After Jessica Williams’s sold out performance in the Chapel, it seems fitting that Vassar would bring Hari Kondabolu to campus. Like Williams, Kondabolu is known for mixing the serious and the satirical. The New York Times recently named him “one of the most exciting political comics in stand-up today,” and he surely delivers high doses of both politics and comedy in every routine.
Raised in Queens, NY, Kondabolu attended Wesleyan University but graduated from Bowdoin College. Just three years after graduating from Bowdoin, Kondabolu was set to perform at HBO’s U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colorado. A regular in Seattle comedy clubs, Kondabolu was rapidly gaining mainstream popularity.
He has since appeared on the “Late Show with David Letterman,” “Conan” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” In 2014, he released his debut standup album titled “Waiting for 2042” and became NYU’s “Artist in Residence” for the year. Kondabolu is a frequent guest on public radio shows including “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered” among others He has solidified his presence in the United States with various other festival appearances and started to branch out into the international market through many shows in the UK.
Several organizations worked together to bring Kondabolu to campus. A concerted effort between the South Asian Students’ Alliance (SASA), Asian Student Alliance (ASA) and Poder Latin@ (PL) helped prepare the event through a committee of members from each of these collaborating ALANA organizations. Co-president of ASA, Michelle Zhao ‘16 explained, “ASA wanted to collab[orate] with SASA and PL because Hari is pretty well known in the POC community and it was a great opportunity to collaborate with them since these three orgs haven’t before.”
“We’ve made it our goal this year to bring as many relevant speakers to campus as we can and to have diverse programming for everyone,” continued Zhao. ASA had actually tried to bring Kondabolu to campus last year, but a scheduling conflict put the plan on hold.
According to SASA member Maya Khatri ‘15, “PL and ASA separately approached Hari about coming, and our three orgs, plus Improv, have been working on bringing him since early last semester.” Community chair of PL, Dalia Griñan ‘17, approached the executive board earlier in the semester about bringing Kondabolu to campus and found that ASA had already begun the process. “We offered to collab with ASA and SASA to make it possible,” she said.
Khatri explained that to prepare for the event SASA had a general body meeting about South Asian representation in the media, specifically comedy. All groups seem to agree that Kondabolu’s political messages are what truly resonate in his performances. Khatri continued, “Hari is one of many comedians directly addressing stereotypes, racism, and sexism, and we think he fits in to the narrative of South Asian comedians brought to the Vassar community, following Vijay Nathan who SASA brought three years ago.”
SASA Co-President Manrose Singh ‘15 elaborated, “Hari’s comedy focuses a lot on the social experiences and narratives of people of color in white-dominated spaces using anecdotes. His humor includes themes of colonialism and such, which aren’t usually touched upon by other comedians.”
Griñan added, “Hari Kondabolu’s political comedy addresses issues of systemic inequality in the U.S. and his own experiences as a South Asian American. As ALANA center organizations whose work focuses on issues faced by students of color on campus and in the larger world, much of the themes and questions raised in Hari Kondabolu’s comedy routines are relevant to discussions and other events we hold on campus.”
Griñan discovered Kondabolu when she came across a YouTube video of his performance on “John Oliver’s New York Stand Up Show.” His character on and off the stage impressed her. She took particular note of his presence on social media, the discussions he inspired outside of his routines and his ability to politicize without reducing to stereotypes or tropes.
His message responates personally with many of the individuals responsible for bringing him to campus. According to Griñan, “part of the perspective Hari Kondabolu brings to his comedy comes from being a person of color who went to private liberal arts colleges for undergrad, which is something many students of color at Vassar can relate to.”
Singh echoed this sentiment, reflecting on Kondabolu’s relevance on campus, “As students, it’s important to see comedy styles that challenge traditional norms and can subvert stereotypes, especially by comedians of color.” According to Zhao, a member of ASA recently watched Kondabolu perform at a conference and had nothing but positive feedback.
Hari Kondabolu is a decorated comedian with a rapidly growing presence. His political commentary is gaining as much attention as his standup acts. His hybrid of these two mediums is a perfect fit for Vassar, and his personal experiences as a minority at a liberal arts school give his message extra weight. An enthusiastic Zhao remarked, “I believe his words will resonate with a lot of people on campus and I hope everyone is looking forward to it!” Vassar Improv opens for Kondabolu in this night of comedy. He performs Friday, Mar. 6 at 8 p.m. in Taylor Hall, 102.