Social justice comes to comedy
Comedian Hari Kondabolu fights for the disenfranchised, and has a killer Trump one-liner.
Hari Kondabolu is not a household name yet, but if you like politically charged comedy that tackles social and racial issues, there’s no one doing it better. Case in point: his upcoming project, “The Problem with Apu,” a documentary analyzing “The Simpsons” convenience store owner, coming this fall on TruTV.
Until then, Kondabolu is ready to let his audience get to know the man behind the laughs.
“You’ll get to know what I believe in through my stories, and not just my politics and my jokes,” the Indian-American comic says about his second standup album “Mainstream American Comic,” out July 22.
We caught up with Kondabolu before he takes his act on the road.
What’s the role of comedians in politics?
For me, it’s important to hold truth to power, and comedy is a very accessible way to do that. People will be willing to listen because there’s a promise of a laugh.
Is it hard to be funny given how toxic things have gotten?
Comedy has always been my defense mechanism. So when things are bad I automatically go to, “What can I say to make it better?” With [Trump’s] particular campaign, you’ve seen people protest and be really courageous in confronting things, and the folks in his rallies have been greeted with violence and racial slurs, and he condones those kinds of things. So you kind of worry with this presidency — are people going to be able to speak their mind?
How have the campaigns inspired your comedy?
This election, certainly, the big issues have really come out, whether those issues are about class, racism, xenophobia or sexism. That in some ways helps, because people become more attuned to thinking a little more deeply about society and what kind of society they want, and that helps me because that’s what I talk about.
Any Trump-related material you can preview?
I’ll give you one — the only time that Donald Trump has liberated women is when he’s divorced them.
Tell us more about “The Problem with Apu.”
It’s about “The Simpsons” character Apu, and to me how strange that character is in 2016 and how strange it was in 1990. I grew up in Queens, New York, which is a really diverse place, but we weren’t represented on TV regularly until this cartoon character came out — and the voice wasn’t even an Indian person, it was a white guy, Hank Azaria. So it was always really strange to feel like that was our biggest representation, this cartoon full of stereotypes. I really wanted to create a film about how a show that I love so much that I was hugely influenced by still has what I feel is a major flaw.
Are you trying to achieve anything specific with your comedy?
If there’s an issue that involves justice, or people who are not getting justice, that’s where my interest is. So, whether we’re talking about undocumented immigrants, working class people getting cheated from a system that doesn’t work for them, sexism, racism and homophobia. These are all things that I gravitate towards, certainly from personal experience, discussing racism and issues about immigration because my parents are immigrants.