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In Nightclub Comedian, Aziz Ansari seems more weary than cynical, more melancholy than defensive.Marcus Russell Price/Netflix

In the mere few days since Aziz Ansari’s new comedy special, Nightclub Comedian (streams Netflix), has been available, the most common adjective used in numerous reviews is “cynical.” The overriding view is that Ansari isn’t very funny and the mood is downbeat.

Not so. The special, just 30 minutes long, is bracing in its skepticism and hard-shelled, morbidly funny about the mess we’re all in now. Recorded just last month in New York, in front of an audience that had no idea Ansari would appear, it’s as up-to-the-minute as any late-night host’s monologues. It’s just that Ansari isn’t looking for belly laughs and there’s no teleprompter telling the audience when to applaud and holler. As a for-instance, he has a laser-sharp take on NFL player Aaron Rodgers’ refusal to be vaccinated.

Ansari now occupies a strange position in the comedy/TV arena. A key part of Parks & Recreation, a successful stand-up comic and the creator, star and co-writer of the acclaimed series Master of None, he became significant, and a rare example of a minority figure in such a position in American show business. The child of an immigrant Indian Tamil Muslim family, he was representative of a changing America.

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In 2018, a woman using the pseudonym “Grace” accused Ansari of sexual misconduct. In an online outlet, she related a date with Ansari and said she had felt pressured into having sex with him. The incident caused a firestorm of debate. Some felt Ansari’s explanation and attempted apologies were inadequate. Others felt the matter was opaque and trivialized #MeToo issues. Still others felt Ansari’s race was important. In The Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan wrote, “I thought it would take a little longer for the hit squad of privileged young white women to open fire on brown-skinned men.”

It all put Ansari off the mainstream radar. He did two short stand-up tours and two TV specials since then, and he addressed the allegations against him, onstage. Here, in Nightclub Comedian, he seems more weary than cynical, more melancholy than defensive. But his target is real – a society trapped in inconsequential obsessions. His point is valid about online preoccupations and compulsions. “We just live in the comment threads now,” he says at one point.

Much of his focus is on vaccination and the vaccination-refusers. He asks for empathy for the refusers but scolds people for paying attention to celebrities and sports figures who decline to be vaccinated. He thinks it’s ridiculous that Rodgers is taken seriously. “I don’t think Rodgers, Nicki Minaj, any of these people are idiots. I’m not here to say that. I just think they’re trapped in a different algorithm than you are. You know what I mean by that? If you’re calling them idiots, you’re trapped in another algorithm.”

It’s odd that this special has been called “cynical,” since he says, “The flow of information has been completely corrupted.” And on the matter of Americans being selfish and contemptuous of other people’s views, and other people’s pain, he says, “It’s pretty dark, if you just take a step back”

Those are facts, often garnished with scathing humour, and Ansari is neither pessimist nor killjoy-cynic. He’s a hard-nosed, sometimes funny realist.

An entirely different program also needs to be drawn to your attention – Come Clean (it recently aired to acclaim on TV Ontario and is now streaming on TVO.org and TV Ontario’s YouTube channel.

Come Clean is a close look at what fuels addiction, as well as the herculean effort and hope recovery demands.TVO

It’s about addiction and a close-up look at one program that aims to help addicts get clean. Filmmakers Derreck Roemer and Neil Graham got rare access to four addicts attempting recovery at Westover Treatment Centre in Thamesville, Ont.

The result is eye-opening, and deliberately focused on telling the viewer that not all addicts are on the street hustling for their next hit. The people shown here are ordinary, for the most part, and held jobs or had families while slowly descending into addiction. As the program points out, in Canada, approximately 21 per cent of the population will meet the criteria for addiction in their lifetime. Here we see how hard the struggle is to overcome addiction over time, and how the rehab program is the easy part.

It’s a powerful documentary and watching it you feel the terrible tension that is involved in its four subjects attempting to return to normal life and put the past behind them.

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