Comedian Hari Kondabolu Gets Big Laughs at Student Union Theater

Monday night at the Student Union Theatre was anything but boring with comedian Hari Kondabolu.

Kondabolu is a Brooklyn-based and Queens-raised comic whose humor centers on social issues such as poverty, racism and a rejection of Indian stereotypes seen in the media.

While doing a stand-up gig in Denmark, which he remarked to as “for those of you who don’t know what Denmark it’s like if Portland, Oregon ever became its own nation.” A member from the audience who was not enjoying the show yelled, “go back to America.”

“It was surprising, I’ve been told to go back to a lot of countries, but never America. Whatever country we’re currently bombing, I’m told to go back there at the worst times,” Kondabolu said.

No issue was off limits to him. He talked about politics, religion, race and ethnicity, sexism, death penalty and even the environment. He referred to his jokes as, 18th century satirist “Jonathan Swift material.”

Kondabolu got his start in comedy in 2008 while he was working as an immigrant-rights organizer in Seattle, he performed stand-up at night to relieve the stress. Eventually his stand-up career took off.

At times when it seemed he did not receive the response he was hoping for from the audience, he mentioned former Husky sports players to pump up the crowd again.

Kondabolu addressed the question why his jokes have to have greater meaning, why can’t a joke just be a joke. He sees it as a way of spreading political messages, in hopefully a more productive way than just reading a pamphlet. “If you don’t like it [jokes], then think if it as poetry,” Kondabolu said.

Many of Kondabolu’s jokes were provoking and sometimes obscene. Throughout his performance, people got up and walked out of the room. “Wah, I don’t want to be challenged,” he said.

“He’s really funny. I liked how he talked about political issues. It was disappointing that the audience couldn’t connect with him,” said 6th-semester international relations major Kelly Morrissey.

Despite some of the negative reception he kept going on with his material planned for the evening. He joked that his material so far had been light and that he would be getting to the “bigger material, excrements and phalluses.

“It was funny and entertaining,” said 2nd-semester finance major, Alexa Lugo. “I liked that there was truth to what he was saying.”

He mentioned how when he was a child growing up in India whenever he would hear a particular Hindu prayer song he thought how beautiful it was, but if that were done today it would have a completely different reaction. He shifts into how Christians feel like they’re being oppressed.

“Maybe in the Bible, but not today in 2015,” said Kondabolu. “You started from the bottom now you’re like a Drake song.”

Although Kindabolu did not explicitly say what issue he was talking about, his meaning was clear by the way he told the joke. For example, he brought up the issue of police brutality and prejudice by using an anecdote about being in Seattle with a friend when marijuana was first legalized. His friend told him he wanted to wave a bag of weed in front of a cop and be like “what are you doing to do about it?”

“My friend was obviously white,” he said.

“I don’t use clichés when I am defending an argument, I use facts,” Kondabolu said in reference to a man he met who said that English should be the nation’s official language because “when in Rome, do as [the] Romans.”

Overall, the crowd that remained in the audience the whole night was entertained and enjoyed his comedy.

“It was great, very provocative, which makes for great audience reaction,” said 2nd-semester political science major Oscar Bruno.

Kondabolu has done standup on the Late Show with David Letterman, Conan, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Live at Gotham and Jon Oliver’s New York Standup show.

He has also performed at notable festivals such as the HBO Commedy Festival, South by Southwest, Bumbershoot, Sasquatch, the Aspen Ideas Festival and Just for Laughs in Montreal and Chicago.

The title of his new album, Waiting for 2042, a reference to the year the Census Bureau projects that whites will be in the minority in the U.S., is out now.


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