In a few days, New York comedian Hari Kondabolu will be back in Seattle.
“Something happens in that city,” Kondabolu says over the phone from his apartment in Brooklyn, New York. “Something opens up. Every time I go, I feel like I am my best self.”
For the past few years, Kondabolu has traveled out of his suitcase to perform throughout the nation and world, made his debut as a guest on “The Conan O’Brien Show,” and started writing for the new FX late-night comedy show, “Totally Biased.”
“This is a weird life,” notes Kondabolu, who’s finally feeling settled in New York. “It has spurts of intensity and spurts of anxiety.”
When he returns to Seattle on Dec. 5th to perform new material, he’ll get to clear his head. He misses Seattle, a town he left in 2007 to pursue a master’s degree in human rights at the London School of Economics, then do comedy full-time.
“For all the criticism Seattle has for being passive-aggressive, I like the fact that that it’s calmer here,” says Kondabolu. “I can walk around, and just think. In New York, there’s just so much going on constantly, so much going on in transit. … Seattle is just so laidback. I get stuff done here, but the stuff has to go somewhere. It has to turn into something. [Seattle]’s a writing hole, not an industry town.”
And his industry town in New York has become more of a comedy home thanks to the group of dedicated, political comedy writers he is working with on “Totally Biased,” including Jewish-American comic Nato Green from the Bay Area, where “Totally Biased” star Kamau Bell also hails from.
“Kamau wants to learn, and wants to share what he learns. He wants people to feel empowered,” says Kondabolu.
This includes recognizing others’ expertise and deferring to the writer with the best clarity on a comedic concept, says Kondabolu.
“There’s a lot of people of color on the show in terms of the audience. There’s a lot of people of color on this show. No one is speaking for them,” says Kondabolu.
But there’s more to the approach. The show has a masterful way of bringing the authentic humor out of its city.
“In New York, people have an opinion, and they are not afraid of sharing it,” he explains. “We have a way of having the comedy coming from the people — and we’re not making fun of them. People are funny. Stand-up comedy is not just full of funny people. People are funny. … I am glad we can give the average New Yorker a voice on this show.”
More and more, Kondabolu is looking to his past for inspiration on new material, including some of his stories interning for Hillary Clinton right of college. And then, there’s his mother and family.
“I feel like I appreciate my mother more and more as I get older,” says Kondabolu. “She’s so funny, especially through very sad, stressful and traumatic things. She’s very light, and she’s very funny. … If you can laugh at these moments of your life and you keep your self afloat, that’s an incredible ability.”
In his comedy, this very funny woman is absent from his stand-up, however.
“Historically, I have avoided talking about family, because Asian American comics get branded a certain way when they talk about family,” says Kondabolu. “I’ve seen other groups talk about family, and that’s OK. The immigrant experience — to talk about it respectfully so [family members] don’t look like a buffoon is a challenge. Yet [the experience] — that’s incredible and very funny and bizarre. I have been trying to weave that in without being disrespectful to my parents and family.”
Other territories Kondabolu plans to cover include Vancouver, B.C, a city he has actually never performed in.
Watch Hari Kondabolu perform at the Comedy Underground in Seattle’s Pioneer Square on December 5 through December 8. Details: www.harikondabolu.com/shows.