I don’t know what has caused the change, but Albany is suddenly getting a lot of top tier comedians passing through the city. We always got a few big names – I saw both Seinfeld and Louis C.K. here – but it was usually more sporadic. 2013 has been different; there has been a steady stream of funny people making a stop in our fine city. As a stand-up comedy fan, this has been heaven for me. Since the beginning of the year I have seen Demetri Martin, Marc Maron, Lisa Lampanelli, Amy Schumer and John Oliver. That’s not too shabby for only being May. I also have tickets to Kevin James, Bill Maher and Brian Regan later in the year, so it’s shaping up to be the year of comedy for me. I think the only person disappointed by this turn of events may be my financial consultant. I need to start figuring out how to get to these shows for free.
Last Tuesday night, I added another comic to the list when I went to see Aziz Ansari perform. While his roots are in stand up, he’s probably best known as playing Tom Haveford on Parks and Recreation or from his roles in the films Get Him to the Greek, 30 Minutes or Less and Funny People. I had been really excited to see him back when I bought the tickets, but the night of the show I was a little tired and my enthusiasm had waned a bit. You are far more pumped up for a comedian on a Friday or Saturday night than on a Tuesday. It wasn’t a reflection on Aziz, but after a long day of work I wasn’t super psyched to have to schlep back downtown and try to find a parking spot.
It wasn’t until I arrived at the theater (after thinking I lost my tickets only to remember I had to print them out) that I realized my ticket was for the front row, which is a dicey endeavor for almost any stand-up comedian. By sitting in the front, there is a tacit understanding that you may be forced to interact with the stand-up and that you may become a part of the show. That interaction will differ based on the comic – it is almost always good natured, but some stand ups are more likely to make fun of you than others – but sitting down there puts you in play. Ansari didn’t have the reputation for being an insult comic, but anytime I sit that close to the stage I wind up being a little apprehensive (which, of course, raises the issue as to why I bought those tickets. I have no answer for that other than I much not have been paying attention). Add in the fact that I wound up parking in one of the sketchier areas of Albany and all the ingredients were there for this to be a really off night.
However, I am delighted to report that Aziz Ansari was so fantastic that any reservations or crankiness that I had going in to the show were complete obliterated. I really can’t remember the last time that I laughed that hard for that long. He was absolutely on his game and had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. He didn’t quite surpass Louis C.K. as the best comedy show that I’ve even been to, but he came darn close. I left his set exhausted from laughing; my face literally hurt when the show came to an end and on more than one occasion I had tears streaming down my face. To say he knocked it out of the park is to put it mildly.
Ansari covered a lot of material during his set, but focused a lot of attention on having children, marriage and dating. Ansari is single and has no children, but now that he is in his thirties he has hit the point in his life when most of his friends are getting married and procreating. He made some great observations about how becoming parents has changed his friends – parents of a newborn now muster as much enthusiasm about a night out at Applebee’s as a single guy does about having a threesome. He also touched on how scary it must be to be a parent and worry about your child all the time, which led to one of his funniest bits about how he was so cute as a kids that he actually intimidated pedophiles; like a hot girl in the bar, the molesters couldn’t work up the nerve to offer him candy so he escaped childhood unsullied. His material also covered internet dating, the inherent lunacy of marriage (“I want to hang out with you until one of us dies”), the rise of sexting and how the weird extremes of the MTV shows Teen Mom and My Super Sweet Sixteen. His thoughts were smart and relatable and his delivery alternated between manic and relaxed.
Some of the biggest laughs of the night came when he interacted with the audience – after Ansari said that a marriage proposal was one of the few big moments in your life that you could really prepare and telegraph, the man sitting directly behind me was called upon to tell his engagement story. You knew it was going to be a funny moment when the man revealed that the proposal happened in Cincinnati and Aziz was so tickled by the way the man said that they went out for “a nice Chinese dinner” that he kept coming back to that phrasing throughout the night. This exchange was a cool moment for me as it kept Aziz at our end of the stage for quite a while; it isn’t very often that you are five feet away from an actor on one of your favorite TV shows and get to make eye contact with them. For their part, the (young) audience was extremely well behaved. Only one person yelled anything and was shot down quickly and efficiently. Ansari gave people five minutes at the beginning of the show to take pictures to get it out of the way and people mostly complied. Aziz’s set lasted about 80 minutes, so we definitely got our money’s worth. As far as I could tell, all of Aziz’s material was new to the Buried Alive tour; I didn’t recognize any of the bits and he didn’t bring out his character “Randy” at any point.
His opening act, Moshe Kasher, was also quite funny. His 20 minute set dovetailed nicely with the material that Aziz covered and at some point this weekend I am hoping to sit down and watch Kasher’s standup special that is currently streaming on Netflix. He’s someone I will be keeping an eye on.
If Aziz Ansari comes to your town, you should absolutely go to see him. I really can’t recommend him highly enough; I walked out of the show in a completely different mood than when I went in and felt like I had just witnessed something pretty outstanding and special. Two of Aziz’s comedy specials are also streaming on Netflix and are worth a look, though I don’t know that anything can compare to the live experience. He is without a doubt the best comedian that I have seen in 2013 and his show last week is in my top five standup shows of all time (he’s in good company with Seinfeld, Louis C.K. and Jim Jeffries). Everyone I talked to who was at the show loved it as much as I did. It was such a great night of comedy that it still brings a smile to my face a week later.