Most widely known for his role as the snarky and snazzy Tom Haverford on NBC’s Parks and Recreation, Aziz Ansari is also a stand-up comedian in his own right. On Nov. 1, his most recent stand-up show, Buried Alive, debuted on Netflix, following up his 2012 special, Dangerously Delicious. It was filmed in front of a live audience in April 2013 at the Merriam Theater in Philadelphia, PA.
I’m a big fan of Ansari. His personal interests on his Facebook page, such as “Eating delicious food and hoping it doesn’t make me chubby” is so relatable. He’s a great comedian. And after seeing some of his other stand-up specials, devouring Parks and Rec religiously and watching two previews of the set, I was so eager to see Buried Alive that I began watching at 3:00 a.m. on Nov. 1, still a little tipsy after spending my Halloween drinking dollar beers at Billy Bob’s BBQ.
But I digress. Or not really, seeing as my escalating sobriety, in a way, paralleled Ansari’s special; in the set, the comedian wryly dissects the disillusionment that goes along with growing up.
He begins the special by talking about a recent personal milestone—his thirtieth birthday, and describes how being thirty, at least for most of his friends, correlates with “getting serious about their lives,” i.e., getting married and having babies.
Ansari personally rejects this correlation, questioning why anyone would not use birth control and reminding the audience that while everyone else is watching their babies, he’s spending all of his time not feeling tied down by anything.
The rest of the special is spent flipping the widely-held assertion that marriage and parenthood is a serious pursuit, addressing the absurdity of being a so-called “grown-up” in the present day.
For example, he questions how someone could be taken seriously when they send out mass e-mails with video attachments of their kid walking around. He retorts that he can walk around better and hits “unsubscribe” to such correspondence, throwing his friends’ babies in the “trash.”
Ansari seamlessly and effectively inhabits multiple characters, ranging from the previously mentioned social-media obsessed parents, to the crooner Seal, to a sixteen-year-old on an MTV reality show, to President Barack Obama. In many cases, with these depictions come cultural critiques—for example, he effectively breaks down symbols of masculine power when inhabiting a straight white man wearing a backwards cap and a button down in a bar.
Yet one of these voices is not successful—he portrays a sex offender, addressing child molestation in a cavalier way that is, in my opinion, completely uncool. This depiction wasn’t funny, but uncomfortable, uncompassionate and inappropriate.
Although he’s perhaps trying to play to shock value, I don’t think in this case he considers his audience or the severity of cases of sexual abuse.
That being said, I did admire Ansari’s willingness to take risks in other subjects. For me, the most culturally salient part of the set was when he reframed the institution of marriage. Ansari imagines what a conversation about marriage would be like from the perspective of someone completely unfamiliar with the concept.
The sketch goes: “Hey so, you know how we’ve been hanging out together all the time, spending a lot of time together?” he questions, and asserts “I wanna keep doing that ‘til you’re DEAD.” He continues, “I wanna keep hanging out with you til one of us dies. Put this ring on your finger so people know we have an arrangement.”
Ansari goes on to ask members of the audience how they proposed to their significant others, engaging with the crowd in a way unprecedented for many stand-up comedians. He proves himself adept at improvisation, mocking one audience member for a proposal over a lunch that included breadsticks, spontaneously yet tactfully alluding to the idea that these serious, “adult” milestones are not exempt from the absurdity that is most often considered adolescent in nature.
Many comedians use some form of crowd-work, but few use it well. Luckily Ansari is one of the latter. Most members of the audience that he goes to are willing to share for the sake of the special, but inevitably, one woman does not. Ansari handles it well, despite his frustration, showing the maturity of dare I say, a thirty-year-old veteran of the comedy business. And he handles some serious topics like his relationship with his family and the poverty of relatives in India with his distinct sense of levity.
Through the progression of the set, Ansari continues to let the audience know that although he’s hit the thirty-year milestone, he has a sense of awareness that marks him as different from those other lame grown-ups. At least for now.