Eating on Set (with Hari Kondabolu)
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Comedian Hari Kondabolu is passionate, outspoken, and very experienced with hecklers. He’s also a pandemic parent. Hari tells me about learning to write more personal material for his new special “Vacation Baby.”Plus, we agree that you gotta take all the freebies from set (deodorant, chocolate, Goldfish crackers) when you go home.
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Elyse Myers, Hari Kondabolu
Elyse Myers 00:15
Okay, actually, can you just pretend that you’re listening to a fully complete theme song here, I got really in my head. And I tried to make it perfect. And I couldn’t. So this is going to be the theme song right here. Hello, welcome to Funny Cuz It’s True. I’m Elyse Myers. Today I’m talking to comedian and rider Hari Kondabolu, you may have seen him in his Netflix special, warn your parents. And if you loved it, you don’t have to wait much longer. He has another one coming out April 18. However, the content might be a little bit different. And that’s exactly what Hari and I talked about in our conversation. Social issues have been at the center of Hari’s comedy for much of his career. But like the rest of us, the past few years have changed things for hurry. He’s a new dad, his mental health journey is front and center. And so there’s a bit more of that in his comedy too. So two things that are funny because they’re true. Number one, my fashion sense is that of a 40 year old dad. And number two fair warning, you might get hungry by the end of this interview. Okay, let’s get into it. Hari, I know that you are actually on tour right now. Right?
Hari Kondabolu 01:21
I’m kind of always on tour. I mean, it’s weird. I feel like I’ve never made like an official tour. Like it’s this album tour. I feel like I’m always kind of on the road.
Elyse Myers 01:30
Really? Is that kind of how it is for most like stand-up comedians
Hari Kondabolu 01:33
It varies. I mean, it’s certainly something I don’t want to do in the same way anymore. I mean, like, I spent most of my 30s and a good chunk of my 20s, like just on the road, like two thirds of the year. And it’s brutal. It’s just absolutely brutal on the mind and the body.
Elyse Myers 01:53
I honestly couldn’t imagine I’ve had a few people reach out wanting to do tours. And it’s always different, because I don’t do stand-up. And so I’m always like, that’s awesome. I don’t know what I would do on a stage like I don’t perform for people I perform for myself in a camera and people see it. Like, how do you feel comfortable being uncomfortable in those moments? Because I’m sure it’s not always comfortable talking about politics in your standup.
Hari Kondabolu 02:15
I mean, part of it is you don’t see it as politics, right? That’s it. To me, it’s observational, like when I think about race, or gender, or sexuality or any form of oppression, I don’t see that as political. Those are people’s like lived experiences. So like, you know, they’re not saying I’m going through a political thing right now. No, like, I’m broke. I’m a victim of racism, I’m being deported. Those aren’t political things. Those are those are life things. And so my feelings towards those things. Like, it’s not that I put on my political lens and analyze things politically. It’s like, that’s just what happens. Like, that’s how I see the world at this point. Like, you know, my formative experiences have led me to this. So I don’t political is useful for branding purposes. I get that. I mean, to me, it’s more social than anything else. But for the most part, I like the bigger picture things, the Evergreen things that sadly, we’ve dealt with as a world for quite some times. Like those are the things that that I kind of find more interesting. So
Elyse Myers 03:18
I mean, it sounds like including the audience, or I guess like connecting to the audience is important to you. Do you like to incorporate them in your set.
Hari Kondabolu 03:24
I think about the before and after on stage, when I would get heckled or interrupted on stage. Really, before I started therapy and taking care of myself, like, I would lose it, I would really nap. And it wasn’t that I wasn’t able to handle hecklers. It was that when I was in a really bad place, there were so many things happening in my head. And the standup was happening in front of a live audience. But there was a million other thoughts and I was almost wrote, it was just rote memorized. And I was barely getting through the gig. And people might not have noticed. But I noticed. But when there was an interruption, I can’t do this. It’s too much in my head. And now when I deal with that, I can actually stop and go off script and play around, and then go back into it seamlessly, and do all the things that like a comic who’s been doing it this long can do. And that’s because I have the space to take on more as a performer. The idea of going up and being completely present for years felt impossible before I took care of myself.
Elyse Myers 04:33
How do you balance talking about those things that are obviously very, very weighty, you know, with being funny, like, Is it hard for you to kind of strike that balance in the middle?
Hari Kondabolu 04:42
Yeah, it’s hard in the beginning because it there’s a lot of, especially when you feel strongly about something. Yeah, there’s a lot of calibrating to be confident enough in the thing that you’re saying passionate enough, but always, to not forget the goal of comedy, if there’s no punch line, you failed. You know, if there’s no laughter It’s not effective. You know, there’ll be shows where it’s a home game where everybody there to see me, and I’m just saying what I want to say, and I’m improvising and I’m having an easy time, there are some shows where it’s almost like they’ve never heard a comic talk this way about race or to say the phrase White people that much and call out race in a way, they’re not used to hearing it called out. And then there’s crowds where people don’t agree with what I’m saying, or how I’m presenting it. And so you know, in all in those, those are a bunch of different situations. And my goal is still to make people laugh. Regardless of who’s in the crowd. That might mean I have to like, change the setup a little bit or find other ways to make them laugh, or that I think the best thing you can do is be present in the moment with the crowd. Even if you’re not doing well to acknowledge it and find a funny way to move from there. Like sometimes what I’ll do is I’ll go through my setlist and review the audience’s performance during my set. This is how you reacted to this joke. And this is how you reacted to that joke. And you really need to work on laughing more at stuff like this.
Elyse Myers 06:06
Yu review it to them in real time?
Hari Kondabolu 06:08
Yeah, because it’s like, okay, maybe you and I have had different experiences in the world where the stuff I said, didn’t really hit the way I wanted it to. However, the one experience that we do share is that we were all in the room when I said these things. And when you didn’t laugh, because at least that’s a shared experience. And that kind of deconstruction ends up being funny. And it’s a way to be completely in the moment. And so, to me, you got to find a way to make people laugh, even if they don’t necessarily agree with your politics or approach.
Elyse Myers 06:45
I wouldn’t want the audience to review themselves, let alone me review them live on stage. But I barely want everyone to even be aware that they’re watching me talk. Is there an experience you’ve had with a heckler recently or one that you’re like, really proud of that you walk away and you’re just like, that was the best dealing with somebody yelling at me in an audience that I have ever, like experienced?
Hari Kondabolu 07:06
You know what I there is one, I was in San Francisco. And I was I forgot what I was talking about. But knowing me it was something about race or genders like was something about justice in some way. And all of a sudden, this woman, I guess, it was a Heckle. I remember, she was a like a middle aged black woman. And she yelled out civil rights. And it wasn’t. I didn’t know what to do with it. Like she was a pro civil rights heckle in support of what I was doing. And it didn’t really make sense. Exactly. But it was this. It was almost like saying in a very
Elyse Myers 07:48
Yeah, ditto. Retweet. Exactly.
Hari Kondabolu 07:51
And then I ended up using it during the show, where I would point to her at different moments to be like, civil right. Yeah, exactly. Or when a joke didn’t hit and I would like, was kind of waiting. I’d point to her and she would say, and I’d get the laugh anyway. And we worked off and her timing was so good. The thing I loved was whenever she said it without my prompting. It was at the exact right time. I told her this live like I’ve never said this to someone who’s interrupted a show heckled before, I give you the freedom to do what you have to do without a doubt the best quote unquote heckler I’ve ever dealt with.
Elyse Myers 08:36
I love that story. It seems like things are going different now. But are you willing to talk about what was going on before? And if not, that’s okay.
Hari Kondabolu 08:44
I mean, to be the man don’t really talk was very much was like mental health stuff. You know, I just I felt like there was a period a bunch of years back now where I was not in a good place. Seven or eight years ago. I don’t know I think having to stop doing stand-up during that time was a mental and physical necessity.
Elyse Myers 09:04
Yeah, that you might not have taken if the pandemic.
Hari Kondabolu 09:07
I would definitely wouldn’t have taken it. Otherwise. I absolutely. I physically broke down. Like, you know, when people don’t know much about depression, anxiety, and they’ll say stuff like you just have to eat better.
Elyse Myers 09:18
Just get enough sleep, get enough sleep, go for a walk.
Hari Kondabolu 09:22
And then like, those are generally nice things to do. But it doesn’t get up. Get Jess. Yes, yes. Yes. I would like to say, that was the worst time in my life. I’m in a much better place now. It took a lot of work. And I believe in therapy and, you know, that was one thing. Having the baby really put into perspective was like, Yeah, I am here now. To have this kid.
Elyse Myers 09:55
Did you have your son?
Hari Kondabolu 09:56
Yeah, on August 20′, oh my god, yeah, it’s easy to think you’d be an incredible parent but like until you are in a place mentally where you can take care of yourself. That’s like not even a possibility. So,
Elyse Myers 10:13
I was the best parent before I became a parent. I was like, I’ve done this. And then you become a parent. And you’re just like, I know literally nothing. Also I need to call my mom and dad. Thank them. Yes. Like apologize. Like, it’s crazy.
Hari Kondabolu 10:31
I did a fair bit of that. I’m sure you have people who don’t have kids listening to this. Open the goddamn door for me when I have my kid with me. Like, I know you’re on your phone. I felt like it was karma. Like, I must have done this. I’m like, I dropped something in front of the door. I couldn’t. Like I had to pick up the thing while watching the kid and opening a door. Someone’s on her phone. She’s like, she looks up at me. She looks to see what’s happening goes back on her phone. I’m like, you gotta be kidding me.
Elyse Myers 11:03
That’ fine. I’ve got it. I don’t know, I would like to add to the list. Just stop knocking and using doorbells at this point when somebody’s kids stand at my doorstep and text me or there. And if I don’t see it, just leave and go home. Like please don’t ring the doorbell because my son’s probably sleeping. Alright, we gotta take a break. When we come back, Hari tells us how his comedy changed after having his son. Did you make a conscious decision to kind of slow down when you had a kid? I mean, what was that like?
Hari Kondabolu 11:47
The weirdest thing. I mean, I always have a sense of guilt about it. But like 2020 was one of the best years of my life. And it’s strange because there’s so much death and sadness and loss. And I had my first child that year, and I got to spend an incredible amount of time with my partner and the baby that I wouldn’t have had, you know, in this country, especially with paternity leave not being a real thing that’s respected and maternity leave barely being seen as a thing that like, the idea that we’ve got, we got all this time to bond as a couple and then bond, as a family and to bond as like parent and child like it was so healthy, the new special that I’m putting up, it’s called vacation baby. And it’s really about having a kid during the pandemic. And what that is like. And I will say that it was part of this larger goal, I’ve had to write material that was more personal. Because the thing I’ve seen as I’ve gotten older, is that it makes the other stuff go down a lot better the stuff that’s a bit more aggressive. So I feel like the parent thing, it’s been cool because I’ve, I’ve connected with tons of people that we might not have a lot of other things in common. But we have kids and I connect to them in ways that couldn’t connect to other people who do don’t have kids. And that gives them the ability to, you know, stay in it longer.
Elyse Myers 13:17
Yeah, I mean, I’ve found that in my content and what I do, I try my hardest to be like, look, you’re gonna get a lot of me in this, whether you kind of want it or not. But like, I’m sorry. Hope you like it. I hope this finds you well. And I think that helps things feel softer when they’re landed in somebody’s ears. I don’t know. Like, it’s relational. And I think that comedy without the relational aspect, you have to work harder. And that’s not bad. It’s just, you almost feel like you have a lot more to prove like a stranger sitting cold, not knowing nothing about you. You really have to earn somebody’s laugh. Yes. And if they’re softened with like, oh my god, this person is a parent, you telling me you’re a parent, and literally nothing else about you? I could literally like detail what your day probably looks like. Like, I just know, I if you’re following the schedule, or if not, regardless, like I just understand. So it’s cool that you started to incorporate more of that, like personal story in your comedy. And I was going to ask, like, how has your comedy changed since you had a son? So is that kind of what’s changed, it’s just become more personal?
Hari Kondabolu 14:26
It’s definitely gotten more personal. And at the same time, he’s really small right now. He’s only like, two and some change. But like he’s I’m also aware at a certain point, his privacy is, you know, Paramount. I think right now I can get away with it. Because there’s some universal type experiences. You know, it’s funny, I feel like I’m more comfortable talking about a lot of other things. Because I’m willing to talk about my kid all of a sudden, it puts me at ease in a weird way. Like, I’ve let you into something that’s really like the, the thing that means the most to me, so What else could possibly be off the table right now, like even me talking to you about mental health so early in this conversation, like, that wouldn’t have happened. Before we got pregnant.
Elyse Myers 15:13
I totally get it.
Hari Kondabolu 15:14
I say we with such confidence like we as I.
Elyse Myers 15:18
As if you grew the baby in your whole body.
Hari Kondabolu 15:20
I really was pretty worthless.
Elyse Myers 15:38
So with the shift that you made of like sharing, and like going and doing those things of sharing personal information, did you find that that really was you becoming a father that that caused that? Or do you think that that’s like, the natural progression of a comedian?
Hari Kondabolu 15:52
It was a goal for a long time, and those new material shows, you know, I think the first time I really started going deep into my personal life is, you know, it was in that space, maybe six years ago, where I started talking about, you know, depression and things that really onstage still, I’ve talked about, minimally, I’m still working on a lot of that stuff, and how I can deliver that in a way that’s thoughtful and funny, because it’s, it’s a lot. But that was where I did that for the first time. And it really never left that room. So that was like the first opening and certainly having the kid though. It’s such a vulnerable thing. For you know, obviously, I think, in a lot of ways, obviously, more from my partner, but it’s an immediate, like, weak spot. It’s a source of strength, being a parent, but it’s also like, my heart will crumble if anything happens to my child, every bump and bruise every fall like the vulnerability of that experience.
Elyse Myers 16:55
Everything else feels not as like, big of a deal. Not really. Yeah, social security number. I don’t fucking care. Like, I just fell. I don’t know.
Hari Kondabolu 17:05
Everything that I mean, making sure the kids okay, like, I’m certainly less nose up in the air about what I decide to do. Like, I definitely think in my 20s being a latte socialist, which is a socialist with less money. But still playing into the system. Like, I would never do this or that. And I’m Lenny Bruce, and I’m, I’m I want to make art that is it, which is still somewhat true. Like, of course, I want to make challenging art, I want to be more relatable, and I want to bridge things. But, you know, I’m the host of a food competition show on Netflix, and never, never in a million years. I’m like Lenny Bruce would know and I’m like, Lenny Bruce died way too young. Who knows what he would have done if he’d survived like, this is not you can’t you know, and having a kid now. I mean, honestly, like, my days of playing anarchists, bookstores, you know, they might be numbered I, I have to pay for a child to eat and to be clothed and educated and things that are beyond me and my ego, like, I feel like, and also I’m allowed to have fun. And it was fun to talk about snack food and be silly with Meg Stalter. You know?
Elyse Myers 18:17
That’s what I wanted to know, like, because it feels like such a huge pivot to what you’re doing before. Immediately when I saw that, I was like, he wants to have more fun, like, immediate. And I wanted to know what that was for you. With that shift.
Hari Kondabolu 18:32
They didn’t hesitate to say yes. Yeah. One because we had a kid so there was no question like, we need we need. Yeah. And secondly, it’s like I love chocolate and candy. Yeah, there’s three things I could wax on about. You know, there’s more than three but the three that come to mind are definitely anything that involves history justice, stuff like that. Yes, sports, particularly baseball. And yes, it always surprises people.
Elyse Myers 19:01
Okay, just to be clear, my surprise here is not like oh my gosh, you’re into sports. You don’t seem like a sports person. It was the fact that the sport he’s into his baseball, which is arguably one of the most boring sports do I love it? Yeah, absolutely. Because I like hot dogs. But that’s not the sport I imagined he was gonna say. I just pictured him like courtside Lakers kind of guy. So that’s that
Hari Kondabolu 19:27
room. A third would be chocolate and candy and all sorts of confections. And I mean, it’s ridiculous. Like this is something I’m ideally suited for. And certainly the edit that they put in was me at my like all the political stuff that I tried to slip in didn’t make it obviously, you know, and then let me get it out of my system Live, which I appreciate. Yeah. But it’s a really fun show and I had a great time and Meg Stalter is a genius and being able to work put somebody who is that funny off the top of her head was just a joy.
Elyse Myers 20:06
Okay, we have to take one more break. But when we come back hurry and I talk about food nonstop for like 10 minutes. I’m just kidding, but only a little bit. Do you get to eat any of the food. Side note we are talking about all the set food from the show snack versus chef. What’s been your favorite thing?
Hari Kondabolu 20:37
Oh my god, you mean of the stuff that because the goal is to recreate snacks that are famous and also to create an original snack I loved. It was a few things. There was the pickle chips that were made by Sandy. I think it was episode one was oh my god, that was delightful. There was a cake made by one of it was like hand pies made by one of the contestants. That was incredible. There was a there was a cheese thing with like a bacon essence to it. The I think it was called like a gas station snack that somehow was delicious.
Elyse Myers 21:18
I need it. I need it. I don’t even know what bacon essence is. But I need it like my life depends on it.
Hari Kondabolu 21:24
But I mean, honestly, I had lost a ton of weight because I was like, you know, I have a kid. I’m getting close to 40 I’m 40 now, but I’m going to actually take care of my body and I lost 20 pounds. And then I got the offer to host the snack show. And you’re like the binge never stopped, Elyse.
Elyse Myers 21:42
No, I believe you, I believe you. I believe you. I would like eat constantly on a show like that. And I would love every second of it.
Hari Kondabolu 21:50
You go six months without like eating junk food. And then all of a sudden, they put chocolate and candy on every shelf.
Elyse Myers 21:58
I remember being on a set and there was like craft services. And I remember going up to the coffee. It was like a cart mission thing with like a coffee and like literally any snack. You could imagine that it and I walked up and I’m like, I’ll just take a coffee. And I like tried to you know, looking for money. And he’s like, Oh, no, you’re good. I was like, oh, okay, while I’m at it. Do you have any candy back there? What kind of candy do you want and I remembered on this, this set, I must have had like 17 KitKats to the point where by the time I actually got to film I was so sick. So fun fact, after this interview was over, we were listening back to it. And my producer asked me does the sight of a KitKat just make you so sick. I would imagine that you could just like never eat a KitKat again after that moment. And I’m like, what do you mean? She’s like, because they’ve made you sick? And I was like, what do you mean? I would eat a KitKat right now if you had what do you have one? I’m actually pretty hungry. I could eat a couple honestly. So no, my relationship with KitKats are stronger than ever. Honestly, they’ve never steered me wrong. I like I just wanted to go get all the sandwiches all the donuts like shove them in my dress like whatever. Like take them home with me like steal the rest of the craft service. I just was like so amazed.
Hari Kondabolu 23:15
Oh, at least that’s what I did at the end of it. Like all that stuff. That was like all the chocolate the candy. It was that was the set so we could take whatever we wanted. Oh man, I went to town. Not only did I grab as much candy as possible, I also grabbed garbage bags. And yeah, I started because I was like, you know, like, this wasn’t candy, but they still had them for props. I’m like, I got three years of deodorant in this bag. Now I got garbage bags, recycle bags.
Elyse Myers 23:46
That’s what they always say is take everything from set. They’re like, Oh, whatever’s in your dressing or whatever. Like your greenroom. They’re like, we got this for you. We can’t use it again. Take it, I was like slight because I’m in Nebraska. So I would have to fly, like to LA or New York or wherever to do these things. So I’d be really I now leave room in my suitcase to bring stuff back. That’s normal shit like bags of goldfish. I am not ashamed. Just like free like I’m not I don’t need to go grocery shopping. I’ve got all my craft services like in my luggage. And I’m just the cheapest and like, oh my gosh, yeah, I just like shove it in my suitcase. I’m like, I don’t need to bring these apples home but I’m going to because it’s free.
Hari Kondabolu 24:24
Oh, I never lost that. I never lost the broke comedian tendencies. Like I’m just like everything. It’s all most of my wardrobe is stuff from sets or thrift stores. I mean, honestly, there was a period of time where I was getting free Supras which are these like super nice sneakers for like, a year I got and then they found out I was a stand-up comic and not an actor and they stopped sending me […]. But I think they realized there’s something about stand-up comedians, I think for a lot of people are like We’re like the lowest rung do and it’s just like what do we do?
Elyse Myers 25:04
I’m learning this for the first time. So okay, I am not liked generally.
Hari Kondabolu 25:11
You know, like there are people who like Huston is incredible with that stuff. Like cousin Minaj. Like he because part of his he’s always been a fashion guy, and he’s always been really stylish. He may disagree with that, but as long as I’ve known him, I’ve always been impressed by what he chooses to wear and how he wears. Yeah, he’s also incredibly handsome, so handsome and he hates when I say it.
Elyse Myers 25:36
Like a very large celebrity crush of mine. My husband knows it. Well, okay, Hari. Thank you seriously, so much for being on. I am so glad I got to meet you.
Hari Kondabolu 25:45
Oh, Elyse, it has been honestly a pleasure. And I’m I cannot wait for my next trip to Nebraska. Hopefully Omaha this time. Thank you. Absolutely.
Thank you so much for listening to my conversation with Hari Kondabolu. If you like the show, give her a review and a rating. Maybe it just helps people find us. Okay, see you next week. Bye. Hey, if you want more Funny Because It’s True, just subscribe to Lemonada Premium on Apple podcasts. Funny Cuz It’s True is a Lemonada Media and Powderkeg production. The show is produced by Claire Jones, Zoe Dennis and […], our associate producer is Tiffany Buoy. Rachel Neil is our senior director of new content and our VP of weekly production is Steve Nelson. Executive Producers are Stephanie Wittels Wachs, Jessica Cordova Kramer, Paul Feig, Laura Fisher, […] and me Elyse Myers. The show is mixed by Brian Castillo and Johnny Evans. Our theme song music was written by me and scored by Xander Singh.