To many who fear a Trump presidency, what happened on election night is enough to make you curl up in the fetal position and try to wait out the next four years. Get up, says comedian Hari Kondabolu: we need to crawl out of our sustainably built underground pacifist bunkers and do our civic duty.
“I feel that people don’t understand how democracy works. I know that sounds condescending, but people seem to think that the election is what democracy is. That’s a part of democracy, but holding people accountable after the vote is cast—that’s democracy as well,” he says. “Now isn’t the time to let up. To use a sports analogy, once you miss the shot, what do you do? You just let the other side score? No! You do whatever you can to defend.”
It’s why Kondabolu is such a casually brilliant comedian: he’s funny and he’s right. His humor is sociopolitical, dark and unforgiving. Kondabolu calls out racism, sexism, homophobia, white privilege, xenophobia, and gender stereotypes, because for him, being a comedian who talks about these issues shouldn’t be “niche,” it should be commonplace—even if it makes some audiences sweat nervously in their seats. Kondabolu’s even got a feminist dick joke (!) and he’s bringing that special brand of slow-burning zing to the Catalyst on Friday, Dec. 9, to promote his latest album Mainstream American Comic with an hour of entirely new material.
Kondabolu, a former immigrants rights organizer, also co-hosts the podcast Politically Reactive with W. Kamau Bell, which landed among the top 15 podcasts in the country in its first two weeks on air. On the show, Bell and Kondabolu have interviewed the likes of Jill Stein, Rachel Maddow, Shaun King, Robert Reich, Kathleen Hanna and other think-producers of the zeitgeist.
Between the podcast, his standup and his in-the-works documentary The Problem with Apu, Kondabolu has slyly emerged as the wokest comic on the national stage and the deputy of our 2016 angst.
But he doesn’t call himself an activist. Kondabolu’s goal is to make people laugh, he says, and he has to talk about the things that matter. He eviscerates Twitter like his personal chew toy, creating trending hashtags like #BobbyJindalIsSoWhite in mockery of his least-favorite politician, vehemently defending his Jill Stein vote, and lamenting how his Bumble matches only ask for tour dates. Sometimes he’s even doing all that with pants on.
In the days and weeks after Nov. 8, Kondabolu says he’s found himself responding to almost every question with something about Trump. “Even the question ‘How are you’ has become so loaded,” he says.
People shouldn’t normalize Trump’s win or what has followed, says Kondabolu. It’s emboldened some people to a sickening degree, even shouting Trump’s name as a weird sort of justification for interrupting a show, as some of Kondabolu’s friends have experienced.
“He makes people feel that they have power, and it’s not a power to create positive change, it’s a power to destroy and not be held accountable,” he says.
On his album Mainstream American Comic, Kondabolu hits on all the politically charged topics that make him so beloved, like the immigrant experience and how it has affected those close to him: “I think about what my mom’s been through in this country, people saying things like ‘Take that dot off your head,’ or ‘Why are you wearing bedsheets out of the house,’ or ‘Why don’t you shut up and make me food?’ And this is just stuff me and my brother said growing up. Can you imagine what she dealt with out of the house from people who didn’t love her?”
It’s the kind of funny that hurts, because it’s true—immigrants, women, people of color, they’re all going to have it harder, says Kondabolu, which is why the momentum to hold Trump and the media to task needs to keep growing.
“Every day on Facebook I read about a different hate crime or something that’s happened to a friend, someone being attacked or harassed or targeted—and this is before [Trump] starts,” says Kondabolu. “If we’ve learned anything, it’s that passiveness, allowing for violence, allowing for oppression—that’s almost as evil. I don’t think that everyone who voted for Trump is racist. I do think if we see racism as a crime against humanity, they aided and abetted in that crime.”
There is a wide swath of people who will probably never change their hearts or minds on the issues that liberals hold dear, says Kondabolu, and if the children of those voters aren’t the answer, hopefully at least they’ll see after four years that Trump was full of hot air and empty promises.
For those who still grieve, Kondabolu will be there.
“I want people to know that we’re in it together, this is a safe place where for at least an hour you get some relief, some catharsis, and a feeling that you’re not alone,” he says.