It's a Monday night and Aziz Ansari is on stage at Vicar Street. "It's my second show in Dublin and this is equally as white as the first one," he points out with a wry smile.
Ansari’s first Dublin show took place earlier on Monday at 7.30pm and it’s now just two and a half hours later. This show is largely made up of those who couldn’t get tickets to the earlier one. There are also students, shift workers and holiday makers among the ranks.
Some may know Ansari as Tom Haverford from the comedy series Parks and Recreation, others from critically acclaimed Netflix series Master of None. But one fact unites them all: they are all here despite a claim of sexual assault made against the Asian-American actor, writer and director last year that saw him share column inches in op-eds with alleged rapist Harvey Weinstein and convicted paedophile Roman Polanski.
In January, 2018, website babe.net published a graphic account of a sexual encounter between Ansari and a 23-year-old woman. She alleged it was a “sexual assault”, but the prurient details shared actually paint a far more nuanced picture. The incident could have sparked interesting conversations about the greyer and more complex areas of sexual interaction. But the internet doesn’t always work like that.
Was it just a bad and awkward date? Or something far more ominous? Maybe it was an indication of a wider societal problem, rather than a clear-cut case of individual fault?
How do I feel? It's a very complicated answer
Social media is not known for its nuanced opinions however, and both Ansari and his young date were exposed to an intense level of vitriol, depending whose side people were on.
It’s not long into his set tonight before he tackles the large, looming elephant in the room. “I haven’t said much about that whole thing,” he begins. “How do I feel? It’s a very complicated answer.” He says that, at the time, he ran the gamut of emotions: “humiliated”, “sad” and “terrible” to name a few.
“I hope I become a better person,” he tells the audience with apparent sincerity before saying that a friend had said it “made him think about every date he’d ever been on”.
“Performative wokeness” is a topic covered in much more depth during his short time on stage. He talks about people trying to “out woke” each other online in a game of “progressive Candy Crush”, displaying their liberal credentials in order to gain validation and praise from their peers.
As an Asian-American who grew up Muslim in South Carolina, Ansari is understandably irked by this new phenomenon. It's even less surprising that – as a recent victim of it – he's not a fan of online "cancel culture" either.
He points to the many hypocrisies involved. “You have to be careful about what you say and what you said . . . cause they’ll dig up the old tweets,” he says in a spooky voice. “You can dig up things with 2019 eyes and they look weird.”
He jokes about being "terrified" while watching the recent R Kelly documentary, remembering that he had called him his "favourite musician" in his first stand-up special. The outro music was Kelly's song, Ignition (Remix).
He tells an audience member they’re lucky no footage exists of them jamming to it in the club or the car a decade ago, when rumours about Kelly were already circulating. “You know you got down to that,” he says. Maybe sometimes it’s necessary to separate the art from the artist.
If you don't think you're sh*tty, and you're aware of all the minorities and all their problems, you're even worse
The internet and social media can convince us of anything, he posits later, clearly not a massive fan. It's not always a reliable source. He riffs about being taken in by YouTube conspiracy theories: "Am I in the Illuminati? This is pretty compelling evidence."
It’s clear that in the period before creating and embarking on this tour, Ansari has had to do a lot of reflection. And, ultimately, what he thinks is that things are not always clear cut. They are not always good or bad, black and white. We are all learning, all the time. Some of us are trying to be better, and that is to be commended.
“Look man, we’re all sh*tty people,” he concludes. “If you don’t think you’re sh*tty, and you’re aware of all the minorities and all their problems, you’re even worse.”
He finished out the set a little more earnestly. “I appreciate you all coming and I mean it,” he says. “After the last year that I had, it hits me in a different way. I saw the other world where I don’t get to do this anymore.”
Ansari says he no longer spends time contemplating his next career move. “None of that sh*t matters, because it can all go away like that. And all we have is the moment we’re in and the people we’re with.” It’s all a little workplace mindfulness session, but he does have a point.