Aziz Ansari at the Montreal Comedy Works

Aziz Ansari - not the work of the author
Aziz Ansari – not the work of the author

So I’m on the train heading back home last night scrolling through my Twitter feed. Halfway back to the forgotten Pierrefonds section of the city I see that Aziz Ansari had added a second show for 10pm last night.

Fuck me, I thought, how did I miss that there was a first one?

As I sat there feeling like a jerk I was bothered by the fact that, as of next week, this wouldn’t have been a problem. Pierrefonds is technically but a 25 minute train ride from Gare Centrale, but for all practical purposes is far further away, especially if you depend on public transit to get around. Suffice it to say I felt there’d be no chance of seeing this show; I’d have to turn around immediately once I got to Pierrefonds and had no way of securing the tickets outside of physically going to the Montreal Comedy Works on Bishop, a place I realized I hadn’t been to in about a decade.

Next week things will be different (moving downtown), but I couldn’t just leave it alone. A determination starting brewing inside me – I had to see this show. I was still kicking my ass for missing Charles Bradley at the Virgin Corona a little while back.

A friend texts me and asks what I had planned for the evening. Perfect. We make plans to see the show; I’d get home, eat something quick and turn right back around. Timing is key and fortune favours the bold. We get there with time to spare, seats with our names on them.

Outside the club waiting to go in we come across local comedian Rodney Ramsey (who’s been involved with the hilarious Language Police series) who informed me as to the thinking behind the Ansari show being a kind of crowd-sourcing initiative – a Twitter blast that got about 100 eager fans out to see Ansari try out some new material. Brilliant idea really – friendly crowd with a room small enough you’re guaranteed an appreciative audience. Catch Rodney’s act whenever you can, man’s got some excellent material and fascinating insights. We talked a lot about the Montreal English-language comedy scene, one which is very small yet manages to quite successfully punch well above its weight. It’s an odd situation – the city with the world’s largest bilingual comedy festival has comparatively few dedicated comedy clubs (I can only think of two, the other being the Comedy Nest at the Forum, which if memory serves once was both comedy and jazz club, the latter not working out any better than any of the other cockamamy ‘entertainment services’ once provided by the Pepsi Forum Entertainment Complex™). Apparently open mic nights and travelling comedy shows playing at diverse venues is a little more common. I’m looking forward to getting back into the scene – I’m rarely disappointed by live comedy, especially when it’s godawful – those make for some good anecdotes you can later use to amuse your friends. Rodney made a good point about Sugar Sammy, the current darling of the Montreal comedy scene, in that Sammy quite literally created a market no one thought could be created. Bilingual comedy? T’es fou toé? I wish them both much success; bilingual comedy may not work in every market but may work quite well in Canada as a whole. It’s unique and takes observational, improvisational and absurdist humour to new heights – knowing many languages is a huge asset across the board, and the kind of thing a country as well-educated as ours may appreciate.

In any event, on to the show.

I started watching Ansari’s stand-up after being introduced to him in Parks and Recreation, an excellent anti-sitcom in the style of the American version of The Office which has brought the comedy talents of Amy Poehler, Audry Plaza, Ansari, Chris Pratt, Nick Offerman, Retta and Rashida Jones to a broad audience. Ansari’s character, the vain and materialistic yet smooth-despite-himself Tom Haverford, is one of my favourites because the character is executed so perfectly, with precise consistency. He’s outlandish and the interaction with Jean-Ralphio (Ben Schwartz) has made for some of the most gut-bustingly hilarious TV I’ve seen in a while. As ridiculous the character is, he’s fundamentally sweet and generally well-intentioned, and I’m sure I’ve met someone like him before.

Ansari’s set was well-balanced, ramping up and ramping back down with a middle section of sustained laughter. He also completed a number of conversational ‘loops’ throughout the set, though more predominantly towards the end, bringing his new material full circle. He began more or less the way he finished, closing a multi-faceted set on the perils and objective hilarity of dating and human relations. It was fresh enough, original enough so as not to be clichéd in and of itself, though I’ll grant that the subject is well worn in my personal opinion.

Who cares though; being single nearly always results in some kind of hilarity. There was more than one time during the show I felt he was talking to me, of my experiences. I’m sure there were a lot of people feeling the same way. And that points to one of Ansari’s primary strengths – he’s really personable.

This point made itself apparent when he began interacting with the audience, including one point in which, in discussing how relationships get going, he read an audience member’s text messages to his girlfriend of but a few weeks. The sophistication, humour and all-around loveliness of the man’s texts delighted Ansari who quite clearly appreciated the sincerity of the messages inasmuch as having the flow of his bit interrupted. He made reference to finding flat-out stupid texts coming from audience participants in other cities.

Maybe it’s a Montreal thing. A variation on this theme later on had Ansari asking a couple how long they had been together and how they met. A similarly unexpected lovely result ensued, but Ansari’s genuine enjoyment transformed part of the bit to having him orchestrate a kind of mass appreciation of successful dating and finding love. It was really quite sweet, and funny as all hell.

In any event, given he’s testing out new material I suppose I won’t comment any further as to the content of the set, but will close by saying this: good job, it was really great and made for an excellent evening. Thanks Aziz!

And also – hat’s off to Comedy Works for pulling this off so expertly, and keep it up. I could definitely use more of this ‘drive-by’ comedy. Short notice, crowd-sourced, small venue – good recipe for success.

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