's material was reportedly pretty tame. Per accounts from both Hernandez and Raymond, he spoke about his long-distance girlfriend, joked about an Indian Black Panther, and addressed the recent arrests made in Starbucks. It's here, Hernandez said, that it seemed like he might have been influenced by the events of the past few months.
"He brought up people rushing to call businesses racist instead of taking the time to think about how many employees Starbucks has, and the probability of them hiring some racist people due to the amount of shops. He also talked about outrage fatigue and seeing it all over Twitter," she recalls. "It seemed a bit like a rant to me, and as if he were trying to speak about the sexual misconduct allegations."
However, Hernadez conceded that "perhaps the edibles [she had taken] had influenced [her] perception and made [her] feel as if he were ranting a bit and still bummed about the incident."
If audience members were dissatisfied with his set, they certainly didn't show it. Many of them rushed to social media to excitedly post about his surprise performance.
Venues like the Comedy Cellar are often where prominent, established comedians go to test out new material, so these jokes are likely just the early stages of the Ansari's return. (Regardless of the Babe.net controversy, season three of the Emmy-winning Master of None has yet to be confirmed.) If there's more the comedian has to say, it seems he definitely has an audience willing to hear it.
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