The final semester of my senior year of college I took a class on Charles Dickens. While we didn’t read every thing the Boz ever wrote, we did take a chronological approach to dissecting his writing, starting with his earliest work, and going right through his final unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. It was fascinating to see how he honed his craft over the course of his lifetime as a writer. Most of Dickens’ work is well written, but witnessing the evolution of his skills was almost as interesting as the stories I was reading.
In a similar way, as I watched Aziz Ansari’s latest standup special, “Buried Alive,” I was impressed by how much he has matured as a performer. On long car trips I like to download comedy albums and listen to them as I drive, and Ansari’s previous two specials have been in heavy rotation. While there is definitely some fine tuning that takes place between “Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening” and “Dangerously Delicious,” “Buried Alive” leaves behind any sense that Ansari is trying to figure out how to present his act. Don’t get me wrong, Ansari is nothing if not a confident performer, but here he doesn’t lean so heavily on the jokes that have been surefire wins in the past. For example, there are fewer jokes about his encounters with other celebrities. He talks about his family, but rather than making fun of them as he has done with his cousins, he uses their experiences to push his routine further. And most surprisingly (and just a tad disappointingly), there isn’t a single mention of R. Kelly.
Instead, he focuses mostly on relationships. This seems to build off his “Texting with Girls” bit from “Dangerously Delicious,” and appears to be the topic he is most interested in exploring. One of the reasons Louis C.K. is so popular isn’t just because he is willing to touch on any topic, or that he tells amazing jokes. It’s because the man is a modern day philosopher (as many comedians are). Louis C.K. is able to dissect the little things in life and show why they might be stupid, or why the way people act or think makes no sense. This demonstrates that there is genuine thought behind each one of his ideas, and it’s a skill Ansari is starting to put on display in his special.
He spends a good amount of time discussing the institution of marriages and kids, and how at 30 he’s freaking out a little about the stages his friends are at in their lives compared to where he is in his. His ideas on marriage might not be anything you haven’t heard before, but the way he presents them will have you cracking up, especially when he talks about how much better he is at walking than his friends babies.
Another pleasant surprise is how well he rolls with the audience. As a comedian, I think the most terrifiyng thing you can do is ask the audience a question. It opens up too much potential for things to go off the rails. But in two separate bits he asked for audience participation from people in the front rows, and both times he is able to keep his routine on track with hilarious results. Even the second time, when an audience member refuses to participate, he doesn’t let it rattle him, he just keeps cool and moves on to the next person.
The things that aren’t gone: Anasari’s use of funny voices and his limitless energy. For example, when he is describing why clubs are terrible places, he whips out three different songs that he created just for the routine. He still likes to run and jump around on stage, and he still goes into a high pitched whine more often than he should, but he’s beginning to show that he’s not just using these as crutches for laughs. These are becoming defining traits of his act and it’s one that keeps getting better with each new incarnation.
- The special is available for streaming on Netflix.
- I was only able to watch this once, so there are way too many highlights and quotes for me to nail down, but just trust me when I say this will be one of the best 80 minutes you’ve spent in a while.
- Impressed, Unimpressed of Satisfied? Entering his third special, Ansari shows he is maturing his act and looking for answers to life’s many questions while still delivering an unrelentingly funny and energetic performance. Very Impressed.