Hari Kondabolu: making injustice laughable

Comedian brings edgy political humour to Park Theatre

Every comedian has his or her own style. Whether you are laughing at Louis C.K.’s cynicism, Seth Rogen’s Canadian stoner movies, or Hannibal Buress’s look at flawed modern trends, these comedians each bring a unique brand to their comedy.

But when it comes to taking jabs at racial injustice and political science, no one’s comedic style is quite like that of Hari Kondabolu. On Feb. 19, the Brooklyn-based Indian-American comic will take the stage for an edgy show at the Park Theatre.

While his comedy style is fluid and laid-back, Kondabolu is fully conscious of what he is expressing.

“Race isn’t a thing, it’s a social construct. It’s a way to divide us,” said Kondabolu, leading into, believe it or not, a punchline.

This pithy delivery has earned Kondabolu performances on Letterman, Conan, and a half-hour Comedy Central special. In March of 2014, the comedian also released his debut standup album entitled Waiting for 2042.

The album title is in reference to the year, projected by demographers, when Caucasians will be the minority in the U.S.

“I’m not like most comedians. I don’t deal with just heckles, I’m also dealing with threats and anger. Here I am, a brown person on stage being quite blunt. I talk about white privilege, I talk about U.S. imperialistic practices, I talk about colonialism,” explained Kondabolu in an interview with Intelligent Life.

“I’m not saying things that are easy for people to laugh at.”

Kondabolu’s resume is impressive, even beyond his achievements in the entertainment industry, fitting well with his political onstage presence. He has a BA in comparative politics, has worked as an immigrant rights organizer, and has a master’s in human rights from the London School of Economics.

Comedy seems to run in the family, as his younger brother, Ashok Kondabolu, was a member of the comedy hip-hop group, Das Racist. While Hari made jokes regarding minority groups, Ashok was rapping about combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell chains. The two also work together on an improvised talk show called The Untitled Kondabolu Brothers Project.

Politics and race are not groundbreaking topics in the world of comedy. Everyone knows Russell Peters’ piece, “Somebody going to get a hurt real bad.” Similarly, shows such as The Daily Show have remained relevant since the late ‘90s with strong doses of political satire.

Kondabolu’s brand of humour, however, is closer to a political New York Times comic. This parallel often leads to a discomfort for those not readily able to accept jokes tackling social injustice so directly.

“I like playing with that space between laughter and discomfort where your discomfort can also make you laugh and you’re confused about the mixed feelings,” explained Kondabolu.

“That’s challenging and I think that’s what makes for some of the best art.”

Hari Kondabolu takes the stage at the Park Theatre on Feb. 19 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $17 in advance at the Park Theatre, Music Trader, and ticketfly.com