In Hari Kondabolu’s new comedy album, Mainstream American Comic, Kondabolu takes on issues like Black Lives Matter, the presidential race, abortion, and white privilege. On Nerdette, Kondabolu chats about why comedy isn’t the same as activism and how to laugh in a deeply divided America.
Below is an edited, transcribed excerpt from Hari Kondabolu’s conversation with Nerdette’s Greta Johnsen.
Hari Kondabolu: I don’t think that [being a comedian] is activism. I mean, it might be for somebody, but like-
Greta Johnsen: I mean, you say you want to have people who come in with an open mind. You don’t think that you’re actually making people think about things differently?
HK: I want them to come in with an open mind so I can make them laugh. I try to keep it simple, as an artist. What is my job? To make people laugh. What do I believe with comedy? I have to be as clear about my point of view as possible. That’s what I have to do. How do I stay uniquely me, while still doing the job of a comedian? Cause I could say all that stuff, but if they don’t laugh, they’re not jokes.
I don’t see this as activism for me. It’s important not to because artists have—especially comedians—they have enough of an ego and delusions of grandeur. And I feel like being told that you’re changing the world with what you’re saying is too much. Focus on the things that you can control. Be the best artist that you can be.
GJ: I see what you’re saying, but I think about Politically Re-Active, the podcast that you have with W. Kamau Bell. I get that the point isn’t to change people’s minds or shift political allegiances, but I feel like there is a certain honesty to what you guys are doing. and having these tough conversations… If you‘re talking about race, and you’re getting a room full of white people to understand a little better what it’s like to be a person of color in this country, there’s still an inherent value to that.
HK: There is a difference between what the goal is and what the effect is. Maybe our podcast, Politically Re-Active, is a little different, We want laughs, but it’s more about the person to share their point of view, and for us to make it as palatable around it as possible. Because we want people to understand their points. Even if we’re not trying to think, “What impact is this going to make?”, we do think about the impact of the words and ideas that we are sharing. Because neither of us wants to hurt anybody. That is not the point.
If we want to hurt somebody, it is going to be somebody who has power.
Hari Kondabolu’s comedy album is called Mainstream American Comic. He also hosts Politically Re-Active, a podcast with W. Kamau Bell.