Comedian and South Carolina native Aziz Ansari is returning to the stand-up stage in Charleston at the Gaillard Center eight months after being accused of sexual misconduct by an anonymous source on women's news and lifestyle site babe.net.
Ansari is known for his progressive politics and his support of the #MeToo movement, but that didn't immunize him against allegations of sexual impropriety and hypocrisy.
Ansari, the son of immigrants who moved from India to Bennettsville, has described his experiences as an Indian-American and the culture clash that he sometimes has experienced. He has drawn from his childhood feelings of displacement and made keen observations about modern dating, racism and other issues.
"I'm from South Carolina," Ansari says in one of his stand-up routines about contending with prejudice. "And whenever I tell people that, they're always like, 'Oh no, but it's so racist there, and you're skin is brown. How did you survive?'... but what the people forget is that the food there is delicious."
His success as a comic led to an acting role on the TV show "Parks and Recreation" and to his own Netflix show, "Master of None."
Ansari wore a "Time's Up" pin during his Jan. 7 Golden Globes acceptance speech. The pin was a reference to the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse scandal that has rocked Hollywood. Ansari called himself a feminist and a supporter of the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment even after allegations against him came to light.
"I continue to support the movement that is happening in our culture," Ansari responded in an official statement. "It is necessary and long overdue."
The Post and Courier's efforts to reach Ansari were unsuccessful.
The detailed account by a woman of a date and sexual experience with Ansari divided followers of the movement. Some thought Ansari had crossed the line; while others preferred to characterize the encounter as merely a "bad date," questioning whether the woman's account constituted misconduct or described a consensual experience gone awry.
Op-eds in The New York Times and The Atlantic stated that it was unfair to expect Ansari to be a "mind reader." Others attacked the comic for participating in a hookup culture of loose sexual mores and confusion over the definition of consent.
"I’m apparently the victim of sexual assault," Bari Weiss wrote sarcastically in The New York Times on Jan. 15. "And if you’re a sexually active woman in the 21st century, chances are that you are, too."
In response to the outcry, Ansari issued an apology for misreading what he claimed was a consensual experience. The debate over consent and sexual boundaries has persisted.
“The allegations against Aziz brought depth to necessary conversations about consent and respect — to limit our understanding of either is a disservice,” said Margaret Pilarski, a member of College of Charleston’s Women’s and Gender Studies Community Advisory Board.
Charleston Comedy Bus lead comic Shawna Jarrett said the Ansari controversy has caused comedians to conduct important conversations as well.
"One thing I appreciate about talking about this with other comics — which I do not get when talking about it in the wider world — is an inherent understanding of the uneven power dynamics present in those encounters," Jarrett said. "With non-comics, you get a lot of 'why didn’t they leave/scream/complain?'"
Ansari wasn't the only famous comedian caught up in controversy. Louis C.K. was accused of sexual misconduct late last year.
Now, both comedians have returned to the stand-up stage, following a short period of retreat from the limelight. Ansari performed a small gig in New York City in May, and now will test new material with a comedy tour that includes a stop on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Gaillard Center.
Louis C.K. made a surprise stand-up appearance on Aug. 27 at New York's Comedy Cellar. He did not address the allegations against him during the show.
Jarrett said she has a problem with Louis C.K.'s return to the stage because it was a surprise to the audience. In Ansari's case, willing patrons are paying to see him, she said.
"I think people deserve the right to choose to see Louis C.K. or not see him right now," Jarrett said. "He needs to let go of the idea that he is an instant value-add. But Aziz is giving audiences that right, and they can decide for themselves if they want to see him, and watch him try out brand-new untested material on them, and pay $50 for the privilege."
Tickets to the first show are sold out, but there are still some available to the second for $42 (plus applicable fees). Patrons are not permitted to bring cell phones or smart watches inside the venue. Doing so could result in temporary confiscation or expulsion.
"(Banning cell phones) is a common practice for comedy shows where new material is being tested," Gaillard Marketing Manager Kellie Lawson said.
Pilarski, of the College of Charleston, said she won't attend the performance.
“I’m not comfortable putting money in Aziz’s pockets right now, but that doesn’t mean I condemn him to a life of silence," she said. "On the contrary, my hesitation is that I haven’t heard enough from him. He’s a comedian, yes, but he also has a stage to use. I wish he would.”