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Wokeness kills comedy, and Aziz Ansari can’t save it

In Ansari’s new comedy special, he apologizes for the bad things he’s said and done; he asks forgiveness; and he reflects on the suffering of this world. It’s a camp revival meeting for progressives.

Aziz Ansari appears in his new comedy special "Right Now" (Netflix).

Last year, Aziz Ansari was caught up in #metoo when a young woman published a story on a now-shuttered website about a bad date with the comedian. It became a scandal, and production halted on season three of Ansari’s Netflix show “Master of None.” But now Ansari is back on Netflix, with a new special, “Right Now.” The meaning of the title, as you may surmise, is: enjoy life now, be a good person now, because it can all go away in an Internet second.

The scandal itself was funny because Ansari is the most woke comedian to make it to fame—his specials constantly assess in what ways white American men are racist, sexist, and homophobic. For all his progressivist cred, he learned that comedians cannot be arbiters of woke.

Ansari talks about this scandal in his new special and cautiously declines the opportunity to stand on his dignity or defend himself. The appropriately woke answer is: regardless of the truth of the matter, it’s good that it started a conversation. It got many people to think about their bad dates and how they should be better people. This is a very pious hope, of course, but it is nothing to do with comedy. It is in fact the opposite of comedy—it is moralism.

Indeed, that’s why there’s less comedy going around these days. Liberals have a near monopoly on stand-up comedy and even sit-coms, but the political mood has gotten progressively darker, so that everyone has to find something else to do: political hackery is popular, complaining about Trump and racism all the time, but that doesn’t help comedians who want to distinguish themselves by talent, not compete in the nationwide hysterias.

Ansari has decided instead that comedy is overdone anyway, so the future is therapy instead. Unlike his previous specials or the various roles he’s played on TV and in films, “Right Now” is to a large extent a camp revival meeting for liberals. His various witticisms mostly adorn the interstices of a more serious ritual. He testifies to his suffering and his own failures; he apologizes for the bad things he’s said in previous specials, which were not sufficiently woke; he asks forgiveness from the crowd; and he reflects on the suffering of this world, which requires that he and we become better people, listen more, judge less, and be good.

It’s religion for atheists. The promise that our celebrities will become progressive moral crusaders comes down to saying that anyone who is sufficiently politically correct will be saved in some way. As soon as we stop discriminating, we can all come together in one great undifferentiated unity of mankind. We can be the same, the famous millionaires and the anonymous paying audiences alike. And this seems in a strange way to be what Ansari, and perhaps others like him, really and truly believe. They want to lead people to the progressive Promised Land.

Now, if we stopped with the sentimental rapprochement for a second and spoke like Aristotle, we’d have to say comedy is some kind of poetry, an imitation that’s specifically bound by the rule of ridicule and laughter. It’s a making, since it makes stories, not a doing—it does not have the status of moral or political action. But at some level, Progress requires that comedy become a form of moral reeducation, and a hip way of advertising Progress.

This is unlikely to work for the very reason progressives believe it to be necessary: the way we react to modern life, as Ansari learned when he was publicly humiliated, is often quite ugly. We do not wish to be reconciled to each other quite as urgently as we wish to take out our anger on other people, presumably those whom we blame for how bad things are. Turning comedy into moralism is not going to make audiences less angry or less inclined to tear down the idols that Hollywood and TV have set up for them to worship.

Until recently, we were told that comedy, as indeed all art, should be transgressive, challenging audiences and making them uncomfortable. That, too, was an attempt to advertise something—radical individualism, becoming yourself by attacking social rules that seem obsolete, unjust, or which stifle individuality. Now, transgression is out and conformism is back in—the best comedian now is the man or, likely, the woman who complains most plausibly about injustice and shames the people who do not sufficiently conform to whichever moral crusade is popular or prestigious at any moment.

Ansari is wittier and more charming than most people who talk social justice, and he constantly tries to rein in the excesses of woke. But he doesn’t seem to understand woke itself is a problem for comedy, since it denies the comedian any independent standpoint from which to comment on the foibles of mankind. Comedy means to some extent bringing down the false idols people worship—not doing custodial duty polishing them. Does anyone dare do that anymore?

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About Titus Techera 25 Articles
Titus Techera is the executive director of the American Cinema Foundation and a contributor to National Review, The Federalist, Law & Liberty, and Modern Age.


  1. Do any of you readers know which author first pointed out that “the chief cultural achievement of the Catholic Church is to shield her members from the passing parade of imbecility”?

  2. Totally disagree. I’m a conservative, Trump-supporting 44-year-old, and I found Ansari’s Netflix special both refreshing and hilarious. As much as I despise the “woke millennial” movement, I found nothing bothersome in that regard in “Right Now.” In fact, I highly recommend this special to anyone who likes stand-up and an willing to bet they’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

      • Hey, great job in taking the opportunity to reach across the isle and share in a common bond. God knows why anyone would want to try and find common ground with Trump supporters.we all know that a smug rebuff is the best way to convince people that liberals aren’t a bunch of supercilious elitists.

  3. I know this article would make Aziz cringe. Whoever wrote it is completely out of touch. Stop trying to make some half-assed, uniformed assessment about the rest of the world when you do so much to ignore facts. Stay in your sheltered, ignorant, unknowing little bubble and leave the true understanding to people who can handle reality and just want the world to be a better place.

    • What facts is the author ignoring? What “true understanding” are you talking about? What reality isn’t being handled? I honestly can’t figure out what your issue with the article is. A few specifics might help.

      Also, there’s no need to use crude language.

  4. One certainly can’t question Mr. Techera’s right-wing bona fides (National Review, The Federalist), but one suspects that he is among those whose primary happiness in life comes from being unhappy. He opines that, “until recently, we were told that comedy, as indeed all art, should be transgressive; challenging audiences and making them uncomfortable” as somehow past-tense. Thankfully, comedy and “all art” are alive and well: still “transgressive, [and] challenging.”

    Long ago and far away, there were times when preaching in the Roman Catholic church could be described as (albeit usually too cerebral and egg-headed), “transgressive and challenging.” Save for the hate and anger-mongers, when is the last time anyone heard a sermon from a Roman Catholic priest (Deacon, religious, or lay-person) that thousands of people would be willing to stand on line for 3 hours on a cold and windy night, paying $125, to be challenged and made uncomfortable?

    The fact that the majority of people in our culture find moral and ethical guidance from an Indian atheist (or Donald Trump) more credible than that of a two-thousand-year-old institution claiming to be the incarnation of God enfleshed, is cause for all those claiming to be followers of Jesus Christ, to don sackcloth and ashes.

  5. Randell Franklyn Busby :
    “when is the last time anyone heard a sermon from a Roman Catholic priest (Deacon, religious, or lay-person) that thousands of people would be willing to stand on line for 3 hours on a cold and windy night, paying $125, to be challenged and made uncomfortable?”
    I remember taking a long bus ride all the way up to DC with our local parish to see St.JPII say Mass & preach. We stood outside waiting for him for some time but there was no charge of course.

    • Popes don’t count–and the sermon was definitely not the high point of the liturgy. I was there. One must also concede that JPII was quite a showman, and the absolute master of the substance-less gesture: i.e. kissing the ground.

  6. God created good humor: “… he will rejoice over you with gladness and laughter, he will quiet you by his love: he will exalt over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). This indicates that good humor and true comedy are of divine origin, a great blessing that builds us up above the sometimes dire, painful and absurd circumstances of life to give us peace and a spirit of true singing in God’s very own Joy. True humor and comedy builds you and ALL those around you up in joy.

    Today’s anti-Christian aggressive political humor is an impostor as it tries to tear down all those that don’t believe as you do and to totally keep in a bubble all those of your blind followers so that Truth, Real Humor and Joy can’t reach them, keeping the fires of unforgiveness, anger and grievance from ever achieving reconciliation and true justice. It’s a weapon of hate and war, hiding behind hypocritical pacifism and “social justice”.

    It is Socialism’s and Communism’s dark, evil, violent heart revealed as Thuggish Mockery: “Blessed is the man who does not… sit in the company of mockers” (Psalm 1:1). Thuggish Comedy attempts to mainstream and normalize both verbal and physical violence under the tyranny of anti-human, anti-God ideology. Like in Satan, anti-Christian aggressive political “comedy” denies the Basic Right To Exist and Be Respected of any and all humans, even the mockers themselves, making them the ultimate imbeciles, as stated in the quote in the comments here about the Catholic Church’s greatest cultural achievement.

    • Humor is subjective, whatever may be funny to a Christian is more than likely not going to make me laugh, that’s not me being a cynic, it’s just realistic.
      What makes me laugh would probably offend you to your core and that doesn’t make me a bad person and it doesn’t make you a better person. It makes us different.

      Not everyone needs to believe what you believe to be a good person and you really should be okay with that.

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