The last five years have been kind to Aziz Ansari. He hosted the MTV movie awards last year, holds a major supporting role on Parks and Recreation (arguably the best show on NBC’s Thursday night lineup), and is touring his second hour of stand-up, the follow-up to his popular debut “Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening.” This tour is what brought him to Pomona’s Big Bridges auditorium April 14, where he performed an hour of spirited comedy.
L.A.-based comedian Dan Levy opened for Ansari with a set that discussed his negative experience with Justin Bieber’s manager (with whom he worked as a counselor at a day camp in Connecticut), his brief encounter with Justin Timberlake (and his unsuccessful attempt to emulate Timberlake’s inimitable coolness in front of a teenager later on), and the time a bunch of Twilight ultra-fans mistakenly sent him vitriolic hate mail, among other things. Levy’s voice has a naturally arrogant and crass fratty quality to it, which works well in contrast to his self-deprecating material. He did a solid set and ably warmed up the audience for Ansari to do his thing.
Ansari's material ranged from obscure racial slurs to 50 Cent’s ignorance of the grapefruit to (as on “Intimate Moments”) his cousin Harris. The infectious, bounding energy Ansari showed in Intimate Moments—a stage energy very reminiscent of Chris Rock—was subdued here. It was obvious that he's been trying to sharpen his material more in the mold of Louis C.K’s absurd side (I mention these two comedians because Ansari has frequently cited them as major influences in interviews), as one could see in an extended bit in which he explored the logistics of orally pleasuring five hippopotamuses. This isn’t to say, of course, that Ansari doesn’t have an comedic voice of his own. He’s one of the comedians who most capably and amusingly talks about Internet, phone communication, and the way both work in people’s lives. This is best seen in his bit about Wikipedia and IMDB, in which learning one thing about Joe Pesci quickly and inexorably turns into learning everything about Joe Pesci (and the aforementioned exploration of hippopotamus fellatio was part of a longer bit about how he couldn’t stop getting himself into Internet arguments).
If there’s a criticism to be made of Ansari’s comedy, it’s that his performance outdoes his material. He is one of the funniest actors out there and consistently delivers great lines on Parks and Recreation, but his success lies more in his delivery than his joke writing. His jokes are expertly delivered and consistently amusing, but they never possess that exhilarating extra quality of scathing truth—or, on the other hand, complete lunatic absurdity—that Rock and C.K summon in spades. But Ansari is young and incredibly good for the short amount of time that he’s been doing comedy. He’s only going to get better, which will be exciting to watch in the coming years.