Hari Kondabolu | Motorco Music Hall, Durham | Thursday, May 18, 8 p.m., $25
In a new special, the comedian Hari Kondabolu—who is known for material that tackles big issues like race, colonialism, and immigration—is talking a little more about his personal life. His new show comes to Durham’s Motorco Music Hall on Thursday, May 18.
Ahead of the show, Kondabolu spoke to the INDY about parenthood, politics, and introducing new personal material into the mix.
INDY: You recently became a father. What has that been like?
Hari Kondabolu: Yeah, we had a kid during the pandemic, which is why my new special is called Vacation Baby. He’s two and a half. It’s the most difficult and beautiful and painful and rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life. All the clichés are true. Like, “Oh, I will not see most of my friends again. I am going to be thinking about my kid obsessively, constantly, and always full of fear.” And things are different. Everything has a different meaning.
What is your latest stand-up show about?
[This hour] definitely has the kinds of stuff I have historically done jokes about: race and colonialism and gender and the big-issue stuff. There’s less about parenthood. [The last special] was coming off the heels of the pandemic and having a kid—how could I not write about those things? Now I feel like some time has passed and I’m kind of settling into parenthood.
The way the parent aspect fits in is, it’s like … what do you do when you have a kid and all of a sudden the pressure is on to make more money? How does that affect how you view what you do? It’s a lot of questioning: Is being a popular NPR comedian enough to pay the bills?
It sounds like some of your new material is more personal.
Yeah, that’s a big difference between what I did before and what I do now. It’s been a long-term goal … both because it’s easier to relate to the audience and [because] the audience is more willing to listen to stuff that they maybe disagree with if I’ve already won them over with things they can relate to.
Mixing the personal and political just makes for a more interesting combination. I want people to know who I am because I tell them stories versus guessing who I am [because of] my points of view.
A lot of your comedy is still political—what do you think of politics today?
We’re dealing with this huge generational split. You have this movement of young people who have this incredibly progressive vision and they love AOC. And you also have this old guard of Democrats that are so out of touch with that and are thinking pure political practicality.
Which, to be honest, makes less sense with the environment being what it is, the literal melting of the ice caps. Practicality, when you have to beat the buzzer to mass extinction, is kind of ridiculous. So I think there’s this really different sense of urgency.
What political and social issues do you address in your comedy?
The majority of it [my political stand-up] has always been the bigger issues. Colonialism is an evergreen topic and it’s still something that affects us to this day. When I think about race, that is something that manifests differently than it did a decade ago but is still present.
I talk about the bigger problems, and if there are moments to draw in what’s happening in the news, I will. But to me, let’s keep our eyes on the prize. What is it that we’re really talking about? We’re talking about people’s lives, their freedom, their ability to make choices, that’s what we’re talking about.
You’ve toured in the Triangle. What are your impressions of North Carolina?
The crowds I’ve gotten at all of those shows have varied somewhat, but the one thing that has been really great is there’s been a lot of thoughtful audiences. This is a place that obviously has lots of universities. I end up drawing a lot of either college students or professors. It’s an easier place to perform because people are thoughtful.
Chapel Hill feels the smallest and most laid back, it definitely has the chillest vibe. Raleigh is a mix, there’s a lot more people. And it feels a lot more real than just an extension of a college campus. You know what I mean? It feels like a real place. I’ve had a tough time reading Durham. It kind of feels like a crossbreed of the other two cities to some degree.
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