Hari Kondabolu Interview
Comedian Hari Kondabolu has appeared on John Oliver’s New York Stand-Up Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live, and Live at Gotham, but on February 11th, he’s hitting even bigger marks: his very own Comedy Central Presents.
Nathan Timmel shot Hari some questions via email, and after snafus involving spam filters, received these insightful answers…
NT: You have a strong educational background; what pulled you towards artistic expression, specifically comedy?
HK: I’ve been writing jokes since I was 16 and I first did stand-up at my high school when I was 17, so comedy has been a part of my life for quite some time. Making people laugh was always the biggest rush I got as a kid and since I wasn’t athletically gifted or had any musically talent, comedy seemed like the only reasonable thing for me to do given my skill set. I dabbled in poetry for a bit in high school too, but when people started laughing at my heartfelt scribbles about teenage longing and unrequited love…my direction was clear. I mean, as I got older and my world view started to develop, I started seeing the power of standup as a way to express frustration and create a unique experience for myself and the audience that was not only funny, but potentially powerful for those who could relate to what I was talking about.
NT: How would you describe your comedic style to someone who has never seen you?
HK: I like to play between the space between discomfort and laughter. I like long set-ups that build to something. I’m most interested in the big topics like racism, religion, sexism, colonialism…etc…and the ways even small day-to-day things could have larger implications and a history. Actually, as I type this, I realize that this will not help anyone who has not seen me perform to imagine what I do on stage. Don’t they have e-mail? I’ll just send them a clip of my stuff. Probably the bit about Cocoa Butter or the ridiculousness of Mexican stereotypes.
NT: Did you bring an overall theme to your Comedy Central Special, airing on Feb. 11th?
HK: I think the special I taped didn’t have a clear theme, but did show my range. There was definitely a lot of discussion or race, religion and the environment and some weirder stuff too. Again, no firm theme, but I felt it was a strong collection of material. I’m looking forward to seeing how 40 minutes of tape was edited for television.
NT: You keep a blog; is it for comedy, other thoughts, both, or neither?
HK: The blog on my webpage (http://www.harikondabolu.com) does a little bit of everything. It used to be primarily for essays and rants, but it’s turning more into a place where I post pictures and videos I’ve made. I do sometimes use the space to write about things I find funny or interesting and want to discuss in greater detail than jokes generally allow.
NT: You’ve written/produced a short film—Manoj. Is writing/acting where you see your career heading?
HK: I’m definitely interested in film and television, especially the writing aspect. I don’t get too many opportunities to act, but I’m collaborating with someone whose on the same page, it can be extremely rewarding. I don’t know where my career is heading exactly, but I definitely plan to keep writing a variety of things and performing.
NT: What are the best and worst aspects about performing live?
HK: When you have an audience that gets what you are doing, it’s pretty incredibly. Your frustrations feel validated. You feel like all the work is paying off. You feel like you’re not alone in the world and people are seeing what you’re seeing and are appreciating what you’ve just contributed to their lives. You feel free up there and are able to talk off the cuff and let the jokes fall where they may. When there is a disconnect with an audience, either because your point of view and style is not connecting…or they are extremely drunk, and it’s a struggle up there or 20, 30, 40 minutes…you being to ask yourself existential questions like “What am I doing? Why am I here? Am I living a life worth living? Socrates felt “an unexamined life is not worth living.” All I do is examine my life and then share it on stage. This is a good thing? Didn’t they kill Socrates for doing this? I bet, no one in this little basement knows who Socrates is.”