First Night: Aziz Ansari, Soho theatre, London
Slick, polished and smart, Ansari's stand-up delivers
Monday 28 February 2011
Most people in the UK haven't heard of Aziz Ansari, but you wouldn't know that from the reception he receives at the Soho Theatre. He is given a hero's welcome by a crowd who are well oiled (it's Saturday night) and fluffed into a near frenzy by his masterful support act, Dan Levy. That makes his job easier, of course, but nonetheless it's a highly impressive hour of slick, smart stand-up.
For the uninitiated, Ansari is quite a name in the US. The 28-year-old started out in stand-up before making his name on the MTV sketch show Human Giant and the Office-esque NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation, in which he plays Tom, a wisecracking, charismatic government official. He starred in Judd Apatow's 2009 film Funny People and hosted last year's MTV Movie Awards.
You can see why he's in demand – the guy's an absolute pro. Not a word out of place, not a hesitation, he performs with the sort of ruthless efficiency that US comics seem to prefer, and which makes the more conversational British style look a bit sloppy. That's not to say he has honed all the live-ness out of his act: his asides and the brutal despatching of an audience member during the encore are equally as lucid.
The subject matter can be pretty unoriginal – his inadequacy with women, frustration with the idiots of the world, internet porn and (every comics' new favourite toy) the pitfalls of autofill texting – but he never ends up in a comedy cul-de-sac.
There are winning routines on a bigoted locksmith who won't deal with Korean-Americans, a man who brags about having sex with macaroni cheese, and the arbitrary nature of racist insults. Ansari himself was raised in "quite racist" South Carolina, but his material is largely non-autobiographical.
Ansari's stand-up is a balance between sensitivity and steel. He has big brown eyes but wears a dapper grey jacket, black slacks and shiny black shoes like a proud cinema proprietor. He says words like "mean" and "nice" yet doesn't flinch when mock-ripping into that audience member. He draws sympathetic "aaahs", but also "hell yeahs" (mainly from his compatriots). He has an anecdote where he shoots two puppies in the face, just to teach a young couple not to be rude to old people.
He plays to the crowd a little, returning to two popular Ansari subjects – his "chubby, weird cousin" Harris (who is to Ansari what Karl Pilkington is to Ricky Gervais) and the ridiculousness of R Kelly. There's celebrity namedropping, but it's minimal, restricted to his overhearing 50 Cent in a restaurant being confused by grapefruit, and disappointing Jay-Z at a party. Ansari makes sure he remains one of us.
"Mildly pissed off" is the overall tone. It's not world-weary like Doug Stanhope, nor fizzing with bravado like Chris Rock, but it is packed with star quality.
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