Ra-ra-ra-raaaaaaaandy: Aziz Ansari’s Brilliant Balance of Parody

For those of you not yet aware, Judd Apatow has a new movie, Funny People, about comedians in Los Angeles coming out in a few weeks. As part of the promotional material for the movie, the fictional projects of the fictional comedians in the film have become, well, slightly less fictional. Clips from nonexistent movies starring Adam Sandler’s character “George Simmons” (who seems to be a fictional version of Sandler himself) are available on YouTube, NBC.com has clips of a fake show called “Yo Teach!”, and Aziz Ansari has been doing stand up as his character, “Randy”.

Now, all of these projects are essentially parodies: The fictional films seem a lot like send-ups of actual lowbrow comedies, the fictional show lampoons “Welcome Back, Kotter”-style shows (“Do you guys know who the greatest rapper of all-time is? William Shakespeare!”), and “Randy” seems to be a parody of Dane Cook: 

As Randy (or “Ra-ra-ra-raaaaaaaandy!” as he calls himself), Ansari jumps around stage, tells crude stories called “Fuck Tales,” yells a lot, and asks the audience members if they are ready to “laugh their dicks off.” Now, it should be noted that Ansari himself is quite funny and clever and not nearly as crude as Randy.

Even if Randy is designed to parody the Dane Cook/Carlos Mencia-style of comedy that relies on yelling, gyrations, and shock value instead of actual jokes (for a nice take-down of Mencia, let’s go to Morgan Murphy), Randy, along with all of these fictional projects, raises an interesting question about the nature of parody.

Namely, at what point does parody become an excuse for simply doing dumber material? Take, for example, one of the fictional George Simmons movies: Sayonara Davey! This appears to be about a white guy who lives with an Asian family…and teaches them the meaning of love (or something). The satire is certainly there, from the film’s conflation of its Asian stereotypes, to the swapping of ls and rs, to the cheesy resolution at the end.

But the fake clip is not entirely parodic; there is an extended bit about Asians pronouncing the word “fork” like “fuck” that does fit into the overall parody but is essentially played for straight laughs. So yes, Sandler is mocking certain vaguely offensive films about foreign cultures, but he is also making a cheap joke about hackneyed stereotypes while he is at it. 

There is some apparent tension here: If cheap, lazy, culturally insensitive humor is worth parodying, then you shouldn’t participate in it as you parody it (particularly if you have Adam Sandler’s track record).

This tension is at its most obvious when Aziz Ansari does Randy. Ansari is playing an exaggerated version of a particular archetype, but he is also performing large chunks of his act as this character. The joke can’t simply be “Look at me, Aziz, making fun of certain types of comedians with this character, Randy;” that would get old very quickly. Plus, it would ignore the salient fact that the audience is laughing at the crude, over-the-top, vulgar comedy just as much, if not more, than it is laughing at the parody itself. After all, if the audience doesn’t recognize what you’re doing as an exaggeration, then it’s not really a parody at all, is it?

Ansari, then, is stuck with a particularly complicated juggling act. He has to simultaneously be somewhat exaggerated in his style, to mock the Dane Cook/Carlos Mencia school of comedian, AND respectful enough of the archetype he is satirizing to play the character straight for large chunks of time. This is a very hard thing to get right, and Yo Teach! and the fictional “George Simmons” movies are just slightly off. Ansari, on the other hand, nails it. The way he gets around it is by making Randy’s material legitimately funny. If you can get past the yelling and the vulgarity, the jokes are actually very well-written. Randy’s comedy doesn’t rely on Anzari’s antics; it is only enhanced by them.

There is, for example, a bit Randy does (available at LaughYourDickOff.Com) about an ad on Craiglist offering concert ticket for a blowjob. Now, of course, Randy does his fair share of fellatio jokes with this, but his material is mainly about the ad itself:

Then he puts in the ad “Your friend can be there for security.” That must be a tough favor to ask for, though, right? “Hey Denise, it’s me Carol. Let me ask you something: You ever done any security work before? Well, it’s nothing too crazy, but I’m going to be blowing this guy for a half-hour in his car…and I just want to make sure he doesn’t do anything sketchy!”

This joke, provided you don’t find it distasteful, is actually funny on paper regardless of the shock value, without the gyrations and yelling and voices and facial expressions that Randy throws in. And while these antics are annoying when they are there to compensate for hollow comedy, when you add them to good material, you end up with not just a clever parody of a certain class of comic, but with a very funny act as well.

4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Dan on July 8, 2009 at 11:44 PM

    for the record, Israelis love Zoahn

    Reply

  2. […] being funny. As a result, the characters, almost exclusively comedians (including Aziz Ansari’s “Raaaaaaaandy,” who we see disappointingly little of), say funny things, but there is little humor outside of the […]

    Reply

  3. […] spent a lot of the last couple weeks writing about Funny People (see: here, here, and here); The New York Times devoted a front-page (of the Arts section) story to a comedian […]

    Reply

  4. […] and impressive. This means that a lot of people had to be cut. Great stand-up comics (Louis C.K., Aziz Ansari), some hilarious supporting comic actors (Paul Rudd, Jason Schwartzman), and even some […]

    Reply

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