Aziz Ansari has been getting a lot of play lately. With his regular stint on Parks & Recreation and scene-stealing cameos in movies like Funny People and Observe & Report, the actor/comedian has been rapidly gaining in notoriety. So, perfect time for him to release his first comedy special, which aired this month on Comedy Central and has been released in an uncensored version on DVD as Aziz Ansari: Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening.
Ansari's personality is not too far off from many of the characters he has played. On stage, he speaks and moves at a manic pace that is equal parts confidence, wide-eyed wonder, and genuine enthusiasm. His material is generally built on things in the world that he finds crazy, behavior he witnesses or things that have happened to him, and for all Ansari's bravado, like the best comedians, he also laces in some healthy self-deprecation. Shot this past year, Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening is an hour of the comedian on a high. He starts off the show hurling out jokes at a Gatling-gun pace, covering topics as random as gay rights, the thread count of sheets, and the obnoxious habits of past roommates. He eventually settles into a groove once he starts telling longer stories; in particular, his stories of annoying his younger cousin Harris on Facebook are hilarious. I nearly choked from laughing so hard. Other jokes covering the MTV dating show "Next" and his run-ins with Kanye West and R. Kelly dissect our current fame-based culture with both disgust and wonderment. With the R. Kelly material in particular, Ansari shows off his skills at physical comedy, and also his versatility, mimicking Kelly's lewd sing-song style of speaking.
Much of Ansari's act is a little lewd, actually, but nothing as outrageous as RAAAAAAAANDY, the parody of frat-party comedians like Dane Cook that Ansari played in Funny People. The encore of Intimate Moments is devoted to the character. It's kind of performance art, complete with a hip-hop DJ and hoochie mama dancers. RAAAAAAAANDY is so unfunny, he comes all the way back around to being funny, boasting of his ridiculous sexual conquests and doing impressions of himself receiving fellatio in a variety of places. It's a risky way to end the show, because if you don't get what Ansari is making fun of, you're going to think it's pretty stupid. But then, that's the point--a lot of people don't get that Dane Cook is pretty stupid.
In some ways, the way Aziz Ansari structures his jokes reminds me of Sarah Silverman. Like Silverman, he builds up his premise, often to pull the rug out from under that premise with a surprising or crude punchline. Unlike her, though, Ansari doesn't twist the basic concept so much as blow it up. It's a technique that hits a vast majority of the time, and Aziz Ansari: Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening delivers a lot of big laughs. At one point, I was howling so loud, someone walking by my apartment gave me queer look through my window, wondering what the hell was wrong with me. If that's not a gold standard for rating comedy, I don't know what is.
Aziz Ansari: Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening comes to DVD in widescreen, and the anamorphic transfer is decent, a kind of mid-level video production done for cable television. The resolution tends to be a bit jagged, but the overall image quality is fine for a performance special of this kind.
The 2.0 audio mix is good, too, with Ansari's jokes coming through clearly and a nice balance between his onstage antics and the audience response.
Ansari shot an extra half-hour of material at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and puts it on Aziz Ansari: Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening billed as the "UCB Comedy Death Ray Performance." He states right up front that this is a quickly shot set, comprised entirely of jokes he cut from the special and intended as a DVD extra. It's a far more low-key and intimate performance, lackadaisical by comparison. Much of the material comes off as far less rehearsed, but there is still some gold here. Particularly, his bits about books by rappers LL Cool J and DMX have some killer gags, and he mines the weird habits of the younger members of his family again for material about his little brother's activity on a message board for a guy who composes music for video games.
Highly Recommended. Aziz Ansari: Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening is the first special from the co-star of Parks & Recreation. It's an outrageous, crude, and insightful run through some of the more ridiculous aspects of popular culture, with the high-energy comic taking aim at a great number of topics. It's a very funny introduction to the comedian's style, and fans of Funny People will also like seeing his character RAAAAAAAANDY (with eight As) return for the show's encore. If we can judge a comedy special by how much it makes us laugh, then I can only give this one the highest of marks. I guffawed, chortled, giggled--if your thesaurus can name it, Aziz Ansari: Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening caused me to do it.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent project is the superhero series It Girl and the Atomics and the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.