Seattle: birthplace of Hari Kondabolu’s comedy career
Comedian Hari Kondabolu, who honed his comedy chops and socially charged material in Seattle, returns Saturday, March 29, for a show at the Neptune.
Special to The Seattle Times
8 p.m. Saturday, March 29, Neptune Theatre, 1303 N.E. 45th St., Seattle; $16.50 (877-784-4849 or www.stgpresents.org).
It’s easy for Hari Kondabolu to gush about Seattle: He spent two years honing his craft here before his comedy and academic career took him to bigger and better places.
“Seattle is a place I’ve lived only a couple of years, but I feel like I’ve been adopted by this city,” Kondabuolu said in a recent phone interview. “ It’s like a hug. I’ve been recognized on planes, in the airport and by cabdrivers. I don’t get that anywhere else in the country. The kind of love I get when I am there is wonderful, but ridiculous.”
The 31-year-old son of Indian immigrants spent his time in Seattle working at an immigrant rights organization while moonlighting as a stand-up comic. Though he’d performed before moving to Seattle it was here that Kondabolu developed his comedic voice, his now-familiar socially charged material and the stage confidence to be a solid performer.
None of this is lost on Kondabolu, and it’s why he speaks in glowing terms and with genuine affection about his show Saturday, March 29, at the Neptune Theatre.
“Seattle is a place where I’ll do a show and people are so excited because people remember when I was struggling to do half an hour at the Comedy Underground,” Kondabolu said.
After graduating from Wesleyan University with a B.A. in Comparative Politics, Kondabolu (whose first name is pronounced huh-Ree) moved to Seattle in 2005. He performed regularly at Chop Suey, the Comedy Underground and at “ComedyNight,” a weekly alt-comedy showcase in Ballard that featured MTV’s Jeff Dye, “Modern Comedian” documentarian Scott Moran and Reggie Watts among others. It was there that he met people like Carl Warmenhoven, assistant manager of the Comedy Underground, who regularly booked Kondabolu, as well as Peter Greyy, comedian and creator of “ComedyNight.”
“I remember seeing Hari when he started at open mike. He was trying to get his feet wet in comedy, and I was impressed because he was always working very hard on his material and dealing with serious subjects,” Warmenhoven said. “Sometimes he would come across as too lecturing, but he lightened it up and was able to get the message across. ”
Greyy added, “I think Hari only agreed to be part of ‘ComedyNight’ because I was one of the few MCs who pronounced his name correctly.”
In 2006 a breakout performance at Bumbershoot gave Kondabolu the chance to perform at the prestigious U.S. Comedy Arts Festival and make his TV debut on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
It was at this point that Kondabolu came to a crossroads: pursue his career in comedy or get a master's degree at the London School of Economics.
“Stand up wasn’t something I did with a career in mind. At the time there was a really rich young scene and I was in a supportive atmosphere,” Kondabolu said. “After getting a master’s in human rights I realized how much I missed comedy and that there was a career there for me.”
Kondabolu’s material is informed by his activist background. He deals with sticky subjects — offering social criticism of race, gender, politics and class. Like George Carlin or Lenny Bruce, he gets people to laugh while also getting them to consider tough subjects.
“I like the fact that he’s trying to say what’s coming directly from his heart in his comedy,” Greyy said, “and what’s in his heart is a desire for a better world. You don’t get that very often from comedy.”
Judging by the amount of laughs he’s getting, Kondabolu has this balance figured out. His new album, “Waiting for 2042,” released on March 11 on Olympia-based indie-label Kill Rock Stars, addresses the idea that statistically white people will be a minority by 2042.
“Don’t worry white people, you were the minority when you came to this country, things seemed to have worked out for you,” Kondabolu says on the album.
His take on racist stereotypes also gets big laughs on the album, which was recorded at the New Parish, a theater in Oakland, Calif., a week after the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case.
“Emotions were high,” Kondabolu said. “People came up to me and said thank you, we needed this. For some folks I was an outlet that night. It was a cathartic and wonderfully strange night.”
Jeff Albertson: 206-464-2304 or firstname.lastname@example.org