By Kirsten Hernandez, Editor
As a young person of color trying to make it as a comedy writer, Aziz Ansari was a comedian I looked up to from a young age. His rise to fame as a goofy-but-lovable voice gave an accurate description of what it meant to grow into adulthood in this deeply chaotic time period. From “Parks and Recreation” to “Master of None,” I felt as though Ansari’s growth as an artist was in lockstep with mine. His writing grew more and more sophisticated, proving to the public, and me, that people of color are allowed to be more than caricatures in this business. He used his platform not only to elevate his voice but the voice of so many other minority groups in an honest, genuine way.
Aziz’s meaning to me as an artist made the accusations of sexual misconduct against him hard for me to swallow. As I read the woman’s account, I began to feel betrayed. With every sentence I read, I had more questions clawing at my brain. Is this the same person who dedicated an entire episode of his show to talk about the sexual harassment of women? The person who had given a platform to so many unrecognized performers? The person who I looked up to for so many years?
I placed that resentment in an emotional box for months until I got an email from Live Nation informing me that Aziz was on tour and coming to Los Angeles. Later that month, an old friend at the theatre pulled some tickets aside for me, since he knew I was a fan.
I didn’t know if going to the show made me a supporter of gross men, a bad feminist, or just a hypocrite.
Having recently worked through the details of my own experiences with sexual misconduct, the thought of going to the show made me uneasy. It was as though I was supporting someone who committed the same transgressions as the person who took advantage of me. I didn’t know if going to the show made me a supporter of gross men, a bad feminist, or just a hypocrite. I decided though, for none other than sheer curiosity, to bundle up in my coat and make my way downtown to the Orpheum.
The theatre was sold out — as was every show in his Los Angeles leg of the tour — and contained celebrity friends like Mindy Kaling and Retta. Aziz was greeted with a standing ovation from the vivacious crowd as he dove into the quippy stand up we’ve become accustomed to over his career. The topics ranged from pizza, to interracial dating, to his hatred of think pieces (we love irony!) as his fans laughed along to his masterfully crafted storytelling. I had begun to feel at ease as Aziz’s charming stage persona worked its magic, until he set up the question that had been on my mind the last year.
In a joke describing a time when he was mistaken for Hasan Minhaj, his tone became somber as he shifted into talking about the last year of his life. He spoke about how the allegations caused him to reflect on how his actions negatively affected someone’s life, and how he’s fortunate to still have a career after everything that had happened. Aziz mentioned how a fan approached him a few months ago, telling him that the story describing his misconduct caused him to “reflect on every date he has ever been on” and change his behavior. After talking for a while about his fears and hopes for the future, Aziz looked out to the center of the theatre and said the only thing I wanted to hear.
The last year and a half has brought revelations that many of the people whose art we appreciate have actually brought others unspeakable pain. Many of those accused have committed crimes so heinous they don’t deserve redemption, such as Harvey Weinstein. Some aren’t even asking for forgiveness, as evidenced in Louis C.K.’s comeback comedy set, where he made callous comments about the Parkland shooting survivors, and topped it off with “I don’t care, my career is over anyway.” However, do those who are genuinely sorry for the things they had done and have vowed to change, have a place in our current call-out climate?
It made me feel as though one day, the man who did that to me could feel sorry too.
While reading the woman’s account of the night in preparation for writing this piece, I couldn’t help but draw parallels from her experiences to mine. Having someone throw themselves onto you makes you feel helpless in the moment, and the time after is spent wondering why you weren’t strong enough to say no.
That being said, it’s important to use what happened between Aziz and the woman as a learning opportunity for men, especially those in the public eye. Seeing Aziz apologize in front of an audience of thousands gave me a catharsis because it made me realize that it’s possible for someone who had committed this act to be sorry. It made me feel as though one day, the man who did that to me could feel sorry too. Continuing to shame Aziz Ansari for what happened isn’t going to take the pain from what happened to me away, but you know what will make me feel better? Seeing a man in the public eye actively teach his audiences across the country what he did was wrong and that his poor actions can be used as a learning opportunity for all.
It’s okay to be suspicious of men, especially when they’re trying to come back; I was too. It’s also okay if you quietly decide that you don’t want to support their careers in the aftermath. What isn’t okay, in my opinion, is the form of vigilante justice that has become so familiar to us as a public. What isn’t okay is taking away the career of someone who is actively making changes to make sure what he was accused of never happens again.
I, for one, have been won back over.