Aziz Ansari: Dangerously Delicious is currently available at azizansari.com.
On Parks And Recreation, the funniest show on television, Aziz Ansari brilliantly plays a geek who thinks he’s a baller. In his standup, however, Ansari sometimes comes off more like a baller who thinks he’s a geek, or at least a geek who has ascended to the rarified heights of ballerdom through an impressive combination of swagger, talent, and professional savvy. Ansari doesn’t just make jokes about the Kanye Wests and Jay-Zs and 50 Cents of the world these days; he travels in the same circles. He’s rapidly becoming the beloved court jester of hip-hop and R&B royalty.
It’s a testament to Ansari’s exploding popularity that, like Louis C.K. and Jim Gaffigan before him, he’s able to cut out once-powerful middlemen like Comedy Central and HBO and release his latest special directly to fans through his website. But his material reflects his skyrocketing fame as well. Late in Dangerously Delicious, Ansari indulges in perhaps the biggest-ever humblebrag when he shares the story of attending a New Year’s Eve Party where Jay-Z took to the mic to mention that, along with a plethora of other universally famous super-mega-stars, Ansari was in the house, then called on the funnyman to favor the crowd with a thematically appropriate joke. Ansari failed to rise to the occasion, but flopping in the blinding spotlight of Jay-Z’s ferociously focused attention doesn’t make anywhere near as strong an impression as Jay-Z asking the red-hot comedian to make with the funny in the first place.
Ansari’s increasingly prominent place in the pop-culture pantheon renders some of his ordinary-guy material less palatable. Ansari can’t really get away with doing jokes about how hot women at clubs are mean to him for no reason, or how women will invariably choose drunk, obnoxious, verbally abusive alpha-males over bookish geeks like himself—not when fame, celebrity, and wealth are such powerful aphrodisiacs.
Ansari has said in interviews that the difference between his standup and the standup of Randy—the super-hacky breakout character he played in Funny People and in a hilarious mockumentary that appears on the Funny People DVD and in Funny Or Die shorts—is largely a matter of volume and physical exertion. Accordingly, some of the funniest moments in Dangerously Delicious find Ansari engaging in decidedly Randy-like physical comedy. He encourages audience members to get all of their photo-taking out of the way upfront while cycling through “exciting” poses; he pretends to creep through a crawlspace; and he exuberantly acts out a sign-language interpreter’s translation of “cum everywhere” as part of a raunchy bit about a flagrantly unhygienic porno shot in a donut shop.
If Ansari were to unapologetically and uncritically embrace his inner Randy, he could destroy. Few comedians have rocketed to super-stardom as rapidly or spectacularly as Ansari, but if he were to lean heavily on the hackneyed but wildly successful tricks of Randy—blowing out the volume of every punchline, pandering to the lowest common denominator with raunchy subject matter, and augmenting every questionable gag with an abundance of manic physical mugging—he could play stadiums and attain Dane Cook-level stardom.
To his credit, Ansari doesn’t seem to want that. Like all comedians with a soul, he’d rather be Louis C.K. (who is thanked in the end credits) than Dane Cook. So he deliberately holds back throughout, consciously restraining his inner laugh-whore even when it means foregoing massive laughs of the cheap variety. Ansari still gets a lot of laughs on Dangerously Delicious, but they’re the right kind of laughs. The humor is rooted in who Ansari is and where he comes from, like a long bit about editing an idiotic college essay for his chubby cousin Harris, or the massive time-suck that is Google “research.”
Then again, restraint is relative when it comes to Dangerously Delicious. Ansari isn’t above doing an extended segment on the artificiality of ostensibly homemade porn, a riff on a father who fucks a bowl of macaroni and cheese, or a geeky bit about an email flame war with an asshole cyber-heckler, which lingers obsessively and hilariously on the mental image of the heckler swimming in a sea of massive hippo cock.
As a hip-hop loving, videogame-playing, technology- and fame-obsessed Indian-American foodie from South Carolina, Ansari comes to standup from a unique place, but his obsessions and insecurities ring surprisingly universal. In Dangerously Delicious, Ansari moves through worlds without quite being a part of them. He ultimately doesn’t have to resolve the divide between geek and baller, between rich-and-famous insider and wry outsider. He doesn’t even have to acknowledge that there is a gulf between the seemingly disparate elements of his personality and larger-than-life persona. Ansari is a complicated man of contradictions as well as a funny motherfucker; that’s what makes him unique and Dangerously Delicious such a crackling delight.