What it was like in the audience at Aziz Ansari’s St. Petersburg show

Aziz Ansari performs during the Oddball Comedy and Curiosity Festival in Tampa in 2014. Photo by Jason Behnken.
Aziz Ansari performs during the Oddball Comedy and Curiosity Festival in Tampa in 2014. Photo by Jason Behnken.
Published October 23 2018
Updated October 23 2018

ST. PETERSBURG ó Aziz Ansari might not like that Iím writing this.

"Another piece of Internet content written to generate clicks and speculation!" he might say in his signature high-pitched yell. "Another hot take for the woke masses!"

At least, thatís the impression I got after attending one of Ansariís two sold-out stand-up sets Monday night at the Mahaffey Theater, part of a small nationwide tour dubbed "Aziz Ansariís Working Out New Material."

For much of Ansariís hourlong show, he railed against "wokeness," against an Internet culture that thrives on outrage and getting clicks and making much ado about what is sometimes nothing. He yelled about it, he sang about it, he incisively poked fun at the silly habits of this modern era.

It was a hysterical, passionate set from Ansari, the 35-year-old standup comic and star and creator of Netflixís Master of None.

These shows are the most weíve seen from Ansari since January, when an anonymous woman accused him in an article on babe.net of pressuring her to have sex with him on a date. It was impossible not to wonder Monday night if Ansariís stance about how the Internet blows everything out of proportion was coming from that experience. Much of his set felt like classic Ansari, but there was a frustration, a fatigue, in his rants.

The millennial-heavy audience on Monday seemed real excited to see him again. The St. Petersburg show was announced less than two months ago and quickly sold out, prompting a second show at 10 p.m.

I bought tickets for the 7 p.m. show as soon as I heard about it, eager to see a comedian like Ansari at an intimate venue like the Mahaffey Theater, where he has performed before (he took his most recent stand-up special to venues like Madison Square Garden), and also to see if Ansari would address any of the #MeToo-ness of this moment.

ME TOO: Oscarís men are heroes. Oscarís women are victims.

Hereís what did, and didnít, happen at Mondayís show:

ē We couldnít use our phones. My husband and I joined the gaggle of millennials swarming outside the theater around 6:45 p.m. Monday. Before we set foot in the venue, we were instructed to place our phones in Yondr pouches, fabric pouches that locked the phones inside and had to be unlocked with a magnet after the show. This is becoming more common at comedy shows (so attendees donít spoil jokes for those who havenít seen the show yet), but Ansari quickly made it clear that he also enjoys the lack of distraction. A "Canít we all just put the phone down for 10 minutes?" plea was met with lots of applause from the young crowd.

ē Ansari was very funny. The name of the show made it clear it wouldnít be a totally polished standup set, but rather a show at which Ansari could test some of his latest material and see how the audience reacted. Frankly, I was surprised by how good it was given that disclaimer. Ansari, clad in skinny jeans and a leather jacket, had total control of the excited room. There were many grab-my-husbandís-arm-because-Iím-laughing-so-hard LOLs, many moments when Ansari had to pause to tell his next joke because the audience was clapping, many silly songs and voices from the energetic standup.

ē He told jokes about the Trump era. The show organizers asked that we donít go into very many details about Mondayís set, but I can tell you that Ansariís hour was very of-the-moment.

ē No one talked about #MeToo. Ansari didnít address the babe.net allegations, directly or indirectly. His set didnít shy away from politics, but it didnít go near the #MeToo movement. Itís hard not to wonder whether it would have, had Ansari himself not been the subject of that article.