About seven minutes into Aziz Ansari’s new Netflix standup special Right Now, Ansari considers the thorny aspects of cultural appropriation through clothing choice.
It’s ironic. In the special, Ansari appropriates the culture of my people: suburban dirtbag thrash metal fans by taking the stage in a Ride The Lightning Metallica shirt and a tight, faded pair of black jeans.
Dressing like a 1988 convenience store weed dealer is an odd and telling choice for Ansari. Throughout his career in comedy and television, Ansari’s veered between the hip hop loungewear he wore in his breakout role as the DJ-backed standup comedian Randy in Funny People and an arch take on hipster dandy-ism, the foundation of the “treat yo’ self” recurring jokes and the Rent-A-Swag store plotline on Parks and Recreation.
Clothes are at the heart of Ansari’s standup persona. In his 2010 debut standup special, the now ironically titled Intimate Moments for a Sensual Evening, he wears a shiny rat pack-esque brown suit, tie-less and with an untucked fitted shirt. He only glowed up from there. In 2012’s Dangerously Delicious, he took the stage in a grey smoking jacket with black trim. By 2015’s Live at Madison Square Garden Ansari was sporting a black on black on black perfectly tailored tux.
So when Ansari takes the stage in denim and a t-shirt, it means something. And since he’s dressing down in the first stand-up special following the 2018 Babe.net article “I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It turned into the worst night of my life,” we can reasonably infer that meaning. He’s toning down the flash and trying to appear cozy and approachable, perhaps even a tinge contrite, while intimating that he’s suffered from the bad publicity.
Ansari, Right Now director Spike Jonze or their wardrobe consultant could’ve read riding the lightning as a metaphor for being in the center of the storm of public disapproval or thought the lightning-struck floating electric chair was akin to being in the hot seat of getting #metoo-ed.
Before recently aligning himself with metal, Ansari put pop and rap front and center in his material. His love for chart-topping hip hop reached an apotheosis with his cameo in the video for Jay-Z and Kanye West’s song “Otis.” His pop culture fluency is still a major part of his comedy; a Right Now, routine hinges a fluid understanding of the members of No Doubt.
Even though hip hop is clearly closer to Ansari’s heart, he couldn’t wear a throwback Digable Planets, Snoop Dogg or De La Soul shirt at his post-Babe.net reintroduction to the world. It would read as too celebratory at a time when he’s stepping gingerly. Ansari is trying to rehabilitate his tarnished image and again be seen as an emotionally acute observer of modern relationship dynamics. So the bummer imagery of Ride The Lightning seems appropriate.
In any event, one thing is clear: while the special is worthwhile and well-crafted, Ride The Lightning seems a little less cool for being a part of it.