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Power Up: The Kondabolu Brothers

Hari and Ashok Kondabolu are brothers with a lot going on. 

Hari’s a comedian with a new Netflix special, Warn Your Relatives, and Ashok’s a former member of the rap group Das Racist who’s now producing the show Hey, How Ya Doin? The pair also co-host the Kondabolu Brothers podcast, where they debate current events and share odd stories.

We brought the siblings on Nerdette to explore how they each make time for self-care, particularly while working for themselves in what can be a grinding freelance economy. Instead, they unpacked their relationship. 

“Do you look up to me at all?” Hari asked his younger brother, with Nerdette host Greta Johnsen listening in the wings.

“No, we have completely different lives,” Ashok immediately responded.

“This is not relaxing!” Hari said. 

Well, we tried. 

But Hari and Ashok did eventually give us some good ideas about how to ignore the phone, take aimless walks, and recharge your batteries. Below are highlights from the conversation.

The struggle of freelancing in the digital economy

Hari: You have to “cultivate a web presence.” Comedians now learn how to edit video, create web pages, and do all these different things. Email? In the old days, your manager or your agent would call you and say, “You’ve got a gig here and here. Our travel agent booked this and this.” So you didn’t really have to do all that. 

Now everything’s done on your computer or phone, so it’s essentially this weird desk job that leads to an hour of fun, maybe once a week. It’s a very strange way to live. And it’s not supposed to be a desk job. That’s why so many of us do stand up, but that’s what it ends up becoming. 

I think [for] a lot of people who have freelance-y kind of jobs, there is no nine-to-five. You can work at anytime at any point. Your phone’s a computer now, so anywhere you go you can work. It becomes really hard to say there’s nothing to do. Even if none of those emails are urgent, it still feels like they are. 

(Photo courtesy of Hari and Ashok Kondabolu).

Hari: When you’re working in these kinds of professions, you’re constantly wondering what’s out there. What am I missing? And most times you’re not missing anything. 

Ashok: And you’re working on your own projects that are personal to you, so how do you turn that off?

Hari: Yeah. The separation between work and you is very minimal, if at all. Like, this was my hobby — stand up comedy was my hobby, making people laugh was my hobby — and now it’s my life, so what’s my hobby? I don’t have one. 

Powering up with hobbies

Greta Johnsen: Do you really not have any hobbies?

Hari: This year I really tried to develop a couple. I don’t think the ones I have are the best. One is: I like to go thrifting. I like to sell my old clothes.

Johnsen: That still kind of feels like a job to me.

Hari: In a way. 

Ashok: I like to walk. I like to go on three to four hour, several mile aimless walks. You want to avoid having some sort of traditional sense of accomplishment attached to it. 

Johnsen: Do you listen to music?

Ashok: I try not to anymore. I wanted to be more present. And for years I’ve noticed we’re all bubbling off. I’m on the train there’s 20 different people in their own reality, and I didn’t want to be part of that anymore. And I find that to be very helpful.

More killer power up tips

Ashok: I primarily check my emails in the morning on computer, and one thing I started doing was shutting down the computer after a night’s work. Because instead of waking up and getting at the screen, I’ve got to turn it on and hear that sound and see the Apple icon. Instead, why don’t I make tea and think about how I feel for ten minutes? And talk to my partner? That’s a good one: Ten to 15 minutes in the morning for yourself.

We also want to know how YOU power up. Record yourself on your phone and email the audio file to nerdettepodcast@gmail.com.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire conversation, which was produced and adapted for the web by Justin Bull.

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