Aziz Ansari has commented on the controversial first-person account by an anonymous woman who accused Ansari of trying to pressure her having sex with him after the two went on a date. It was the first time he’s spoken publicly about the allegation since the story first broke a year ago.
Ansari reflected on the incident and the news cycle that followed it during a pop-up comedy set he performed Monday night in New York. The appearance was part of Ansari’s ongoing “new material” tour, during which he’s been performing similar pop-up sets and making informal appearances at comedy clubs around the country.
According to Vulture, Ansari said during his Monday-night show that he’d needed time to process the incident, which portrayed him as ignoring signals that his date was uncomfortable and pressuring her to participate in escalating physical intimacy, including sex. “[A]fter a year,” Ansari reportedly said, “how I feel about it is, I hope it was a step forward. It made me think about a lot, and I hope I’ve become a better person.”
He also reportedly said that he was thankful that the tone of the conversation around the incident, which raised a number of issues related to the fraught gender dynamics of a bad date, had been enlightening for many people. Per Vulture:
Ansari recalled a conversation in which a friend told him it made him rethink every date he’s been on: “If that has made not just me but other guys think about this, and just be more thoughtful and aware and willing to go that extra mile, and make sure someone else is comfortable in that moment, that’s a good thing.”
Ansari’s willingness to be open, honest, and reflective about the experience struck many people on social media as refreshing.
last night at his show in nyc, aziz addressed the sexual misconduct allegations against him in a really thoughtful way. i wish more men would do the same. https://t.co/KVh4484Tad— Anna Silman (@annaesilman) February 12, 2019
But others were skeptical — or at least slow to accept his views on the subject.
Aziz Ansari actually had a really good response to the situation he had a couple of years ago. Although there was also that stand up leak that sounded he was going the Louis CK/Kevin Hart's route. We'll see where he goes from here.— Michael Brown (@MiekBrzy92) February 12, 2019
i’m......not sure how i feel about this. i want so badly to see men learn from the #MeToo movement, but i don’t know if this is genuine? or just Aziz trying to make himself seem like he’s learned and changed so he can promote his tour. https://t.co/k9HrZanzXc— mango (@colleend322) February 12, 2019
Part of the reason for the skepticism is that many accounts of Ansari’s recent appearances have described his new material as skewering progressive politics and progressive callout culture. In October, Eren Orbey wrote about one of Ansari’s sets for the New Yorker, characterizing it as marked by “suspicion about wokeness and its excesses”:
Without ever mentioning the #MeToo movement—or his own experience as one of its most disputed casualties—Ansari decries the destructive performativity of Internet activism and the fickle, ever-changing standards of political correctness ... zealous and performative leftists who can’t seem to resist competing with one another in what Ansari calls “Progressive Candy Crush.”
This wariness toward Ansari’s comeback tour places him in a category with fellow comedian Louis C.K., who has also received critical pushback for his recent public appearances. C.K., who in 2017 admitted to sexual misconduct against numerous women, has been the subject of intense public backlash and scrutiny as he attempts to begin touring again. Writing about C.K. as well as Ansari recently, Vox’s Anna North noted, “Before they were publicly accused, these men wrestled with thorny questions of identity and power in ways that, while not always satisfying, were usually thought-provoking. After the allegations, they began parroting tired complaints about political correctness.”
Though C.K. seems to have walked back some of his offensive humor in response to outrage over jokes he made on one stage about survivors of the Parkland school shooting, he hasn’t actually apologized for it, nor has he spoken frankly about his misconduct since his initial apology in 2017.
Similarly, Ansari has, until now, been mostly silent on the issue of his own conduct following his initial 2018 statement, in which he asserted that he believed his interactions with the woman in question had been fully consensual.
“It was true that everything did seem okay to me, so when I heard that it was not the case for her, I was surprised and concerned,” Ansari said at the time. “I took her words to heart and responded privately after taking the time to process what she had said.”
If his thoughts on the subject from Monday night are any indication, Ansari wants to give the impression once more that he’s taken the public’s feedback to heart.
The tone of his comedy in the wake of the scandal, however, might prove to be the most compelling test of whether or not he’s truly sincere.