WAITING FOR 2042 is a blisteringly good comedy album. Thirty-one-year-old comic Hari Kondabolu recorded his debut live in Oakland in 2013; it came out this month on Kill Rock Stars, a fitting home for Kondabolu's brainy, politically engaged comedy. (See the Mercury's spring arts guide, Agenda, for more on KRS' foray into stand-up.)
Kondabolu is fresh off a stint as a writer for Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, a show that proved a natural fit for his take-no-bullshit comedic voice. The title of his new album, Waiting for 2042, refers to the year that white people will be the demographic minority in the US, and it also makes a clear statement that the Indian American comic isn't going to apologize for talking about race: "Accusing me of being obsessed with talking about racism in America is like accusing me of being obsessed with swimming when I'm drowning," he says on the album.
Like an evangelical preacher or idealistic college professor, Kondabolu weaves both flattery and provocation into his fired-up delivery. When a Roots reference fails to get a response from the album's live audience, he condescendingly counts the number of people who got the joke; but when the Oakland crowd goes nuts for a bit about how his version of healthcare reform would involve harvesting the organs of rich people, he approvingly notes that "clearly, the revolution will begin here." (He tags the bit dryly: "It's a modest proposal.")
This is info-dense comedy from a comedian who's pretty sure he's the smartest person in the room, and casual comedy fans will enjoy clapping at political jokes they agree with. (It's not all politics: There's a great Weezer joke, too.) But Kondabolu's chops as a writer go far beyond topical humor: This set is full of elegantly structured premises, subtle callbacks, and a quizzical self-referentiality that constantly tests the assumptions that underpin the material. The marriage of careful joke structure and fiercely intelligent commentary elevates this album from a collection of solid progressive punchlines to a work of art.