Breaching racist terrain with comedy

Hari Kondabolu brings his observational comedy routine to the Park Theatre

Hari Kondabolu has often been witness to and on the receiving end of racist tendencies. Kondabolu, 32, uses his experience to bring new stature to the genre of observational comedy. With a stand-up show at The Park Theatre set for Feb. 19, Kondabolu is sure to leave the audience in a whirl of laughter and inquisitive thought.

Hailing from Queens, New York, Kondabolu holds a B.A. in Comparative Politics, a Masters in Human Rights, and also worked as an immigrant rights organizer in Seattle before his comedy career gained momentum. 

Kondabolu says the biggest things he talks about are racism, gender, sexuality, and oppression. 

“The hardest part is writing the joke,” he says, about putting these topics into a comedic format. “But the actual perspectives I feel like I’m good at. If you agree with the point of view how do I get you to laugh? How do I explain it so the audience sees the universality of it?”

In an interview podcast on Dec. 2, 2014 with Vish Khanna, host and creator of Kreative Kontrol, Kondabolu expanded on where his ideas originated and how they’ve progressed. 

“Everyone is either a racial comic or a political comic and I’m an observational comic and my observations are very racialized because I live in a racialized society and I see that immediately,” Kondabulu says. “I have a double lens like I think a lot of people of colour would say the same. You see the world through eyes that everyone is seeing you with, and your own.”

Winnipeg audiences will be in for a treat when Kondabolu brings this double lens to The Park Theatre. “I think I’m a fine comedian for a thoughtful Thursday audience. If you have an attention span and care about the world, I’m your kind of guy. It’s going to be a special show,” Kondabolu says.

Kevin Mozdzen, 26, shares the talent buying duties with Erick Casselman, the owner of The Park Theatre, but deals primarily with the comedy side of things. “We hope to bring in comedians who are not just your standard comedy club comedians. Hari is really socially conscious and very important in that regard,” Mozdzen says.

Mozdzen says that for comedy Winnipeg doesn’t have anything in the way of an intermediary venue between Rumors and larger-scale options like the Burt or Pantages. 

“We’re hoping to fill the gap in between and bring in those comedians who are on the cusp of really blowing up,” Mozdzen says.

Kondabolu’s been getting all the right recognition. He’s appeared on Conan, Jimmy Kimmel Live, and the Late Show with David Letterman, along with his own half-hour television special on Comedy Central Presents in February 2011. 

Through his stand-up, Kondabolu continues to express his values and his perceptions of the world.

“At the end of the day I’m going to be me, because if I’m not being me then I might as well be doing something else. I want you to remember the things I say. I want you to not throw what I say away. Who wants to make art that’s easily forgettable?”

Published in Volume 69, Number 20 of The Uniter (February 11, 2015)

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