Kondabolu on the Comic Quota

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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)

15 thoughts on “Kondabolu on the Comic Quota

  1. Aziz Ansari is the man! I love him and his nephew Harris so much. Mindy Kaling – man, she’s my girl.

    Hari K. is also so good.

    What I’d like to see is more desis on TV and not the white-washing away of desis. For example: ER, Grey’s Anatomy (should be called “ghoras anatomy”), and that Facebook movie where the very handsome co-founder of FBook – an Indian – was played by a biracial guy who was not indian.

  2. ‘Godfather – that’s us! Jaws – that’s us! ‘HAHAHAHA..oh boy is thera a videolink to that??haha

  3. Seriously, dude is NOT funny! If u can’t use what you’ve got (brown skin, non-mainstream cultural background etc) then you are just a totally uncreative comic…if questions re. a very well received movie, & easy-to-make fun ones on yoga & Bollywood, irritate u then u need that…what’s it called? Ah, yes a sense of humor! And, man, seriously “Kondabolu”?! Man, they’d make fun of that even in Mumbai or B’Lore of wherever the heck, in the desh…

    • Seriously, dude is NOT funny! If u can’t use what you’ve got (brown skin, non-mainstream cultural background etc) then you are just a totally uncreative comic…if questions re. a very well received movie, & easy-to-make fun ones on yoga & Bollywood, irritate u then u need that…what’s it called? Ah, yes a sense of humor! And, man, seriously “Kondabolu”?! Man, they’d make fun of that even in Mumbai or B’Lore of wherever the heck, in the desh…

      Carlos Mencia are you?

    • Yes, because no one wants to be recognised for anything other than their ethnicity, right? I mean, imagine wanting to be judged on one’s own merits; everyone knows that’s only for white people.

      Kondabolu is pretty funny. He gives me chuckles rather than guffaws, but that’s alright.

  4. ‘s OK. Not bad, not awesome. I get a watered down Russell Peters vibe off of him. Aziz is hilarious, though. I love that guy.

    (And may we please get some more Ashok Konabolu? He’s babe & a half.)

  5. hahah “difference in cultures” between andhra pradesh and tamil nadu. difference in culinary chili use, maybe. not like these வெள்ளைs can tell anyway. also, hari kondabolu (not gonna lie, i just lol’d as I typed that) is not as funny as i expected after all that hype. he’s sort of like someone poured molasses into a pair of jeans and taught it to talk.

    • Atomicfunk , I think you should elaborate because your hit & run comment wasn’t witty enough to be any sort of legitimate observation.

      And as someone who has lived in both Madras and Hyderabad (and traveled enough of the interior) I don’t know if I should mock your arrogance or if I go “be you a trolll?” ; anytime you use a slur, think “I am but what are you” …now please go whitewash/darkwash yourself :)

      • rahul – elaboration: I thought it was unreasonable for Kondabolu to expect American audiences to differentiate between his humor and Ansari’s based on the fact that Kondabolu is a (presumably) Hindu Telugu guy and Ansari is a Muslim Tamil guy. To most people in America, and probably to many Indian people who are not from either area, these two comedians are relatively indistinguishable.

        My point is that if Kondabolu wants to help people see him as more than “some dude who’s not the guy on P&R,” he needs to elucidate differences that are more immediately obvious to an audience unfamiliar with both cultural heritages. Kondabolu’s explanation would have made sense to my parents, who grew up in India, but not to people of any other background. But let’s fact it, Kondabolu is not making it in the comedy world on the strength of my parents’ peer group’s support. So he would be better served by presenting his persona in a less obscurely unique way.

        aap ke liye kafi legit observation tha?

        Also, if you don’t get my humor, I’m not worried. I’m keeping my day job; you won’t see me in any comedy clubs.

        • Thanks for replying man, IMHO you are correct in stating it so.

          अपने जवाब काफी है और अच्छा है | आपकी तकलुफ़ह के लिए मेरी शुक्रिया |

  6. So bizarre reading these shit comments since Hari predicted this would happen in the last interview with SM about his special (which I cannot see in the UK). “I’m anticipating that some people will like it, some people won’t and that I’ll definitely be seeing some mean spirited messages on a variety of social media and probably in the comments section of this very blog post. Am I right, brothers and sisters?” You are all idiots.

  7. Ok so I read the whole interview. I couldn’t understand from the vid clip why Kondabolu was doing dark humor. I didn’t find it funny and didn’t get why the audience was laughing at the bits where he whipped his bro in the eye and then his ma whipped him. hahahaha . snort Or was the audience playing along because they were bemused with the subject matter? But then he states in the interview: “I’m not like most comedians. I don’t deal with just heckles, I’m also dealing with threats and anger.” The guy is educated as hell. So I guess he knows what he’s doing or is glad if someone, anyone just picks up on him as a sort of guide.

  8. i have seen kondabolu and he is good. but his comedy differs from ansari in important ways. first ansari is way funnier. but aside from that he is not the angry-funny persona shtick that kondabolu takes on, which is quite effective in its own way. kondabolu is also basing his humour on his ethnic identity, so what’s wrong if people ask him the kind of questions they ask? ansari on the other hand, his humour is more general which is why he is also more appealing. in other word he is not always south asian, but kondabolu is. and who cares ansari is from tamil nadu and he is from andhra. it seems to matter only to him, and a great deal. which is kind of odd, and not very funny.

  9. The अपन was supposed to be an आपकी as well. Coffee…