Since we last checked in with Hari Kondabolu, back in 2014, he’s released a standup special on Netflix (Warn Your Relatives), been named one of Variety’s 10 Comics to Watch, and put out his second album (2016’s Mainstream American Comic) and the controversial documentary The Problem With Apu.
Success has its privileges, but his life isn’t all that different.
“I get free coffee now at my local coffee shop,” he says on the phone from his home in Brooklyn. “I think that’s about it. Other than that, I think it’s pretty much the same.”
But he is busier. And not just with standup, although that remains the bulk of his career.
“There are a lot more projects,” he says. “What’s nice now is I get to do a lot of other things.”
The New York City native started his career in Seattle, where he still goes whenever he wants to fly under the radar and develop new material.
“It was a hobby that took off,” he says. The “hobby” has been ongoing for about 15 years now.
Kondabolu has always been a socially progressive and at times a political comedian, so it should have been no big deal when he released a 2017 doc on racial stereotypes embodied by lovable cartoon characters like The Simpsons’ Apu. Kondabolu is a guy who looks at big issues and has strong opinions. But in our instant-opinion culture, he sparked outrage.
“The idea that we had to beef up security at shows because of death threats, it’s embarrassing,” he says. “Like, really? This is how we have discourse? Most people didn’t watch the film. They’re angry at what they think it’s about. The film was a fan writing about something that bothers them about something they love, as well as a personal experience that a lot of other people share. It’s not a ‘I hate this thing; I wish it didn’t exist.’ Nobody wants to do the work, because in order to watch my documentary, it costs three to four dollars, and an uninformed opinion is free.”
But he believes comedy is in its golden age. And he embraces any restrictions society may place on a performer. “Maybe some people feel like they can’t say what they used to be able to say, but to me it’s like, ‘Why do you want to talk about the stuff that’s been talked about?’ ” he says. “There’s new opinions no one’s ever heard before. That’s the exciting part. Isn’t that ultimately what the audience wants, is things they’ve never heard that will surprise them?”
With the exception of a few bits from his Netflix special, Kondabolu is going to surprise when he takes the Playhouse stage during the Indian Summer Festival. He’ll talk about the big topics of race and sexuality, but he’s also going to dive into more personal ones: depression, family, relationships, which are all out of his comfort zone.
“There are takes on certain things I’ve never really wanted to get into because it felt too personal, and now I feel like ‘What am I holding off for?’ ” he says. “You’re more connected to the performer when you hear something that’s personal.…For me creatively it’s harder, which makes it good. If it’s uncomfortable for me, that means it’s good. I have to try.”
Hari Kondabolu plays the Vancouver Playhouse next Saturday (July 13) as part of the Indian Summer Festival.