In January of 2018, as the #MeToo movement swept the nation, a woman accused famous comedian Aziz Ansari, known for his roles in Parks and Recreation and Master of None, of sexual assault. In an article on babe.net, the anonymous woman spoke about her date with Ansari, during which he sexually assaulted her. After rushing her through wine and dinner, Ansari brought her back to his expensive apartment in NYC, and immediately began a sexual encounter which would go on for another 30 minutes. Grace gave negative verbal and nonverbal cues throughout, which went either unheard or ignored. Ansari publically responded that he was “surprised and concerned” that Grace did not feel comfortable with what he thought was “completely consensual” sexual activity. After much condemnation and public debate of Ansari’s guilt, he began a complete radio silence.
Since May, Ansari has been making a tentative return to the comedy scene. He performed as a surprise guest at the Comedy Cellar in NYC for five nights, in limited last-minute ticketed shows in Nashville and Wisconsin, and in the northeast. On September 16, Ansari announced a new set titled “Aziz Ansari Working Out New Material,” which is showing in South Carolina and Tennessee. It’s his attempt to make an official comeback, and his shows are selling out as though #MeToo had never happened.
Ansari’s first ticketed show was on September 25, during which he made no mention of the previous allegations. He seemed to ignore the situation in an attempt to turn over a new leaf, a luxury not afforded to women who are harmed by behavior like his. If, however, he were to mention the situation—if he’d made a self-aware joke, or let slip an apology during a serious moment—wouldn’t he be profiting from the sexual assault? There is no clear right way for him to re-enter the public sphere, which indicates that perhaps the only right way is not to re-enter at all.
Aziz Ansari’s gradual return comes on the heels of Louis C.K.’s recent and much harsher attempt at a comeback, with a surprise appearance at the same Comedy Cellar on August 25, 2018. On November 10, 2017, Louis C.K. was accused of masturbating in front of five women in an article in the New York Times, to which he admitted the next day. Media companies cut ties with him, upcoming shows were canceled, and the release of his movie “I Love You Daddy” was postponed indefinitely. Louis C.K. was cut out of public life, and returned without invitation. The Comedy Cellar did not invite C.K.—he simply approached the emcee, asked for the microphone, and began performing.
In his 15-minute set, C.K. did not address the elephant in the room and delivered typical Louis C.K. material. His performance upset many of those present, especially women in the audience who felt unsafe speaking out against him or booing. Louis C.K. trapped those women much in the way he trapped the women he assaulted; without any acknowledgement on his part, is there any reason to think Louis C.K. has changed?
While the cases of Louis C.K. and Aziz Ansari are decidedly different, the question is the same for both of them: Is there any way they can emerge back into the public sphere without ignoring their actions or profiting from them? Is it fair for American audiences to give them a second chance without any lasting consequences, when the women they assaulted may have lost their opportunities for a first chance? The ticket sales for Aziz Ansari’s show seem to indicate that the people have answered that question. When Louis C.K. inevitably tries a new stunt, the lessons of #MeToo will again be put to the test.