Comedy review: Aziz Ansari at Abravanel Hall
When it comes to reviewing comedy, only one thing really matters.
Was it funny?
And yes, "Parks and Recreation" and "Human Giant" star Aziz Ansari was often hilarious during his headlining , well-attended stand-up performance Tuesday evening at the home of the Utah Symphony, Abravanel Hall.
But I still left feeling disappointed.
Ansari's portrayal of the narcissistic Tom Haverford is by far the best part of "Parks and Recreation," and I always watch the show thinking that the show should focus more on him and less on the increasingly unfunny lead of the show, Amy Poehler. But I learned that a little Ansari goes a long way, and although an 80-minute set was generous, I kept looking at my watch as the show dragged on.
Ansari has a compelling stage presence, and some bits (highlights included the recounting of a time he sent a picture of his genitalia to another woman, and a piece that dissected the conversational difference between a boring married couple and a threesome) were comic gold, and connected with the youngest crowd I have ever seen inside the chandeliered Abravanel Hall.
His set focused on dating, marriage and kids, and he is favor of none of those, saying that if there was a show on MTV called "25 and Pregnant" — a play on the real show "16 and Pregnant" — he would still see the subjects on the show as pitiful and not knowing what they were in for. To paraphrase, here are some of the more popular bits:
• "I was the cutest kid ever. Who doesn't want to f___ that? I never got molested once."
• He was confused about why people who have known each other for two years or less would ever get hitched. "Did you lose a bet?"
• He said when he encounters those who are opposed to inter-racial dating, he yelled that he was f____ white girls every night.
• He riffed on people with chain wallets, whom should never have children.
But an early joke about being too busy eating gummy bears in the tour bus to do a sound-check turned out to be all too evident, whether or not he was being facetious or not. Throughout the show, he appeared to hold the mic far too close to his lips, and coupled with his rapid-fire nasal delivery, it was difficult to hear the punchlines of his jokes. For someone who reportedly has done stand-up since he was 17 — he is 30 now — it was like watching a rookie with good material screwing himself because he rushed his comedy and erred in the delivery. There was a noticable echo, and it marred much of his show, which relied heavily on timing, as all comedy shows do.
It didn't help that the arrogance that he shows off weekly as Tom Haverford doesn't work as well as when she seems, well, arrogant, and not in an appealing, Anthony Jeselnik-like way. Whenever he got the chance, he belittled many in attendance: the security guards, the light man, the sound man (which probably was warranted, come to think of it), and, worst of all, some audience members. The first 10 minutes of his set was wasted on what amounted to a lecture on how the audience should behave in his presence. I hate audience members for feel the need to yell out things, too, when I am watching a show, but when it inevitably happened, Ansari appeared far too sensitive and handled the yeller in a way that made everyone feel uncomfortable. He said, "I should have stayed on the bus eating gummy bears," and he seemed to mean it.
I found opening comic and "Parks and Recreastion" writer Joe Mande far more appealing, and was pleasantly surprised when he was allowed 40 minutes, since most of his comedy revolved around a self-deprecating story-telling style. One of the first things he said to an overwhelmingly white audience was, "This is what a Jewish person looks like." He noted the grandeur of Abravanel Hall, and said he felt a little bad since "it's just going to be guys telling dick jokes for two hours — right across the street from the Temple."
One of Mande's best bits was when a black friend of his asked him to eat with him at a restaurant that those of us in California know all too well — Souplantation. "I was offended for him," Mande said, incredulous that a black man would want to go to anything with the word "plantation" in it. "I'm afraid you're going to have to make soup for us," he told his black friend. Mande then expanded the bit by talking about other eateries that with a few letter changes could be extremely offensive, including "Chickenternment Camp," "In & Out-shwitz," and "Gyroshima."
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