Hari Kondabolu is a mainstream American comic.
He tours nationally, headlines festivals and records bestselling comedy albums. In fact, Kondabolu’s latest album, “Mainstream American Comic,” hit No. 1 on the comedy charts last summer. Yet there’s more than a little twinge of irony in the album's title.
Kondabolu told Lois Reitzes in an interview for “City Lights” that the “album is about the idea that I’m not seen as a mainstream person.” That is, as a person of color, of progressive politics and as a son of immigrants – all “key parts” of the American story: “So why can’t I be seen as mainstream just because I talk about the things I talk about and I look the way I look and my background is what it is?”
While Kondabolu's comedy and educational background skew political, he does not consider himself a political comic:
“Those two things – comedy and the idea of justice and activism … I don’t see them as separate things that are intertwining because I am both of those things. I’ve been a comedian longer than I’ve been politically-minded … I’ve been collecting my thoughts for most of my life. And I think that being someone who wanted to create positive change in the world, that came later, but they both sync up for me. When I’m on stage, I’m not making political jokes. I am sharing my observations on the world. To me, it’s observational comedy. It’s the first thing I see.”
Kondabolu is first and foremost a comedian, after all. “I want people to laugh. It’s really as simple as that.” But he’s proud that his punchlines are on protest signs and his comedy albums are featured in high school and college curricula.
“I want to be the best stand-up comic I can be, and from there, if it affects people, fantastic. But I can’t focus on that when I’m up there.”
You can catch Kondabolu “up there” on stage Friday, Feb. 17 at Center Stage.