Kondabolu touches on his experience as the child of Indian immigrants.
Hari Kondabolu’s comedy heavily draws on issues of race and social justice, and he has actual activist cred to back it up. The Queens, N.Y., native has a master’s degree in human rights from the London School of Economics and worked on immigrant rights issues in Seattle.
The 33-year-old’s standup touches on his experiences as the child of Indian immigrants and what it was like to grow up in a country where the most prominent representation of Indian culture was Apu, the convenience store owner on The Simpsons. Kondabolu released his debut album, Waiting for 2042, two years ago; the title is a reference to when white Americans are projected to become a statistical minority. Hari is also known for his work as a writer and correspondent for FX’s unfortunately short-lived Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, the rare talk show not dominated by white male writers.
Illness forced Kondabolu to cancel a scheduled Madison show last year, but he’ll finally make it to town on Jan. 17 to perform at Majestic Theatre. He spoke with Isthmus about his current tour and progress on a follow-up album.
How far along is the new album?
It feels like three-fourths is pretty set. The issue is that I have too much material, which is a good thing. I’ve written a lot of stuff that digs into the upcoming election. I have to figure out what jokes are still going to be interesting down the line. I want it to be evergreen. There are also some jokes that aren’t working yet that I refuse to give up on. I keep hoping for some miraculous punchline that’s going to save them.
Can you share one of these works in progress?
There’s this bit about how to get Donald Trump out of office if he wins. It’s about getting One Direction to reunite but adding in a Muslim member of the band. Trump won’t let One Direction into the country, which mobilizes an army of angry teenage girls. I’ve tried it a few times, but I’ve never gotten the wording quite right.
Totally Biased was only on the air for two seasons, but it still has a loyal following. Why do you think that showed connected so deeply with some people?
It was earnest in the best of ways. It wasn’t heavy on snark. We were saying that it was okay to be passionate and funny about things. I feel like we were about a year ahead of our time. If we could have covered the transgender discussions or the Black Lives Matter protests, I think we would have gotten a lot more attention.
A lot of your material covers very serious topics but you also do bits about how creepy it is to go to a modern day Weezer concert.
Because that’s me too. I’ve been obsessed with Weezer for longer than I’ve been into any of these other topics. I’ve met activists who only want to talk about activism. You still need other things in your life. That’s how you relate to others. I can talk with somebody who disagrees with me on everything else, but we can at least agree that Weezer started sucking around 2001.
I’ve got to ask one more thing: Why is your high school’s mascot named after you?
In my senior year, there was this sophomore named Mark who wanted our school to have a mascot. He raised a bunch of money to get a giant red hawk costume, and they let him name it. Meanwhile, I was starting a comedy night at our school. Mark thought that was cool so he named it after me: Hari the Hawk. Which is absurd. I mean, Jonas Salk went to our high school. The guy who cured polio. Salk the Hawk works just as easily. Put a lab coat on the hawk. But Mark gave me a legacy at 17, and everything I’m doing now is trying to live up to it.