By Sarah Wyatt
Aziz Ansari is a man built for an arena act, a master of crowd control.
The night's opening act was a Michael Jackson impersonator with his own backing applause soundtrack. It seemed fitting with the ego and presence that Ansari puts out to the public as a celebrity. You can almost hear him joking about it with his friends, "MJ but with an applause track. Like a laugh track for musicians." But then he followed through with it because when you're a stand-up comedian capable of filling the American Airlines Center, why not?
So of course there was a Bad-era Michael Jackson impersonator opening for Aziz. And of course he was good. He came equipped with everything you would want -but didn't know you wanted - from a Michael Jackson impersonator before an Aziz Ansari show: flashing lights, smoke, good dancing on stage, bad dancing off.
There was a small break before the next act during which Aziz came over the sound system as a fake announcer and warned the audience about being disrespectful to the performers by shouting out catchphrases or yelling out anything that might take away from everyone else's enjoyment of the evening, a la Dave Chappelle's recent career. Sure, it's apropos but the frustration behind the message was slightly off-putting. Then again, the people behind me made "Beat It" dead Michael Jackson jokes after the opening act, so it may have been needed.
"DJ Eggplant Parmesan" (Aziz again) introduced Aziz's second act, Jerrod Carmichael, a young stand up based out of Los Angeles. I had heard Jerrod before on the Comedy Bang Bang podcast and was really excited to see him perform. He's a supremely funny dude, but he didn't really seem to enjoy performing for such a large, middle of the road, crowd. He pandered to the audience about Texas crowd-pleasing topics: how great Texas is, guns, Bush. He had a bit about Japanese versus American engineering that was hilarious.
There was another lights up break before Ansari came out. And then, boom, there he was.
He came out to Western movie music in front of a digital setting sun backdrop. He started his set by posing in front of different backgrounds, everything from glaciers to puppies, and riffing about them so everyone could take a picture, get it out of their systems, and (hopefully) be able to put their phones down and enjoy the entertainment. I had seen some of Ansari's stand up specials in the past, some that I'd take("Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening"), some I'd leave ("Dangerously Delicious"), but it had been a while. Most recently, I think we are all familiar with Ansari from the hit NBC-show Parks and Recreation, where he plays the over-the-top, SWAG-pushing charm-forward, Parks employee Tom Haverford. Although, I'd point to "Human Giant," a sketch show Aziz created along with Rob Huebel and Paul Scheer in 2007 as my favorite Ansari performance.
It's easy to forget how funny Aziz Ansari is. For most of us, he's been replaced with a picture of Tom Haverford, but shame on us. He's a smart, funny, relatable, heartfelt comedian. It was like watching a professional basketball player; every move was fluid, masterful. A joke that encapsulates veganism and Ja Rule?? I'm on board.
The backdrop changed with each new topic that his act covered. He touched on everything from his parents, to texting, to how people deal with invitations in our "always want best" culture, and of course, Ja Rule. Everything was so tight, so polished, even down to the audience interactions, Ansari was always in control. If you came to see a brick wall, lean-on-the-mic stand set, you were disappointed. If you came to see Raaaaaaaandy, you were disappointed. If you came to see Ansari kill it on a black stage with his own image on a backdrop, you left craving more, like me.