Aziz Ansari stays firmly on-the-cuff at the Orpheum
At the Orpheum Theatre on Saturday, June 30
In comedy, timing is everything. Standup comedian and actor Aziz Ansari knows this full well. Or he should.
It’s doubtful he will end up making anyone’s “funniest man over 30” list, but the 29-year-old is riding the crest of the comedy wave after being named by Rolling Stone magazine as the “funniest man under 30” last September. He got in right under the wire.
The Parks and Recreation star brought his Buried Alive tour to a sold-out Orpheum Theatre on Saturday and didn’t disappoint the masses. One would think with the current comedy boom, greater exposure to more comics would lead to more discerning tastes. Hell, his own opening act, Chelsea Peretti, trumped her more-famous headliner in the jokes and persona departments, but wasn’t met with the same wash of goodwill the crowd gave Ansari, although they certainly liked her.
It’s hard to sit here and write that Ansari was one of the most unlikable mainstream comics I’ve seen when thousands in attendance and all over North America clearly love the guy. But I’m going to chalk that up to his fame. People tend to like what has already been given the stamp of televised approval.
Ansari has a level of confidence and swagger that far exceeds his talent. His better-than-us persona would work well if we could recognize it as a persona, but there was no sense of irony present. To his credit, he joked about it at one point. Like most comedians, he says he always notices the one person in a room of laughing patrons who’s not enjoying the show. Whereas other comics might feel some self-doubt, Ansari says he just assumes the person is “retarded”. So give him points for recognizing his shortcomings, at least.
But worse, his premises, which were hardly earth-shattering on their own, were still better than the ensuing punchlines. We got some tired takes on how babies ruin lives and the banality of nightclubs that offered nothing new to any seasoned comedy fan. And his bit about the ethics of the producers of MTV’s 16 and Pregnant who exploit needy kids for profit was reminiscent of a much funnier Sam Kinison routine about directors of world-hunger commercials withholding sandwiches from starving children to get the shot they need.
One original and funny chunk centred on how African-American males are always blown away by magicians, but it went nowhere, other than to unrealistically impersonate their over-the-top reactions. The laughs came hard in anticipation of a big payoff that never materialized.
To top it all off, there didn’t appear to be a single real moment during his 75 minutes on stage. His slick act came across as rote, with not an unrehearsed smile or laugh to be had. Even Ansari’s off-the-cuff tangents seemed to be totally on-the-cuff.
But I will cut the guy some slack. He’s not yet 30 and already knows how to construct a theatre show and generate big laughs. He’s still got a full 10 years to work on being named funniest man under 40.