There aren't a lot of comics who can spin a funny bit out fraudulent thread counts in sheets, or use a Mighty Ducks 2 reference to land a killer punchline. But Aziz Ansari can pull it off. Familiar to TV viewers from his supporting work on NBC's Parks and Recreation, Azari's first stand-up special, Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening, is a little dodgy at first--the comic seems nervous, speeding through a bit, his pace a touch off. But he ultimately finds his groove, aided to no small degree by the enthusiastic response of his warm audience.
Ansari first came to national prominence as a cast member of the MTV sketch series Human Giant, and that show's offbeat sensibility permeates his act; he's a goofy surrealist who likes to play with structure and undermine expectations. He wields non-sequiturs like weapons (at one point, he mouths the horrifying line "I'm just sayin', I coulda fucked that kid," and it's one of the biggest laughs in the show) and tosses off pop culture references with varying degrees of obscurity--he talks about Facebook and Craigslist, but also about Cold Stone Creamery, Willow, and MTV's Next. Of the latter, he notes "Some of the shows on the network [MTV] are not my cup of tea... mainly because I don't like huge pieces of shit in my tea."
Once Ansari gets rolling, his timing is sharp and his delivery is punchy; the material is occasionally weak, but his wide-eyed intonations and skillful inflections helps sell some of the weaker jokes. Towards the end of the 55-minute special, he talks gleefully about his burgeoning semi-celebrity, which has led to uproarious encounters with Kanye West, Jay-Z, and R. Kelly ("a brilliant R&B singer-slash-crazy person"), and the sheer joy of hanging out with his heroes is infectious.
For the encore, Ansari takes on the persona of Randy, the unfunny stand-up he portrayed (briefly) in Judd Apatow's Funny People, explaining to the audience that he wanted to do the kind of special Randy would do. The result is a terrific parody of the excesses of 90s stand-up, as Randy is brought out on stage by a DJ and hip-hop dancers, prancing around the stage and "making it rain" before spouting ten or so minutes of bad sex material and faux toughness ("You 'bout to get dealt with"). It's a hilarious wrap-up to a solid stand-up spotlight.
The anamorphic widescreen image is about average for a stand-up special. Foregrounds and wide shots are good, but the baby blue background is awfully noisy, and the frequent compression artifacts are a little distracting.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 mix is solid and fairly dynamic. Ansari's material is all crystal-clear, while music and audience reaction is well-separated--though I wish Comedy Central would go back to using 5.1 mixes for their specials, creating a more immersive experience for the viewer.
With typical candor, Ansari introduces his "UCB Comedy Death Ray Performance" (30:36) as something he did "to have a bonus feature that would make people spend money to buy the DVD." Whatever the motive, it's a welcome inclusion (particularly considering how many stand-up DVDs go out bare-bones); the set, performed in front of a small but appreciative crowd at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, has a loose, fun vibe, and the material is arguably as strong as the stuff that made the cut. The bits about reality TV, customer service lines, City Search, and message boards are all very funny, but the highlight is merciless riff on LL Cool J's workout book and DMX's autobiography. Good stuff.
His material is slightly hit-and-miss and his nerves sometimes show, but Aziz Ansari is a likable, intelligent comic. Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening (the title is almost as funny as the cover) is a consistently funny hour, and Ansari remains a comic presence worth keeping an eye on.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their daughter Lucy in New York. He holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. His first book, Pulp Fiction: The Complete History of Quentin Tarantino's Masterpiece, was released last fall by Voyageur Press. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.