I went with three friends to see Aziz Ansari at Mahalia Jackson Theater on Friday night. A couple of quick things you should know about how I feel about Aziz before we get to the show:
- Master of None is probably my favorite television show. Certainly a Top 3. And it is the show that actually got me back into TV. (With the exception of Game of Thrones, I had watched no television since I was a Full House-watching child.)
- In #metoo-related conversations about him, I’m harder on him than most about his contributions. Most women (and men) I know, chalk his situation up to poor communication and a big misunderstanding. I think she gave him four pretty clear “no”s. But that’s all a conversation for not-this-post. (Feel free to take it to the comments if you want, though.)
So, anyway, I was excited to see the performance. I think he’s a funny and thoughtful comedian, and I was interested to see what he’d focus on during his set.
One article I read called his tour “a cry against extreme wokeness,” and I think that’s about right. The assessment was especially true during a portion involving a pepperoni pizza from Pizza Hut.
“You all heard about this Pizza Hut thing in the news?” he asked the crowd. More than half the crowd groaned along, following the lead of his tone. Oh, they’d heard about it, alright!
For the few of us that hadn’t heard, he caught us up: a customer opened up a box holding his Pizza Hut pizza and discovered the pepperoni was organized into the shape of a swastika! Geez louise.
Of course the dude put it up on Instagram (to be honest, he probably would have put it up there, even if the pepperoni wasn’t in the shape of a swastika, because what are you supposed to do with food if not put pictures of it online?), and the response was INTENSE. Aziz said half the internet was like, “Holy shit, that’s definitely pepperoni in the shape of a swastika! Boycott Pizza Hut! Fire the CEO!” and the other half of the internet was like, “Listen snowflakes, that’s obviously not an intentional swastika. It’s just an unfortunate coincidence of pepperoni placement that kind of looks like a swastika.”
So, Aziz, asked the audience what they thought. Most of the half that said they knew what he was talking about were on the side that said we need to take Pizza Hut down! A few people in the crowd thought they were overreacting.
Then Aziz told us he made the whole story up. The whole thing. It never happened. And he chided members of the crowd who reacted with such intensity to something they had not seen themselves, and didn’t know the full story of. “You’re the fucking problem!” he laughed. (Well, kind of laughed.)
And, from my point of view, I think he’s right. I think too many of us feel the need to have a strong opinion on everything as fast as we possibly can, instead of taking our time to develop a well thought out opinion. And, then, when someone finds a hole in our not-so-well-reasoned opinion, we feel the need to double down on it instead of learn and adjust.
An employee at a local Pizza Hut may have placed the pepperoni in the shape of a swastika?! Pizza Hut must be all bad, or all good. We have to defend the CEO or we have to take him down immediately. The idea that we feel the need to take a stand and search for nuance is a problem — I agree with him.
My problem isn’t with the content of his material. My problem is that I don’t believe him as a narrator. Because, until the day that piece came out about his sexual encounter, he was the guy clamoring for extreme wokeness! I’m all for being woke (even though I think the phrase is kind of annoying). Aziz Ansari was the pedastaled hero of the “extreme woke.”
Then he became the target of that movement, and nowwwwwwwww he thinks they’ve gone too far. The truth is probably that, like many important movements, sometimes it gets important things done, and sometimes it goes too far. That’s the balance it’s been toeing for…ever. But he only chose to acknowledge this when it suited him.
Listen — I like when people change their mind. When Abraham Lincoln was criticized for flip-flopping he said, “I’d like to think I’m smarter than I was yesterday.”
But I do think, if you’re going to change your mind, you should at least acknowledge what you learned and the circumstances under which you learned it. Aziz didn’t do that at all. It felt like he’d rather have us believe he’s been this woke about wokeness all along.