Hari Kondabolu, an immigrant rights organizer turned comedian, will be performing in Chicago Friday, April 4th at Lincoln Hall. Hari fearlessly discusses such taboo subjects as race in his act and is driven by his idea of justice derived through his work with immigrants. Kondabolu has appeared on such television shows as Jimmy Kimmel Live and Conan.
What do you look forward to when you come to Chicago?
Chicago, they're smart. They know comedy. There's a big tradition of comedy there. Comedy is everywhere in Chicago. So you can have audiences that are astute, they know how jokes work. They're not going to be shocked as much.
They're actually going to understand the form. Stand up comedy is a form, they get how it works. That certainly makes my job easier.
Where did you start doing comedy?
My first real (comedy) scene was Seattle. I moved out West in 2005 to be an immigrant right organizer. I was organizing during the day and doing comedy at night. We had a younger scene. You didn't move to Seattle to be a comic, we did comedy because we loved comedy. We had a strong, young scene with very supportive audiences. It was a very good place for me to develop.
Who were your comedic influences?
The first comic I saw that made me want to do stand up was Margaret Cho. Just the fact that she was Asian American, and at that time I didn't see anybody who wasn't black, white, or Latino. And the idea that this is somebody who is the child of an immigrant, an Asian American who has such a strong voice... I was an Indian American man and younger, but I still felt connected to that.
After that, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Paul Mooney was a giant influence. Seeing Paul Mooney do stand up in DC in like 2003 changed my life.
How does you previous work as an immigrant rights organizer influence your comedy
I'm somebody who is very driven by, how do you say this without sounding corny, the idea of justice. My favorite comedy is the kind of comedy that is honest to your perspective, whatever your perspective is. I don't write jokes to change the world, but I know what my beliefs are and I want to express those beliefs onstage, otherwise it's not honest.
Being an immigrant rights organizer, I was exposed to some hard stuff. I was exposed to people whose families were being torn apart by the immigration system and refugees who had suffered all kinds of terrible things to come to this country... Really sad stories.
It gave me a great deal of perspective, but also showed me how unjust the system is. And going to tell jokes at night, in addition to that being an incredible release of a lot of frustration and tension, you see all these terrible things and all of a sudden you have this moment to let it out through comedy.
Follow Hari Kondabolu on Twitter.
Scott King is a contributing writer for the Wall Street Journal and RedEye Chicago. @ScottKingMedia on Twitter.
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