In Netflix’s Nightclub Comedian, Aziz Ansari wants to have his down-to-earth authenticity and dine out on it, too

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There is an “empty authenticity” in Ansari’s new special, filmed last month at New York City’s Comedy Cellar, says Kathryn VanArendonk. “All of it is performance masquerading as unfiltered, under-rehearsed straight talk, and the camera swings around to capture its effect on the audience,” says VanArendonk. “Shots from behind and off to the side of Ansari show the crowd seated right in front of him, their faces illuminated by his lights. There are a surprising number of crowd-reaction shots, which already feel unnecessary given how often Ansari frames himself with visible audience faces in the background. They’re even more unnecessary in the way Ansari uses them: as contemplative faces that show up in the pauses while he transitions through the serious moments. See? He’s real, and he’s got important stuff to say. If at any point Ansari’s material reached for the same goals as the look of the special, Nightclub Comedian might be a different experience. For this special shot as a close, intimate, immediate, raw half-hour of comedy, though, Ansari never skirts anywhere close to vulnerability or risk…Without much in the way of interesting ideas, all that’s left for Nightclub Comedian is the look, and, in moments, it is beautiful. The colors are vibrant, Ansari’s outfit is a pitch-perfect blend of casual but obviously exclusive, and the Comedy Cellar never looked so inviting. The premise has appeal — that half-hour run time, the suggestion that this is one solid set caught on-camera, the sense that Ansari has actually managed to convey the live-comedy feeling that’s so hard to capture onscreen. Except if you look closely, all the faces around him change. The crowd is different from one shot to the next. It’s not one authentic performance; it’s many of them stitched together. If it were a special built on strong material, or if its central idea were more about Ansari’s performance and less about his disdain for the appearance of performing, that kind of continuity error would be an unfortunate but insignificant fact. But the look of this special — its claim of being real — is all that it’s about. When that part of it crumbles, what’s left?”

ALSO:

  • Nightclub Comedian is Aziz Ansari’s bland and empty attempt to poignantly reclaim his footing in the industry: “He wants to connect with viewers on a more emotional level,” says Saloni Gajjar, “but the transparent attempt to rebuild his image feels too measured and staged, taking precedence over the performance itself.”
  • Nightclub Comedian is humility as performed for Netflix: “This sit-down rather than standup special purports to show our host humbly reconnecting with no-frills club comedy, in contrast (he suggests) to the corporate empire-building of the likes of Kevin Hart,” says Brian Logan. “But this is humility as performed for Netflix, so claims to a newfound modesty ring hollow. Then there are the gags – notably, the one imagining Timothée Chalamet exposed to public disgrace for an incident with an Asian man and some bubble tea – that seem to address all over again Ansari’s own travails. It’s another glimpse, then, of a comic with technique and intelligence to spare – but not the slightest vestige of the gilded good cheer of old.”
  • Nightclub Comedian was reminiscent of And Just Like That‘s Che Diaz with insights better suited for a self-help book or Jojo Siwa’s Ted Talk
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