Comedian Hari Kondabolu sat down with The Daily Pennsylvanian on Wednesday before his performance in Houston Hall. Kondabolu — who has been featured on Jimmy Kimmel Live and the HBO Comedy Arts Festival — performed as part of the Asian Pacific American Heritage Week. He graduated from Bowdoin College in 2004 and received a Master’s Degree from the London School of Economics. He has been a professional comedian for the past three years.
DP: Why did you decide to come to Penn?
HK: They asked me to, so I said yes. They offered me money and I said yes. I had fun performing here once before … and had a great time. One of the better times that I had was performing at [a Penn] Conference with 1000 plus students, a really incredible audience.
DP: How did you decide that comedy was for you?
HK: I’ve always done it. Since I was 16 or 17, I have been writing and performing, so the doing it part seemed natural. I didn’t expect this to be a career and this wasn’t where I had my educational background. It was a passion to perform but it wasn’t something I set out to do for my livelihood.
DP: Were you involved in any comedic groups in high school or college?
HK: I started a comedy night in high school so I could do stand up and it was called Comedy Night. I went to college and I was the only one doing stand up at college. I just needed to, I grew up in Queens, went to school in Maine, and was freaking out.
DP: Is there such a thing as formal training for comedians?
HK: Until you’re on stage and you fail and fail and fail and fail and spend the time to watch and listen to a lot of comedy, that’s how you figure it out. Comedy is an equalizer. I’ve been to college campuses and everyone’s pushing for diversity and all that, of course I value that a great deal. There’s something about the diversity I see in stand up open mic that I don’t see anywhere else, because you are seeing people from a wide range of class, political beliefs, race, culture and immigration status talking about their stories. Comedy open mics are for everyone – it’s the greatest diversity I’ve ever seen, people sharing their stories.
DP: As a comedian, you get to open a dialogue about many different issues. What are some of your favorite topics and issues? Why?
HK: I like to talk about race and racism and the absurdity of race and racism. Class, especially right now. Class, in this country, we avoid a great deal and now it’s becoming harder to. It’s not an underground movement anymore, there are cities across the country that are being occupied and I think that’s incredible. I’m interested in that discussion.
At the end of the day, if none of this is funny, it’s a waste. The laughter justifies anything I have to say. I’m not going to say anything because I want to make a political point. I’m going to say it because I think it’s funny and if a point comes out of it, that’s great, it’s a bonus. The goal is to make people laugh and be honest.
DP: Besides making people laugh, do you have any hope for what your comedic skills can achieve?
HK: I feel like art does have an impact, for sure. Art does affect how one can see things and there’s something both powerful and devastating in a laugh. If art can contribute that’s fantastic, but it’s what we do from there. I don’t expect anything I say tonight or ever to change people’s lives. I hope it starts a discussion. I hope, even if people don’t laugh, they think about things. I think I’m generally good at leaving a mark, whether people like me or not. If we can do that, we can potentially achieve something.
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