Hari Kondabolu: Stand up and laugh

by Lexi Foldenauer

photo by Yoon Kim

Prior to performances on Jimmy Kimmel Live and Conan, and becoming friends with bell hooks, Brooklyn based comedian, writer, and podcast host Hari Kondabolu lived in Seattle as an up-and-coming comic, and performed in Bellingham occasionally.

Kondabolu said performing at Western was always a good time, but his upcoming show will be the first time performing in town with a more established fan base.

“I think Bellingham’s so beautiful. I always end up going to the Colophon Cafe,” he said.

Kondabolu originally worked as an immigrants’ rights organizer who performed stand-up on the side, but did not expect comedy to become a career. He got discovered by a talent scout for HBO Comedy Festival after a performance at Bumbershoot in 2006.

The outspoken comedian has made a name for himself for his sharp and witty take on politics, social issues, race, and more notably, the problem with the character Apu from The Simpsons. Kondabolu wrote and starred in the documentary “The Problem with Apu” which critically examined the stereotypical cartoon character and how that reflected the representation of Indian people in pop culture. He regularly makes light of the topic in his set.

Growing up, Kondabolu was inspired to become a comic after watching Margaret Cho perform stand-up as a teen, and being awestruck. “The idea that she was not black, white, or latino, but she was an Asian that talked about her family and her life was valid; her experiences were valid,” he said. Up to that point, there were no Indian-Americans on TV, and the only person was Apu for about a decade, Kondabolu said. “The only thing that represents you is a cartoon character – you just don’t assume that anybody wants to hear what you have to say,” he said.

Kondabolu has released two comedy albums, Waiting for 2042 and Mainstream American Comic. Both were released on the legendary Portland indie rock label, Kill Rock Stars. The label contacted Kondabolu and wanted him to make a record with them. When his album Waiting for 2042 was released, the label had already put out one comedy record before, so Kondabolu knew they cared about comedy and it would be an exciting partnership. Kill Rock Stars had historically been very political, but was less so at the time, which is why they took a particular interest in Kondabolu’s work.

According to Kondabolu, offense is subjective. The line is different from person to person. To people that tell Kondabolu they like his comedy because he’s not offensive, he responds: “Well, because I’m not offensive to you.” Kondabolu’s comedy does not take cheap shots, but is more a question to power. “To me, punching down and going after people who don’t have power, who are marginalized or easy targets of jokes, I don’t want to play into that ugly part of humanity,” he said. “To chip away at that on stage to me, first of all it’s far more interesting and difficult, and also to me feels right.

The Kondabolu Brothers Podcast is the latest project that Kondabolu is working on, which he started with his brother earlier this year. It is produced by Earwolf and is similar to the brand of humor in Kondabolu’s stand-up. Kondabolu said the two have incredible chemistry. They grew up together, after all.

“They’re going to get a show they don’t expect,” he said.

Kondabolu is joined by opener and fellow New York comic, Carmen Lagala at the Wild Buffalo Sunday, April 29. Doors open at 7 p.m. For tickets, visit https://wildbuffalo.net/event/hari-kondabolu/.