The latest reminder that this is a pretty special time for stand-up comedy occurred at 3:48 a.m. on Tuesday, when Aziz Ansari released his new special, Dangerously Delicious. The $5 download on his website followed Louis C.K ‘s grossing of a million dollars in roughly two weeks with Live at the Beacon Theater, and Jim Gaffigan announcing the April self-release of Mr. Universe. Is this developing new form of distribution toppling old models, redefining paradigms and revolutionizing comedy as we know it, like so many breathless pundits have insisted since C.K.’s December release? Not necessarily. After all, comics have to be at a certain level to make this work, with a sizable, established fanbase willing to throw down money. For now, anyway. As Ansari told GQ 11 hours after the announcement, “What’ll be interesting is when you start seeing that line crossed, where someone not as established does something like this and sees how it goes. I don’t think anyone’s tried that yet. I don’t think you could say that would definitely work, but if people got behind it, it would be cool.”
In the meantime there’s Dangerously Delicious, the first quarter of which belongs to the ladies. More specifically, ladies Ansari has trouble talking to, sandwich-shop ladies Ansari wants to hump, ladies who don’t text Ansari back after they’ve been texting him for a while and ladies who have a boyfriend but try to go out with Ansari anyway. Some of the gags are ham-fisted, with others obvious in a way that forces Ansari to wail on them until he unearths a hidden laugh, like when referring to a woman who asks if her being taken is a problem. “Yeah, that’s a problem…” he begins, before running down a litany of other things that would be a problem if presented. The chunk also provides a few callbacks to Ansari’s friend Brian, who is always nice to Ansari, a running, rewarding joke that manages not to overstay its welcome.
Much of Dangerously Delicious deals with one of three topics: Ansari’s fame, Ansari’s troubles with girls, and race. “There are some shitty people that come to these shows,” Ansari says in the first few minutes. “Look how many people are here. Some of you are shitty people… No question about it. I really hate some of you a lot.” It’s not an particularly insightful or fresh joke, but as an introduction to Ansari’s silent poses, where he instructs everyone to get their photos out of the way early, it works well. With any number of other established comics, this kind of “I’m famous and it’s hard!” material might grate, but Ansari’s warm boyishness pulls it off, whether he’s shaking his head at the practical application of obscure racial slurs or recounting how the people who recognize him in public are mostly dorks.
Ansari’s quick and youthful rise is understandable, considering he’s been a main character on the critically acclaimed Parks and Recreation for four years, has found previous short-film and television success with Human Giant (whose Jason Woliner directed Dangerous), has appeared in numerous movies (I Love You, Man, Get Him to the Greek, Observe and Report, Funny People), and toured with The Comedians of Comedy and Flight of the Conchords. More than that, he’s just a lovable, goofy dude. When he jokes about his fame (whether it’s eating at a restaurant so nice that 50 Cent is there or the fan who wants him to pose for pictures with his puppy), it’s hard to hold it against the guy because it feels like he just bought you a beer.
The important difference between Ansari’s special and C.K.’s or even Gaffigan’s forthcoming release is that he did zero press run-up to the announcement. A brave move, Ansari is challenging this new model, and, in a way, his own celebrity. Will he post monster numbers like C.K. without announcing it in advance on Conan? Hard to say, but he’s doing a pretty serious push now, and also about to embark on a lengthy tour of brand-new material not featured on Dangerously Delicious, where for the next three months he can tell thousands of people across the country about the special.
Moreover, his comedy is so ridiculously lighthearted, his self-deprecation so grin-speckled and his celebrity status so continually growing that one can’t help but assume this special will outsell the dour C.K.’s. And if not, at least Ansari has R. Kelly, “who keeps doing amazing things,” his cousin Harris, who’s about to go to college and will no doubt inspire future Ansari bits, and internet dummies who hurl Star Wars-themed racial slurs at Ansari on his own website. “That’s an amazing combination,” Ansari says of the e-heckler. “I’d love to hang out with that guy for a while.” And if all of those fall through, there’s still Brian. He’s always so nice.