What I Know About Aziz Ansari.
Hi, I’m a former standup comedian turned film director who also pays the bills as a sound person for film and tv.
I love Aziz’s work. Master Of None isn’t just good, it’s aspirational. I co-wrote a tv series with my friend inspired by her unbelievable but true experiences as an Asian actress in Hollywood — and we’d been shopping it around as a female “Master Of None” or an Asian “Insecure.” I’d been trying to get the attention of Aziz’s gifted collaborator Alan Yang so trust that I DO NOT WANT to be a person “taking down” Aziz. I don’t want these guys to hate me, I don’t want my career to be harder than it is. I question right now — ew is it gross to “plug” my project right now? Should I leave that stuff out of it? But I think I need to say this in order to illustrate the risk involved in me posting this — and the fact that hell yeah I very specifically admire the work of Aziz and his collaborators.
I’m writing this because I care about the direction we take moving forward and I see that each and every woman’s voice matters right now, more than ever. Speaking up is our currency, when for centuries it had only been our sexuality.
I thought by now the axe would drop with the many rumblings of other people’s stories on Aziz — but instead what I see now is some substance and a whole lot of chaos and emotional confusion.
We’re sailing into uncharted territory on the previously-ignored Women’s Perspective Sea following the Me Too movement — and Aziz’ situation presents a pivot towards new things that need to be spoken about — — such as consent, and I’m not here to write another version of that article.
To me, Aziz Ansari is another Lena Dunham. The actions don’t match the words. Both are underrepresented voices who achieved new milestones for the groups they represent. It was devastating as a feminist to witness Lena Dunham’s racist behavior not match up with the intersectional feminist she purported to be. And just like Lena, Aziz Ansari’s sexist behavior does not match up with the male feminist he had so beautifully proclaimed to be. At various points in their creative work both Dunham and Ansari moved me profoundly while being incredibly funny at the same time. Both have broken my heart in several different ways by now.
No bit of tv or film has pronounced the dichotomy between how women feel walking down the street at night versus men better than in that one episode of Master Of None — and what spoke to me even moreso was the dinner scene where a man introduced himself to the other men and disregarded the woman at the table. Seeing that on television made my heart leap out of my chest as though I’d just won the superbowl. As a woman at film festivals I can’t tell you how many times I’m in circles of men — and they all go on and on about their achievements and the biz, and they assume I have nothing to bring to the conversation and am someone’s date or arm candy, when I’m thinking in my head “Fuck you guys none of you directed a feature film and I did, and I have shit to say and you’ll never know you douchenozzles.”
Even today on the set of a tv show I don’t normally work on I was subjected to hearing 3 men talk at a table about subjects I knew a lot about and had several stories and experiences to share but they proceeded to relentlessly speak over me across the table AND be boring about it.
Needless to say that episode of Master Of None means a lot to me.
But let me tell you about the Aziz I know in real life.
He started doing standup in NYC shortly after me and is a few years younger. In the early years of his act he didn’t have much material and it was mostly gimmicks like a recorded phone call he’d play. Everyone agreed there was something likable and funny about him, but he really didn’t have any jokes in his standup. It was surprising when he teamed up early on with veteran UCB improvisors Paul Scheer and Rob Huebel to form MTV’s Human Giant. I remember myself and others being jealous and thinking — hey how did this new kid score that? Years later he ended up on Parks and Rec, and later performed standup for sold out shows at Madison Square Garden — and by then, he wasn’t just good, he was great. As an actor, he’s hilarious and unique. Same for his standup: fantastic original perspective with heart and intelligence.
His show Master Of None is groundbreaking. Cinematic, great story, hilarious performances, new perspectives, and yes it is exciting to watch a man who is Asian with brown skin and Muslim heritage lead a show rather than be some stereotype or comic relief. Cue Tyra: “I WAS ROOTING FOR YOU, WE WERE ALL ROOTING FOR YOU.” I still am and I don’t want the bad stuff to be true about him.
But the following bad stuff is true:
For all the years I’ve encountered Aziz, and it’s been many times — from early days in standup when he wasn’t famous yet, to fancy places like the bar at the Bowery Hotel, or some actor’s backyard in LA, or on the set of Master Of None — I have met him countless times and EVERY time he behaved the same way. He either legitimately never remembered me or pretended not to, he ignored me, was rude and dismissive of me and any female friend I was with — and I’m talking in situations where it’s just a small group of people — perhaps in a circle at a party, or 1 of 3 people sharing a table in a hotel lobby, or me wiring him with a mic on his show — — something I consider sacred and ordinarily don’t talk about work interactions publicly to respect privacy — but we’ll get to that later. In all of these situations I’m not talking about being ignored by some famous guy whose attention I desperately wanted. I’m talking about several truly banal interactions face to face where the “I’m ignoring that you are a person sharing space with me on this earth” was clearly beyond social norms, and the behavior I observed towards men in the room was patently affable.
Now all of this could be because he’s just shy with girls or weird or adorable or even fucking adorkable — however we want to make excuses for this kind of behavior. He notoriously treats women like they are invisible. But what does that really mean? What is a guy who can’t be cool around women really about? Why can’t he regard us as he regards men? Are we less than human? Are we objects? Are we not hot enough to him? Are we too hot? Are we symbolic of women from high school? Are we not worth conversation? Why are we so “other” and alien to him and men like him? What the hell is that heinous bullshit about — and HOW did that brilliant episode of Master Of None come from this man?!
I want to call this out. I want this to stop. I think this is germane to the larger problems we are breaking down between men and women right now. Humanizing women as whole beings is a massive part of consent and healthy sexuality among heteros.
And there’s another thing that I know about.
I don’t think it’s ethical to out someone else’s traumatic experience. So am I protecting a rapist? No, as far as I know, Aziz is not a rapist. But I do know from several members of the Master of None season 2 film crew, that he sexually harassed someone.
I don’t want to be telling you this. NYC film crews have been my beloved work family for years and I don’t want journalists hounding the fine people on this show in order to find out more. Film sets must allow for some level of protection and privacy for their stars. That kind of respect is crucial. Film crews know SO SO SO much dirt on all your famous celebrities. We know who they are cheating with, we know if they lie about their diet, we know what they look like naked, we know if they are cheap with holiday gifts. We know if they actually have talent or are full of shit. You can’t just go unleashing all these tales publicly — that’s a disgusting thing to do. In my job I wire actors and put microphones on their naked bodies and sometimes even hear them talking about private things if they forget their mics are up. I personally need to be trusted to be hired. Please also understand that film crews don’t just “protect” predators. It’s not that simple, as yes our jobs and livelihood are at stake — and being surrounded by people who the world obsesses over *requires* an added level of respect for privacy to exist.
And as a director I need to be trusted by any actors, writers, producers, or film crews that I may work with in the future.
So please do not take it lightly that I’ve chosen to share this much with you, and please don’t ask for more. I am totally fine with you not believing me. Take everything with a grain of salt, I don’t care.
I want to have a conversation about men who can’t be themselves around women and see if we can get better about that as a society — so we aren’t surrounded by Mike Pence types who won’t be alone with women, or film execs who won’t take private meetings with women, or “awkward adorable comedians” who will never hire women writers on their shows because THEY AREN’T *really* FRIENDS WITH ANY. This is the big picture golf course or strip club where the boys club thrives. If women are people: fully human people — then we can be spoken to and regarded.
In regard to the sexual harassment I brought up, it’s just more evidence that Aziz’ behavior does not match who he claims to be, and speaking of heroic underrepresented trailblazer turned monster who let down his entire community Bill Cosby, it’s a really tough pill to swallow.
UPDATE: since writing this an old friend has just told me more about Aziz and worse. She’s afraid to speak up since she doesn’t want to ruin her life. I’m afraid to say it because I don’t fully know the legal ramifications of saying things like this. But I can’t know this and say nothing. It feels irresponsible in a way to be vague about this. But it also feels irresponsible to be silent. I don’t know what to do and this is me doing my best to not be complicit.