Hari Kondabolu – a comic who stands up for the Indian community in America

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Hari Kondabolu.

NEW YORK – Indian American comedian, writer and podcaster Hari Kondabolu, a New Yorker, made his maiden entry in The Hollywood Reporter’s Top Comedians chart dated November 7, at No. 10, with this smart observation on Facebook: “So Conservatives don’t like the government telling people what to do…except when it comes to what gender they should be & whether they have to have a child when pregnant? Got it.”

It garnered a 20,821 percent Facebook post likes boost; catapulted Kondabolu into the elite list of most beloved comedians in America, at least on social media.

The Top Comedians chart is a ranking of the most popular comedians on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Google Plus, with global data provided by social media analytics company MVPindex, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The chart’s methodology blends social engagement on the platforms along with weekly additions of followers/subscribers. Kondabolu is the only Indian-origin comedian on that top 10 list.

On that list, along with Kondabolu, are established comedians like with Tommy Chong, Joe Rogan, D.L. Hughley, Jessica “Jess Hilarious”, Robin Moore, Ricky Gervais, and Trevor Noah.

Kondabolu, who also won the Comedian of the Year at the GQ Men of the Year Awards 2018, in September, in India, has rapidly climbed his way to the top tier of standup comedians not only with his intelligent, charming and terrific wit but also because of controversy generated over his documentary ‘The Problem With Apu’, released on truTV, last year, criticizing the character of Apu on the Simpsons show.

The documentary condemned the character of Apu, with voiceover by Hank Azaria. Apu stereotyped the Indian and South Asian community in the US, it deduced. Kondabolu’s outcry led to the announcement of the demise of the character after a three-decade run. It also led to a huge uproar amongst fans of the character, especially in South America. Fans there, it seems, cannot get enough of a White man talking in a funny Indian accent; are incensed that droll fun is being phased out.

In an appearance on the Chris Rock-produced FX TV show ‘Totally Biased’, Kondabolu described Azaria’s voice work as “a white guy doing an impression of a white guy making fun of my father.”

Earlier this year, in April, Kondabolu tweeted of the campaign against him: “In The Problem with Apu, I used Apu & The Simpsons as an entry point into a larger conversation about the representation of marginalized groups & why this is important. The Simpsons response tonight is not a jab at me, but at what many of us consider progress.”

Kondabolu, however, admitted in an interview to Just Toronto that The Simpsons is still his favorite show, saying he should be able to love a show while also pointing out why aspects of it could be harmful.

“This was an analysis of media. Do you know where I learned to do media analysis? The Simpsons. That’s the show that used to make fun of pop-culture – that and SNL. That’s how I learned how to be smart and critical,” he surmised.

At a memorable solo show at Schimmel Center, at Pace University, New York City, on November 8, where this writer was present too in the audience, Kondabolu talked and joked of numerous death threats he’s received over his stance against the character of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon.

“I’ve been getting death threats from all over the world. People telling me they want my whole family to die,” he said.

Just how many fans of Apu detest and hate Kondabolu for his anti-Apu documentary and comic riffs, is evident by a new petition on Change.org requesting that Netflix removes Kondabolu’s original stand-up comedy special ‘Warn Your Relatives’, from their streaming library, reported Inquisitr, this week. It’s a backlash to the documentary ‘The Problem with Apu’.

“Hari Kondabolu is a pseudo comedian, that needed a little fame. The channel he found was to atack [sic] Apu Nahasapeemapetilon from The Simpson,” the creator of the petition penned as they explained the purpose. The creator of the petition added: “He was able to push producers to remove Apu from the show. We are asking Netflix and other companies to remove Hari’s content from their networks.”

To date, over 54,000 fans of The Simpsons have signed the petition in support of the removal of Kondabolu’s comedy special. The petition has a goal of 75,000 signatures, reported Inquisitr.

The hate mail, trolls, and incessant protests has left Kondabolu unfazed.

Hari Kondabolu. Photos courtesy of www.harikondabolu.com

Kondabolu’s most incisive observation of the Apu controversy, was made in an interview to Just Toronto: “This is a capitalist enterprise,” said Kondabolu, speaking to both The Simpsons and entertainment at large. “They didn’t make this show for us. Anything that is made in this country, historically, is not made from the majority to the minority. It’s made for other white people. When Apu was found funny, it was a room of white writers that found it funny and put it out for a majority white audience.”

In the world of entertainment, where even infamy and notoriety is great publicity, at least for some who know how to mine it, the controversy over Apu and resultant spotlight over Kondabolu, has undoubtedly helped his career, boost his visibility across the globe.

On Monday night, November 19, Kondabolu will host the International Emmys, in New York City. The annual event attracts more than 1,000 international media and entertainment executives from across the world.

Bruce Paisner, president of the International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences which hands out the awards, said: ‘Kondabolu is an outspoken comic who has that magical quality of making very serious topics extremely funny. We look forward to having him headlining our awards.’

Chortle reported that Kondabolu quipped on hearing the honor bestowed on him: “When I told my mother, she had a huge smile on her face. It’s like I told her I was quitting comedy and going to law school.”

Jokes about his mother, a physician, originally from Andhra Pradesh before she emigrated to the US, is a staple in Kondabolu’s standup comedy. He delved into it, at the Schimmel Center, too. She occasionally features on his twitter feeds as well, and makes Kondabolu all that more personable to his fans.

Surprisingly, at his show at the Schimmel Center, Kondabolu refrained from jokes about President Trump. Maybe it was election fatigue, with the midterms concluded a day earlier, or he wanted to spare his audience of more wear and tear after the divisiveness of the polls.

But talking politics and racism is bread and butter for Kondabolu, who often has the audience in splits with his cerebral humor, rather than the tried-and-tested method of eliciting laughs by talking in Indian accent, and defining stereotypes by highlighting Indian customs. White folks in general come under intense ‘scrutiny’ in his shows, are frequent targets of his humor.

In an interview to The Hollywood Reporter, published this week, when asked what’s it like being a politically-aware comedian in the age of Trump, Kondabolu retorted: “It’s a really mixed bag. In one sense, what can I say about Trump, how can I do satire when he is the satire. He actually does the extreme things you’d imagine were satire. But I don’t really talk about political figures as I do about ideas, about immigration, about racism, about sexism. And because of Trump, more people are politically aware. If you hear stories about kids being locked in cages, you can more easily understand immigration. If you hear stories of women being grabbed, sexism isn’t so difficult to imagine. The stuff I always talked about, suddenly everyone is talking about it.”

Here are some lines from Kondabolu’s twitter feed:

“I wonder which one of Ted Cruz’s children was sacrificed to Satan to ensure his victory.”

“If you voted for Ted Cruz, I hope you were atleast vomiting while you did it.”

“Jeff Sessions is out as Attorney General. I’m assuming the White House is now contacting David Duke.”

“The only race Trump wants to win is the white one.”

“If Donald Trump was King Solomon, he would threaten to cut the baby in half. Then, he would actually do it. And then, he would claim there was never a baby.”

On racism, Kondabolu has said in the past, at festivals and shows: “Racism has lineage it doesn’t just magically appear it morphs and takes a different form.”

Kondabolu also made this observation of a tour to Europe later this month, to Hollywood Reporter, a sentiment sure to be shared by most other Indian Americans on their visits overseas: “…In this country I’m seen as an outsider. In another country, I’m clearly an American.”

It may be laced at times with profanity, and racist spin, but in today’s America, the voice and sane reasoning of Kondabolu is a blessing for the Indian community. He is a standup who stands up for the Indian community in America.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: sujeet@newsindiatimes.com Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)

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