IT'S NO SURPRISE Hari Kondabolu's first comedy album, Waiting for 2042, out now on Kill Rock Stars, kicked open new doors for the 31-year-old stand-up, including an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman. But he didn't expect success to come with odd requests from total strangers.
"I started getting offers to do birthday parties and weddings," Kondabolu said, speaking to me from his home in Brooklyn. "I guess when people see you and see that you have a website, they think you're more accessible. I told one person, 'I don't think I'm the best person to do your wedding,' and they said, 'No, don't worry. You can curse and do your thing. It'll be fine.' So I sent them a couple of clips of my stand-up and they wrote back asking me for suggestions for other comedians."
His brand of sociopolitical comedy—where you laugh and swallow bitter truths about race, gender, and sexuality at the same time—isn't necessarily the best fit for a bat mitzvah. It feels strange even to hear his material, including the first ever feminist dick joke on 2042 and an exuberant riff that encouraged eating the rich, at a club like Helium, where he's performing starting Thursday.
Yet this former immigrant rights organizer has found a welcoming audience for his worldview, and some pretty amazing platforms to express it. Outside of the Letterman appearance and his many stand-up dates, Kondabolu has been featured on PBS' NewsHour and NPR's Fresh Air and Studio 360.
"Weird, right?" he says. "Not conventional stuff at all. I'm just a comic with an album on an indie rock label from Portland. I don't expect to go on Terry Gross or PBS. It's a very unique thing, but it shows my album did what I wanted it to, which was to reach people."
But Kondabolu isn't satisfied. He wants to be a mainstream comic. He wants the HBO specials, the big stages, and maybe even a TV show of his own, like Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, the topical late night show he contributed to before its untimely cancellation.
There's every reason to believe it could happen for him. He's got a softer touch than Bill Hicks or George Carlin. There's something about the calm of his delivery and the quiet logic used to dismantle slanted views on immigration and racial stereotyping that is so much more fun to listen to than angry, shrill white dudes. Kondabolu is also open to discussing more personal concerns in his new material, a move that can only help him achieve world dominance.
"There's a lot of fire and a lot of things I believe on the album," he says, "but you don't really get a sense of the kind of person I am. So now I'm talking about my girlfriend, my parents, and my brother a bit more. And who I am as a human. Though I have one bit where I talk about people complaining, 'Does it always have to be political and about something important?' Yes, it does. What you call political, I refer to as observational humor. I can't separate the two. I'm the killjoy who does comedy."