“Indian It Up” With “Manoj”

Hari Kondabolu’s video Manoj is up in its entirety** on YouTube. It’s about 11 minutes long, and well worth a look:

I mentioned the short film and posted a few lines of the script a few months ago. It’s well done — my favorite bits include the “South Asian Studies” major, and the comedy club owner who wants Manoj to “Indian it up” with the curry and cows.

Having short films like this available might be especially good for young Desi comics starting out, as they try to figure out how to tread the line between intelligent ethnic comedy and self-hatred. That said, I think the film also shows that there really is a gray area there; aren’t many people (including many Indian Americans) still quite prepared to find a comedian like “Manoj” funny? (Paul’s comment in the earlier thread on this also illustrates how the path to the right kind of “Desi material” is not an easy one.) Another issue raised here (and I know everyone is tired of it) is the ABD/DBD divide, specifically the different relationships to Indian accents. I imagine some readers might watch this and think, “well, isn’t Hari himself actually using a fake version of the Indian accent here for comedic effect?”

(For those in the Washington DC area, Manoj will be screened publicly as part of the DC Asian Pacific American Film Festival this Friday night at 7pm. Another obviously Desi short is Maya Anand’s Anjali, which screens on Sunday.)

** Hari emails me to say that the YouTube version is itself slightly edited. The real full version of the film (15 minutes) is at Vimeo, here.

40 thoughts on ““Indian It Up” With “Manoj”

  1. Very funny! “Dad bought the house, brother gave his 1 year used BMW” “BA in Math, Double masters, etc” “Hindo and Hin-don’t” “I don’t even look like him” :)

    This short film is great!

  2. This is how I would measure a desi comic’s material, if he did not do the accent is it still funny. Except for a few lines (Hin-do and hin don’t) I did not see any new material. I hope this guy has a day job.

  3. Nara, just to underline it, since I think you missed the point — this video is a send-up of a certain kind of self-hating humor. It is ironic.

    The “Manoj” character is not meant to be funny. He is meant to be kind of a snake, who is “giving the audience what it wants” without thinking about whether it actually feeds racist stereotypes about Indian culture.

  4. The half life of this kind of humor will last as long as the novelty of Obama.

    On a positive side, he is hotha than kal penn and less whitty.

  5. Priyavadan, nope, it’s something different.

    On the video you linked to — the concept works, and it seems like there’s potential for humor there. But since we’re talking about comedians selling out with comical renditions of an Indian accent, the guy playing “Manoj, telemarketing elite” can barely manage the accent at all. It sounds terrible! (His “boss” in the video is more convincing.)

    So I’m going “thumbs down” on that one.

  6. 8 · Amardeep said

    So I’m going “thumbs down” on that one.

    So if you were judging these ‘snakes,’ would the standard be laughter at the appropriate parts? Isn’t the uncertainty over the validity of the results of a such a test the reason that Chapelle walked out of his cash cow? (“Beef!!!!”)

  7. Maybe I’m a simple man, but irony often bores me to death. I even have trouble with Letterman. I miss Bill Cosby.

  8. I totally get what he is doing here, but it could have been a little funnier. Make your point, but dont forget to bring the ruckus.

    I really hate Indian based comedy. When I was in college I always wanted to smack the groups of Indians laughing their asses off to sound of their own Indian accent imitation

  9. 10 · somebody gonna get hurt real bad said

    so now we know how much contempt hari kondabolu has for russell peters :)

    Yeah, I definitely got that from the film. So what does that say about my tastes? I laugh at Russell Peters, and I thought this film was very funny and very apt.

  10. Did anyone notice the Indian Flag in the back drop upside down at 2:56? Wonder why people screw up with that so often? Is it that tough to get it right?

  11. I suppose comedy is especially involved with the examination of types. There are so many genres of joke that deal directly or indirectly with identity labels – territories of class, gender, nationality, ethnicity, sexuality etc. You wouldn’t want comedians to steer away from those topics. However, a crass comedian will only regurgitate stereotypes; somebody trying to do more will consider archetypes and engage with them in new and interesting ways. There is a fuzzy line between these two realms, though, and I think Hari acknowledges that in the film; he’s only a beard away from Manoj after all. Equally, because so much depends on context, Manoj’s monkey brains material could become something far more caustic when delivered in a Hari Kondabolu manner.

  12. This is outstanding. I like Hari Kondabolu’s stand-up and I think this is a bold idea. Extremely relevant these days too, what with Russell Peters and Carlos Mencia and all peddling their wares to audiences of thousands.

    Given also that the guy is young, I look forward to seeing how Hari continues to develop as a comedian. He’s the first desi comedian I’ve seen to really carry the great tradition rooted in comics like Pryor or writers like Mooney.

  13. Shark: Are you kidding me? The flag is clearly upside down intentionally. A really subtle piece of symbolism. Manoj’s thing is to be “Indian” on stage and by putting it upside down, Hari is questioning that. Absolutely brilliant.

    “Vehicles of Truth.” Incredible.

    For those of you that don’t get this film, here’s a video of a monkey masturbating: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFLokWQp4z0

  14. Appears to resemble humor from The Office with an ethnic twist. This technique of entertaining by blurring the lines between role and person is a more evolved form of reality tv. And if the jokes are good, the method will hardly matter.

  15. The longer version is actually BETTER! I did not think that was possible.

    Does anyone else remember that Sprint commercial? Is it on youtube?

    Amardeep, it’s only 12 minutes. Still worth watching the extra time for the new jokes…

    I need a new name.

  16. @What:

    Well, I’d rather not put the flag upside down for no reason, there are other ways of getting the point across, but my NATIONS flag upside down… NEVER! :P

    On a serious note, the ‘Flag code of India’ is laid out in detail and is suppose to be very stringent. This is a violation of one of the most basic rule. If this video’s suppose to spread awareness about the community (against stereotypes etc) and is going to be seen by people of all nationalities, then is it worth showing the flag upside down even to put a point across?

    In a way, Isn’t Hari doing something similar to Manoj, who almost all agree to be disrespectful to the community?

  17. Love it! Almost pissed myself laughing with “nobody tops Manoj, nobody, especially this guy” taps Arj Barker’s photo

  18. That was totally hilarious and meta. It took me a couple of minutes to catch on, though, which made me feel stupid.

  19. That was a really funny video! Almost felt like Manoj was a made up character just for this video. I don’t know how much I’d enjoy him live at the local comedy club though.

  20. 26 · sandeep said

    <

    blockquote>That was a really funny video! Almost felt like Manoj was a made up character just for this video.

    Nice one…..

  21. Hilarious video.

    And I think some people may be taking the video too seriously. I think it’s about as real a documentary as The Office. AKA, Manoj is not real. The commentary isn’t real. It’s gold.

  22. The first 6-7 minutes or so were great, then it tended to drag at the end. In any event, Hari has got much better material than many other comedians doing this stuff. [Camera pans to a picture of Arj Barker.]

  23. 2 · Nara said

    This is how I would measure a desi comic’s material, if he did not do the accent is it still funny. Except for a few lines (Hin-do and hin don’t) I did not see any new material. I hope this guy has a day job.

    I agree. Didn’t find it funny. Reminded me of The Office. Also not funny.

  24. If you dont think “The Office” is funny then I most likely dont like you as a human being.

    Okay maybe a little harsh, but come on!! “The Office” has a special place in my heart and DVR

  25. Hmmm..actually, I watched the video and laughed my ass off. Then I read the comments and had a totally different take from the other readers (and from Hari as well). What is wrong with laughing at Indian stereotypes? I think their power to wound is considerably less if one can laugh at them.

    I guess the real issue here is (a) were a comedian like Manoj to actually exist, some (non-Indians; probably white) people would laugh at him because he fits common stereotypes to a T, thus (b)indulging in a little racism and probably stereotype strengthening, and (c) thus pissing off Indian-Americans.

    My issue is with (c). Hey, if a FOB like Manoj (and me) can do this and make some money off it, what’s wrong with that? Why do “colored” people have a special obligation not to indulge in any behavior that “hurts” their culture in the eyes of the majority ethnic community? Also, c’mon – I’ve lived in the U.S. long enough to see at least some racism and also to realize this country is probably less racist, in some ways, than India is, and also to realize the worst of it is rarely directed towards Indian Americans. A little more fortitude and a little less navel-gazing seems to be in order.

  26. The first thing that came into my mind was that Russell Peters makes fun of everyone, not only Indians. People come to se him make jokes about their skincolour and absurdities in their cultures while the Manoj character is funny, but the most interesting thing is the mockumentarie’s message.

    I got a new perspective, but haven’t changed my mind in any way. I did realise one thing, the fact that this kind of humour has it’s purpose right now. Our kids will find this as outdated as old Bill Cosby show jokes.

    p.s. pardon my anglais, not my first language…

  27. as soon as I heard the indian accent and the 1st whiteboy co-signing this lameness, i knew where it was going. I see exactly what he is trying to do, but it is lame. Talking in a indian accent relating everything american with how it must be in india for a few laughs from his close friends. “Hydrabad improv nights?” seriously? I saw this coming a mile away. This shtick has been covered better on Simpsons. He’s your typical coconut, doesn’t know where he fits in, east or the west or both? Still confused, self-hating, trying to be ironic with no authenticity. I thought we were past imitating the indian accent for a few chuckles. btw he does a poor job imitating the accent as well.

  28. Time someone got ironic about irony. If you are climbing the meta ladder, why climb one rung, and stop?

  29. Good stuff. However, Am I the only one or did anyone else feel that this was “inspired” by Ricky Gervais’ early works ?