Sat March 22, 2014
Why Comedian Hari Kondabolu Is 'Waiting For 2042'
Originally published on Mon April 21, 2014 11:44 am
Hari Kondabolu is an Indian-American comedian whose "Konda Bulletins" you might have seen on the FXX show Totally Biased.
Kondabolu's new comedy album is Waiting For 2042 — the year when white people will be the statistical minority in the United States. On the cover, Kondabolu stands proudly perched on a rickshaw, pulled by a white guy in a suit.
Kondabolu talked with NPR's Arun Rath about his new album and how he approaches some of his comedy.
On the cover of his new album
I was at the South By Southwest festival a couple years ago and I noticed there were a lot of rickshaws and a lot of them were pulled by white dudes. They didn't call them rickshaws, they called them pedicabs, but it was the same concept, and it was familiar to me because I used to remember riding in them as a kid when I'd visit my grandmother in India.
I remember getting into the back of this bicycle rickshaw being pulled by this white dude and just being stunned thinking, "Oh my God, I think I made it. I don't think my grandmother in India would believe this is happening right now."
On being "obsessed with race"
I don't think I'm obsessed with race. It's part of my lived experience and my day to day and the history of this country. Certainly when I look at things, I see things in terms of a racial angle [and] I spot things maybe faster than other people maybe because I pay close attention to it.
It's not like everything has to do with racism on every level, but at the same time ... there is something racialized to the foundations of this country, so you can't help — well, I can't help — but notice those things.
On doing a comedy album instead of video
Some of the best comedy I've ever heard was just the audio. Dave Chappelle's album, I didn't know it was a Showtime special, I just thought it was the audio. And he was so funny just hearing it, hearing this burnt thing someone had given me — sorry, Dave — it was unbelievable. The imagery and how he described things was so vivid. So when I actually saw the special, I kind of felt disappointed; it didn't live up to the thing I imagined.
To me, audio is still an incredible thing. And to captivate people for an hour with just words is just amazing, and I'm not just saying that to pander to the NPR audience.
ARUN RATH, HOST:
It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.
Hari Kondabolu is an Indian-American comedian. You might have seen his Konda Bulletins on the FXX show "Totally Biased." He's just released a new album, and the cover art is an instant classic, a picture of Hari proudly perched on a rickshaw that's being pulled by a white guy in a suit.
Yesterday, Hari came by our New York bureau, and I asked him to explain that cover and the title of the album, "Waiting for 2042."
HARI KONDABOLU: That's the year when white people will be the minority. So I wanted to be provocative, so that was the first inspiration for a cover like that. The second inspiration is I was at the South by Southwest festival a couple years ago, and I noticed that there was a lot of rickshaws, and a lot of them were pulled by, like, white dudes. And they didn't call them bicycle rickshaws. They called them pedicabs.
It's the same concept, and it was familiar to me, because I'm like, I - I remember riding them as a kid when I'd visit my grandmother in India. I remember getting into the back of this bicycle rickshaw and being pulled around by this white dude and just being stunned, like, oh, my God. I think I made it. I don't think my grandmother in India would believe this is happening right now.
RATH: She'd be so happy.
KONDABOLU: Right, right. This is colonial justice.
RATH: So the setup to that bit about 2042, you talk about how you get accused of being obsessed with race. Now, I've got to say, there is a ton of material on this album about race.
RATH: Are you obsessed?
KONDABOLU: I mean, I don't think I'm obsessed with race. I mean, it's part of my lived experience and my day-to-day and the history of this country. Certainly when I look at things, I see things in terms of a racial angle. I spot things maybe faster than other people because I pay close attention to it.
You know, it's not like everything has to do with racism on, you know, every level, but at the same time, when so much of this country is built on, you know, where are all the indigenous people, where are all the different first nations? Like, there is something racialized to the foundation of this country, so you can't help - well, I can't help but notice those things.
You know, and I say it on the album, saying I'm obsessed with racism in America is like saying I'm obsessed with swimming when I'm drowning. This is my way of staying afloat is to talk about the things that bother me, that hurt me and trying to find something funny out of it.
RATH: One of the bits that I think as being my favorite on the album - and this picks up on the theme of tolerance - you take on a Matthew McConaughey interview with the gay rights magazine, The Advocate. It's basically you just breaking down this interview, and it's hilarious. You go on for several minutes, but how did that work? When you read that piece, did you think this is a bit right now, or did it have to kind of percolate for a while?
KONDABOLU: Oh, I mean, Matthew McConaughey kind of did all the - most of the writing for me, to be honest in that. I mean, he's very well-intentioned, and I think that is a fair thing to say about Matthew McConaughey. During the course of this interview, he wants to support the gay rights community, but he's, you know, somebody he went to school with at the University of Texas Austin, he kind of outs them by accident.
RATH: Well, you mentioned that this was an Indian student. And by outing him, that pretty much - anybody who knew the one Indian student there at that time...
KONDABOLU: Yeah, would know, like, oh, that must be Prakash(ph). And so it's very strange just that - that he has an anti-bullying program where his idea is to get the kids who are bullied to play sports with the kids who might be bullying them in some kind of weird school-mandated violence. Like, all these things that are so well-intentioned, and he means well by it, but he's not qualified to do this.
And the end of the joke is basically, you know, Matthew McConaughey's the Lennie "Of Mice and Men" of the gay rights movement. Like, he didn't mean to kill anybody. He just wanted to give people a hug, and he did it too hard.
RATH: You know, with everything on the Internet these days, it feels like every comedian has a podcast. I don't remember the last time I sat down like this and actually listened to a comedy album. What does it mean now having a comedy album out in 2014?
KONDABOLU: It's - you know, it's funny. It surprises people. People are kind of shocked by - the questions they ask me are is it available on Spotify? People ask me why isn't it a, you know, visual thing? Why didn't you make a video? And I don't think that's important. I think some of the best comedy I ever heard was just audio.
Like Dave Chappelle's album, I didn't know it was a Showtime special. I just thought it was the audio. And he was so funny just hearing it, hearing this burnt thing somebody had given me - sorry, Dave - it was unbelievable. Like, the imagery and how he described things, it was so vivid. So when I actually saw the special, I kind of felt disappointed, like, ah, it didn't live up to the thing I imagined.
And so, you know, to me, audio is still an incredible thing. And to captivate people for an hour with just words, I think, is amazing. And I'm not just saying that to pander to the NPR audience.
RATH: I was going to say. Obviously, we agree with that here.
KONDABOLU: Agree with me that radio is powerful, and that just listening is powerful.
RATH: Hari Kondabolu's new album, "Waiting for 2042," is out now and he's on tour. Hari, thanks, yaar.
KONDABOLU: Thank you so much, Arun. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.