Louis C.K. and Aziz Ansari already have a couple of things in common: They're very funny standups who also star in critically acclaimed TV shows (FX's "Louie" and NBC's "Parks and Recreation," respectively).
As of Tuesday, they've also cut out the middleman when it comes to their comedy specials. You don't have to hunt through the TV schedule for Ansari's hourlong special, "Dangerously Delicious"; it can be downloaded or streamed from his site right now. And as was the case with C.K.'s successful online venture, which netted him a hefty sum that he mostly donated to charity late last year, Ansari's special is worth the modest $5 he's charging for it.
I don't want to extend the comparisons too far -- Ansari and C.K. have different concerns and preoccupations -- but the two men share something else: An ability to unpack and examine an idea or a premise from unlikely and very amusing perspectives. Their cutting observations are clearly the products of restless minds, yet after years on the road, their onstage personas are relaxed and laid back. Though Ansari takes on common standup topics -- travel, fame, women, etc. -- there's a freshness and winning curiosity to his approach: He's honestly amused or annoyed by the things that he's talking about. He's never less than fully engaged by the goofy experiences he's describing, and that keeps the special humming with energy.
It's not unusual for a standup to talk about a porn movie in his or her act, but Ansari considers it from the perspective of porn consumer who realizes that his local doughnut shop has been used for an adult-film location. In the same bit, he contemplates the reaction of a director who sees a performer incorporate doughnuts into the film in an unexpected way. "What an amazing choice by that actress!" Ansari imagines the director saying.
Many of Ansari's stories come back to food, which he uses to defuse, yet skillfully examine a topic that could seem clunky in a lesser comedian's hands. When people hear that he was raised in South Carolina, he says, they instantly offer sympathy for the racism he must have faced there, yet he remains unperturbed. "What these people forget is, the food there is really delicious," he says. It's not that racism doesn't bother him, but he's well aware that it's not limited to the South, and in any case, he's not going to let it get in the way of his enjoyment of really tasty fried chicken.
It'd be too glib to say that we live in a post-racial society, but for Ansari and comics of his generation, there's less anger and more bemusement behind their explorations of the topic. Take Comedy Central's "Key & Peele," which cleverly examines the codes and assumptions that govern our behaviors, which are often based on who we're with. We're all guilty of cultural and racial faux pas or of misjudging a situation or crowd, and so the guys who greet Ansari in bars as "that brown guy I saw in that thing" aren't evil, just dorky and clueless.
Ansari's casually funny analysis of everything from racism to rudeness in airports extends to his incisive ruminations on fame; for every night spent in a club with Jay-Z (a self-deprecating story that contains jokes at Ansari's expense), there are far more nights spent in bars trying to work up the courage to talk to women. Ansari has little of the superhuman confidence of his "Parks and Recreation" character, would-be playa Tom Haverford; most of his nights out, he says, end up in the dorm rooms of Indian guys who invite him over to play videogames.
Unlike Tom, who has almost no ability to think through the consequences of his actions, Ansari says his problem is that he overthinks everything, whether it's what to say to a woman or why a potential date won't text him back. But that probing intellect is what makes it so hilarious when he describes a sex-related term in sign language, when he relates what it's like to fight with a fan in an online forum or when he talks about giving his weird nephew Harris advice on his college essay. He may want the disgruntled fan to engage in a sex act with an animal, but Ansari takes the time to envision what that act would look like; it wouldn't be pretty, but it's too surreal to actually be mean.
Toward the end of the special, a few bits about R. Kelly and 50 Cent go on a little longer than they have to, but for the most part, "Dangerously Delicious" is a worthwhile investment for fans of Ansari or of comedy in general. Of course, even though the special's only been online a short time, you could probably snag it for free on a pirate site by now. Maybe I'm naive, but I'm guessing a good number of fans of Ansari, like fans of Louis C.K., won't have a problem financially supporting a comedian who has clearly spent a lot of time honing and polishing his material.
And if that's not the case, it'll no doubt be good fodder for Ansari's next comedy special.