|Hari Kondabolu – The Belt Game|
The Economist blog More Intelligent Life has an interview with comedian Hari Kondabolu, who was most recently featured on Sepia Mutiny right before his TV special on Comedy Central (see above for a show clip). After questions about his approach, performing and club audiences, the interviewer asks him about a “comic quota” applying to desi comics and being compared to Aziz Ansari.
Some black American comedians have joked that in American pop culture, there’s only room for one black comic at a time. You’ve joked about being upset with Aziz Ansari comparisons. Does the same comic quota apply to Indian-American comedians?
> I think it’s changing. I don’t think I need to dethrone anybody. I’m hoping we’re at a place where people understand there are many people with a wide variety of experiences and perspectives who might have similar ethnic backgrounds. Which, by the way, sounds absurd. Aziz Ansari’s family is from Tamil Nadu, mine is from Andhra Pradesh. We’re talking about the difference of big cultures. And he grew up in South Carolina. At the same time, I suppose the fact that he comes up in conversations is an indication that maybe America isn’t completely ready. I can’t imagine a young white comedian having to be asked about other white comedians. You’re just another comedian.
But what about someone like Larry the Cable Guy? I’m sure he had to deal with being compared to Jeff Foxworthy and other redneck-loving comedians.
He’s put on a certain identity to play to a certain idea to a certain demographic. His name isn’t even Larry. He’s from Nebraska, not the South. The Blue Collar Comedy tour, they are actively trying to reach a particular demographic. There’s a difference between that and my skin colour branding me and my perceived culture. After shows, people still ask me about yoga or some Bollywood film. When “Slumdog [Millionaire]“ came out that was obviously hell. I didn’t want to fucking talk about “Slumdog”. I just hope we get to a point where what I have to say and what I’m doing stands on its own.
What do you think? Is there any truth to the idea of a comic quota for desi comics? Or is it just a joke?
Thanks to Taz’s earlier post, I saw Kondabolu’s video sketch with actor Ajay Naidu centered around the idea that there’s only room for one desi star at a time and that a fictional “South Asian Council” chooses “which South Asian gets to be famous every year, one a year for the last 20 years.” (Who’s 1995? Deepak Chopra?) In the sketch, Naidu tries to get rid of Kondabolu by suggesting that the Council has been disbanded due to a “glut” of brown talent. The idea that the glut of talent was strong enough to break the floodgates (even if those restrictions were imaginary) was pretty cool.
I think the yoga/Bollywood/Slumdog-type questions that annoy Kondabolu will eventually get boring and awkward to ask, if they aren’t already. Ansari found one use for the Slumdog question–as part of his routine.
“I was doing an interview once and the guy said, you must be psyched by all this Slumdog Millionaire stuff. And I was like, umm… Yeah! I am! I have no idea why, though, as I had NOTHING to do with that movie! It’s just that some people who kinda look like me are in it, and everyone loved it and it won some Oscars and stuff. And then I was like, whoa whoa whoa – are white people just psyched ALL THE TIME? It’s like, Back to the Future – that’s us! Godfather – that’s us! Jaws – that’s us! Every fucking movie BUT Slumdog Millionaire and Boyz n the Hood is us!” (Aziz Ansari: mouth of the south)