Part­ing Shot

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Co­me­dian Hari Kond­abolu

last novem­ber, brook­lyn-based comic hari kond­abolu launched The Prob­lem With Apu, a doc­u­men­tary that ques­tioned the racial legacy of Simp­sons char­ac­ter Apu Na­has­apeemapetilon, de­scribed by Kond­abolu as “a white guy do­ing an im­pres­sion of a white guy mak­ing fun of my fa­ther.” It was a way into the larger is­sue of how mi­nori­ties are rep­re­sented in the press, and the doc sparked heated, wide­spread dis­cus­sions on so­cial me­dia. It also prompted Hank Azaria, the white ac­tor who is the voice Apu, to say he was “per­fectly will­ing and happy” to give up the role. (Simp­sons cre­ator Matt Groen­ing, mean­while, con­tin­ues to shrug off crit­i­cism.) “There’s an irony of, as a kid, I hated be­ing as­so­ci­ated with Apu, and now, as an adult, I’m for­ever as­so­ci­ated with him,” says Kond­abolu. He hopes to change that with his new Net­flix stand-up spe­cial, Warn Your Rel­a­tives, di­rected by Bob­cat Goldth­wait. While the co­me­dian con­tin­ues to dig into “ag­gres­sive and painful things,” the show also proves that, first and fore­most, he’s funny.

How do you feel about Azaria’s re­sponse to your doc­u­men­tary?

It felt great be­cause some­one ac­tu­ally lis­tened and un­der­stood that we’re hu­man be­ings. He said that In­di­ans in Amer­ica have their own ex­pe­ri­ences in such a nu­anced and thought­ful way. And by the way, there’s noth­ing wrong with be­ing a con­ve­nience store owner. I would just like to hear that au­then­tic ex­pe­ri­ence.

The Simp­sons writ­ers ad­dressed the con­tro­versy by hav­ing Lisa say, “Some­thing that started decades ago and was ap­plauded... is now po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect. What can you do?” The cam­era then pans to a photo of Apu with the cap­tion “Don’t have a cow.”

The irony is that Lisa would be the one that was fight­ing for us. So hav­ing her say that was to­tally cal­cu­lated. It’s also gut­less and shows white fragility.

Are you sat­is­fied with what you ac­com­plished?

I know I made this dis­cus­sion hap­pen pub­licly, and that’s in­cred­i­bly sat­is­fy­ing.

Does your au­di­ence skew to­ward peo­ple of color?

When­ever peo­ple say, “Your crowds are amaz­ing, mostly peo­ple of color,” I’m like, “No, it’s a third or half.” We’re so used to see­ing all white ev­ery­where that even a lit­tle color seems like a lot. The laughs [can be] dif­fer­ent, though. Rather than just “This is a funny joke,” it’s “Oh god, I needed that.” —Christina Zhao

“As a kid, I hated be­ing as­so­ci­ated with Apu. As an adult I’m for­ever as­so­ci­ated with him.”

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