Hari Kondabolu: If only comedy could change the world

click to enlarge Hari Kondabolu: If only comedy could change the world
(Hari Kondabolu/Submitted)
Hari Kondabolu makes us laugh at what we think.

“Inclusively funny and formally adventurous.” So says The New York Times about comedian Hari Kondabolu. On Monday, Dec. 19, at 191 Toole (191toole.com), we’ll experience the humor and the demeanor that attracted such lofty praise.

Cooped up for the duration of COVID-19, and not having recorded a show since 2018’s “Warn Your Relatives,” Kondabolu is bringing an entirely new, hour-long set to be recorded early next year for a new Netflix special.

Based on his standup output to date, fans might expect more of the same smart, witty and remarkably sensitive treatment of our very human cultural and political — let’s call them “anomalies” — in the wake of two elections and a 21st century pestilence.

But lately a very sweet and humanizing thing has happened. Kondabolu has become a father.

“So, the new special,” he said, “about 20% of that is going to be about having a kid during the pandemic, and a lot of the issues that were happening during that time, in addition to larger issues about race and gender and sexuality and the things I’ve historically talked about.”

As much as it sometimes feels as though everything has changed since 2018, Kondabolu pointed out that the issues he’s concerned with are “evergreen.”

“I’m talking about colonialism and racism and things that, even if you see incremental change, are so structural, . . .” His voice trailed off, and then he said, “If my goal (were) anything, it would be to no longer be necessary to not need to talk about the things I’m talking about. But they’re still relevant. They’re still happening.”

Kondabolu said that his passions around the human condition actually are a product of his comedy. As a teenager, he consumed a lot of Comedy Central programming. He said that when he first saw Margaret Cho, he realized that it was possible for an Asian American to do standup. By the time he’d graduated high school in 2000, he was organizing comedy shows of his own.

“I was not politicized, then,” he said. “I grew up in the shelter of diversity that is New York City. But then I went to (Bowdoin College) in Maine. That woke me up a little bit.”

He continued doing comedy in college, but his point of view was radically changed in the wake of 9/11. Beyond the anonymity of New York’s polyglot culture, Kondabolu’s coloring marked him as potentially Arabic. He experienced prejudice and judgement for the first time. He volunteered for an immigrants’ rights organization led by Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal.

Then came the transformation. “All of a sudden,” Kondabolu said, “I realized, ‘I have a stage and I’m not saying anything.’ So, I really started to use that space to talk about things I care about.”

Most recently, though, he’s observed a cultural shift. Passions run deeper. What we used to regard as caricatures have proven to be real. “It’s a very strange time,” he said, “and I haven’t lost sight of the fact that even when I’m performing in ‘liberal’ places, that doesn’t mean that (everyone) is thinking the same way. It’s a lot more diverse than I ever realized.

“My goal has always been to try to reach as many people as possible. Sometimes that’s hard because the subject matter, as funny as it is or as open as you make it, it’ll be too much for some people.

“But I’ve realized that having a kid has given me a common ground with a lot of people who might not agree with other things. It’s like when you’re friends with somebody, you’re more willing to listen to them even if you disagree.”

Kodabolu has found success in every medium. TruTV featured his documentary, “The Problem with Apu,” to generate conversations about race and representation. It’s now used in high school, college and graduate school curricula. His two comedy albums found a home on legendary indie rock label Kill Rock Stars.

He’s performed on “Conan,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and “The Late Show with David Letterman.” He’s a regular panelist on NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”, and was a writer and correspondent on the Chris-Rock-produced FX show “Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell.”

In December he debuts as host of the new Netflix series, “Snack vs. Chef.”

Comedy This Week

El Jefe Cat Lounge, 3025 N. Campbell Avenue, Suite 141. 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2, eljefecatlounge.com, $18, reservations only, hosted by Lady Ha Ha Comedy, 21+, BYOB and snacks. Lineup: Priscilla Fernandez, Mo Urban, Valerie Brown, Morgan Kuehn, Linda Ray, Kalei Rose, Kyle Verville

Laff’s Comedy Caffe, 2900 E. Broadway Boulevard. 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2, and 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3, laffstucson.com, $15, $20 preferred seating. Corey Michaelis taught high school until he decided to do comedy, the other lowest paid job in America.

Spark Project Collective, 4433 E. Broadway Boulevard. 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 3, free, The Dead Improvisers Society

Tucson Improv Movement/TIM Comedy Theatre, 414 E. Ninth Street. tucsonimprov.com. $7 each show, $10 for both shows, same night, free jam and open mic Thursday, Dec. 1, 7:30 p.m. Improv 501 Showcase. 8:30 p.m. Open Mic. Friday, Dec. 2, 6:30 p.m. Improv Jam; 7:30pm, “The Soapbox” with Eric Smith; 9 p.m. Stand Up Showcase. 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3, Team Como Se Dice presents Carcajadas: Una Noche De Comedia; 9 p.m. “The Ugly Sweater Show.”

Unscrewed Theater, 4500 E. Speedway Boulevard, unscrewedtheatre.org, $8, live or remote, $5 kids, 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2, From the Top musical improv; 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3, Improv Basics Showcase; 7:30 p.m. Family-Friendly Improv; 6:30 p.m., Monday, Dec. 4, free, Improv Drop-ins, in person or online.

Open Mics


6:30 p.m. signup, 7 p.m. start. The Screening Room, 127 E. Congress Street, Chris Quinn hosts.


• 6 p.m. writing workshop, 7 p.m. signup, 8 p.m. start, Laff’s Comedy Caffe, 2900 E. Broadway Boulevard, rotating hosts.

• 8 p.m. signup, 8:30 p.m. start, Dec. 8 and every other Thursday, Tucson Improv Movement (TIM), 414 E. Ninth Street, Jen Blanco hosts.


• 6:30 p.m. signup, 7 p.m. start, The Kava Bar, 4376 E. Speedway Boulevard, Connor Hannah hosts.

• 6:45 p.m. signup, 7 p.m. start, second Friday every month, Spark Project Collective, 4349 E. Broadway Boulevard, Ernie Celaya or guest hosts 10-minute sets.

• 9 p.m., start, second Friday of every month, signups a week ahead at unscrewedtheater.org, Unscrewed Theater, 4500 E. Speedway Boulevard, Suite 39, Allana Erickson-Lopez and Cynthia Barlow host all forms of comedy.


• 5:30 p.m. signup, 6 p.m. start, The Music Box, 6951 E. 22nd Street., Tony Bruhn and Dom DiTolla host


• 8:30 p.m. signup, 9 p.m. start, On the Rocks, 7930 E. Speedway Boulevard., Joel Martin and Cati French host.


• 6 p.m. signup, 7 p.m. start, Lady Ha Ha at Bumsted’s, 1003 N. Stone Avenue, Priscilla Fernandez, Mo Urban host all forms of comedy; priority given to marginalized folx.

• 6:30 p.m. signup, 7:15 p.m. start, House of Bards, 4915 E. Speedway Boulevard, Cory Lytle hosts.

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