Review: Aziz Ansari, Hammersmith Apollo

Aziz Ansari

Aziz Ansari's one-off in London last night at the Apollo was a major step up from his last visit here in 2011 when he played the intimate Soho Theatre. You can put that down to Parks & Recreation, the post-Office workplace sitcom in which Ansari plays brash, go-getting fall-guy Tom Haverford. There was no mention of the show onstage, but that did not stop a packed crowd really enjoying a slick, professional set.

After the usual riffs about airport security, taking smartphone pictures of shows and a great gag about not staying around to meet his fans after, but providing a similar looking Asian man instead, the gig really clicked into gear. The dapper, dark-suited Ansari has recently turned thirty and is seeing all of his friends suddenly get married and produce kids. Hey ho, I thought but, boy can Ansari sell a workmanlike ubiquitous gag about getting emails with baby pictures in it – "Unsubscribe!" – or a riff about wondering why if he was such a cute kid when he was growing up in South Carolina why he was never molested. And I've seen a lot of stand-ups do a lot of routines about the gay app Grindr over the years, but few have nailed it as well as Ansari.

One of his strongest sections was on one of comedy's most well-trodden topics, the dating game, and even if he didn't find an entirely new slant there was a tidy, economical freshness to his quips about the randomness of finding a mate based on just convenience of postcode and religion and how marriage, under close scrutiny, is basically a weird arrangement to stay with one other person until one of you dies. This latter gag reminded me of a Louis CK routine, but with much less bleakness.

Even from some pretty ropey seats at the back of the balcony Ansari's chirpy, irrepressible personality shone through. Very light on his feet too, dancing around like a featherweight boxer to act out some choice lines. And while I suspect the show is largely the same whether in London or Lubbock, Texas, the crowd warmed to his knowingly shoehorned in references to Sainsburys and M&S (a ploy he used in 2011 too, but worth repeating).

And unlike a lot of Americans who just rattle through a well-honed, bullet-proof set, Ansari did actually engage with the audience, getting plenty of mileage out of asking how couples met or how many women had received "dick photos". He was also very good at reworking the trite lyrics of songs you hear in clubs to reflect the real experience of going to a club. Perhaps best of all and certainly most surprising, there was even a subtle political undercurrent in an extended routine on tolerance when he noted how opposition to gay marriage would surely one day be viewed as absurd as racial segregation. 

Ansari's posters jokily imply that he does "comedy and magic" – The set was bookended with a sublimely subversive observational gag about how black people respond to magicians that was simultaneously brilliantly stereotyping and absolutely non-racist. While there was no conventional prestidigitation he did pull off the great trick of making everyone feel that they were getting a particularly special show.

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